Jaguar's leaper of faith
By David Morgan
JAGUAR has emerged from Ford ownership in fighting mood and is planning an expansion under Tata that has not been seen for decades.
Quality has already seen major advances in the current line-up and there's a lot more to come with high-powered models heading for showrooms over the next few years including an XF Sportbrake estate, a new F-Type roadster and an X-Type that will challenge BMW and Audi instead of simply being the expensive Ford Mondeo clone that was its last incarnation.
The rebirth of the famous British marque has been spectacular. Dramatic styling has underscored the rich competition history of the "Leaper" – a success down to Dumfries-born chief designer Ian Callum and his team.
But there's a lot more to the revival. The cars have undergone a massive technical redesign. Under its new Indian ownership, greater attention has been paid to engineering and construction quality – vital steps that were needed to rebuild confidence in a badge that in recent decades had seen its crown slip.
The first success was the XF saloon – the car that replaced the archaic S-Type. Purists were cautious when it first appeared and it was a nervous time for Mr Callum.
But the majority of doubters, me included, have eventually been won over by his subtle curves and bulges, and a body style and line that followed the athletic shape of the lovely MkII with a rear window angle that was precisely the same as the original E-Type Coupé.
Since then the XJ flagship has been replaced and the XK has gone through an evolution of shape and power that's turned it into one of the world's finest GT/sports cars.
But what of the XF? The executive saloon has evolved into a modern classic and the range is topped off, for now, with a 510bhp V8 muscle model – the XFR.
Jaguar has hinted that an XFR-S is on its way – a five-litre V8 unit that will have the same supercharger as the XFR but with combustion chamber and engine management tweaks similar to the XKR-S that will hike the power to 550bhp.
It sounds delicious, but who needs it?
Frankly I can find nothing lacking in the current XFR. It's already a musclebound powerhouse of a car that handles its 510bhp in a refined and sophisticated way and turns all that bhp and 461lb.ft of torque into rubber distorting acceleration and effortless progress.
For a rear drive car that weighs almost two tonnes at the kerb, the XFR is an amazing vehicle and I can only think Jaguar's marketing men are steering the XFR-S idea simply to show BMW the Brits can do their own "M5".
As it is, the XFR is almost too powerful. It needs care in the wet, even with its arsenal of car control electronics.
And any heavy use of its colossal performance and delivery will attract the unwanted attention of the traffic police or speed cameras with far too much ease.
I enjoyed every minute of my week with the supercharged XFR – but I was also relieved to see it go. The temptation to explore its massive potential and constantly be in "Sport" mode and flicking through the six-speed transmission on the paddles with the ease of changing a TV channel was just too much.
I could feel the energy churning away constantly under the power-bulged bonnet, the torque rock of the engine on its mounts when the throttle was blipped, and the wonderful acoustic grunt and growl that thundered from its twin tail pipes as it laid its power down.
This is a serious piece of British performance kit – and it's as good an adrenaline drive as BMW's feted M5.
The problem is not so much who will buy this £65,000 super saloon as where they can exploit its performance – and still be left on the good side of a set of bars with a functioning driving licence?
Hitting my favourite roads in Wester Ross showed the XFR to be agile. For such a large car that's a whisker short of five metres long, it is incredibly responsive in Sport mode with paddle shifters that grab their next ratios in an instant and make narrow roads a real pleasure.
The steering feels a little dead, but it retains an element of accuracy that reminded me constantly this is a sporting machine.
But as the rain moved from heavy to torrential and the twists and turns of Applecross snaked out in front of me, it was clear an excess of power running through the XFR's massive tyres could still overcome the technology.
Even with the DSC stability electronics working full time, I could feel the tail offer to step out of line.
Power was snatched away electronically from my right foot as traction was compromised and stability systems kicked in.
It was a timely reminder of just how easy it would be to land yourself in big problems without modern traction moderators when more than 500bhp and tugboat torque is available.
But that's the beauty of the XFR – it's equipped to prevent the unwary getting into trouble.
While the foolhardy may be tempted to switch off the greater part of the traction control, the good news is that Jaguar engineers have retained some electronic input to ensure drivers don't exit into the scenery in a cloud of spray or wheelspin.
If the car left me with doubts it was with its rather glitzy interior, its plastic mesh grille, and Jaguar's preoccupation with electronics and a touchscreen that is slow to respond.
However, the XFR comes into its own as a luxurious open road express. Leave the sinister rising gear selector dial in Drive and the big Jag will slice its way through traffic like a hot knife through butter.
Left to its own devices it's still responsive, very stable and delivers overtaking times in the supercar league.
The car's ride is understandably firm, and massive low profile tyres generate a fair amount of road noise.
But that's the market the XFR is in – buyers will accept that, and its eyewatering thirst at just under 19mpg, in exchange for a remarkably fast, capable and audibly delightful four-door saloon that has the squat ground-hugging style that turns heads.
FINAL THOUGHT: Breathtaking performance from a deep-throated V8 makes the XFR the "Coombes" Jaguar of today. Impressive in every respect, though a little glitzy for some and dominated by rather too much electric gimmickry.
- Price: £63,350
- Capacity: 5000cc
- Power: 510bhp
- 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
- Maximum speed: 155mph
- Economy: Combined 22.5mpg, Urban 15.1mpg
- CO2 emissions: 292g/km (VED M)
- ESP: DSC Standard
- Insurance: Group 49 (new 1-50 Grouping System)