XFR TAKES ON THE BMW M5
AUTOCAR verdict 5/5 Stars - The best executive sports saloon bar none
XFR takes on the M5. May 2009.
Five-star road test verdicts are pretty rare in this business, but the XFR deserves one more than just about any car we can think of right now. It is a quite extraordinary machine, and what defines it most obviously is its vast, almost never-ending range of attributes. On one hand it plays the role of refined mile-eater at least as well as any so-called luxury car, and on the other it has sufficient raw dynamic ability to drop a BMW M5 in a heartbeat. It is also extremely well made, very well equipped, entirely comfortable for four people and their luggage and several thousand pounds cheaper than its nearest rivals, none of which are as fast in the real world. Jaguar has produced a true world-beater. As a sign of things to come, it shines as brightly as any Jaguar we’ve ever driven, and there have been some pretty good ones over the years.
MODEL TESTED XFR 5.0 V8
Price £59,900 - Power 503bhp - Torque 461lb ft - 0-60mph 4.7sec
Fuel economy 19.8mpg - CO2 emissions 292g/km - 70-0mph 45.9m - Skidpan 0.93g
We like - Great ride and handling, Huge performance, Refinement, Space, Looks
We don’t like - Minor switchgear is fiddly, Thirsty if you’re really going for it.
AUTOCAR ROAD TEST
Although the timing of the Jaguar XFR’s arrival is somewhat unfortunate, the quality of its execution would certainly seem to compensate. For while a 503bhp super-saloon with a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 beneath its bonnet and a range-topping price tag probably isn’t what the world needs at the moment, there is equally little doubt that Jaguar has produced a genuinely excellent car in the form of the XFR.
To date, it has taken care of any obstacle that has stood in its path, including the mighty BMW M5 which it roundly thumped when we tried the pair on foreign soil.
And now that it is finally here in the UK, priced at £59,900, there seems to be little standing between the XFR and total domination of the class. The niche may be small but it’s a highly significant arena, not just for Jaguar but also for BMW, Audi and Mercedes, all of whom have at least one performance executive saloon in the running.
So, just how comfortably does the XFR sit in this company in the cold light of a wet and windy day in the UK?
DESIGN & ENGINEERING
It’s hard to think of a better platform from which to construct a supersaloon than the basic Jaguar XF, whose underpinnings have been so widely praised in the past. The rear-wheel-drive XF is already extremely stiff torsionally and uses aluminium in numerous areas to keep its kerb weight (officially 1891kg) in line with the sector average for big four-seat saloons.
It also looks modern, compact and muscular, its basic architecture lending itself extremely well to the visual upgrades required to distinguish the XFR. The changes are surprisingly subtle, and you may well miss them at a glance, but on closer inspection you’ll realise how much more purposeful the XFR looks beside the regular XF.
Not only is it lower and wider, but there are also 20in wheels and tyres nestling within the wheel arches, while the entire nose section has been redesigned to allow more air to flow into and out of the engine bay. Hence there are two small slats in the bonnet and two big chrome-edged cooling ducts beneath the headlights, plus a more dominant radiator grille in the centre.
Beneath its Q-car exterior, the XFR hides one of the most potent drivetrains yet seen in a four-door saloon. The engine is a new 5000cc supercharged V8, and it produces an effortless-feeling 503bhp at 6000rpm and 461lb ft at 2500rpm. A BMW M5 has 500bhp and a mere 384lb ft by comparison.
Mated to this is an uprated version of the ZF six-speed automatic transmission from the regular XF, and as before it comes with paddleshifters behind the steering wheel to allow manual gearchanges. Jaguar has completely reworked the software, however, to allow varying degrees of sporting intent, including a mode that will not allow the gearbox to shift up, even if you hit the rev limiter.
As before, there is a Dynamic mode and DSC, but if you hold the button down for a rather lengthy 15 seconds the whole lot can be disengaged, at which point you’ll also become aware that the new E-diff can be locked up by 90 per cent, although in normal driving you’re more likely to appreciate the extra traction it generates on all surfaces, rather than how sideways the XFR can go if you want it to.
The springs and dampers are about 30 per cent stiffer all round, but the dampers themselves are extremely sophisticated and are continuously variable in their operation. In theory they should allow the XFR to ride pretty much perfectly in all conditions and on all surfaces, although they are still reactive in nature (in other words, not active).
The brakes are bigger than most superminis’ wheels at 380mm, and are ventilated steel discs all round.
On first sight, there’s not an awful lot to distinguish the XFR’s interior from that of the regular XF – not that there’s anything especially wrong with that. The steering wheel is a little thicker, the seats offer more lateral support and there are a few more buttons surrounding the circular transmission console, but the overall feel is almost identical to that of a well specified XF.
That means you get the same set of clear, well laid out instruments, the same party-trick air vents that rotate open automatically when you fire up, and the same slightly cluttered centre console arrangement, featuring the same touch-screen sat-nav/command system in the centre of the dash.
Considering how big it is, space in the rear of the XFR is perhaps just a tiny bit disappointing. It’s not in any way cramped, but neither is there as much room as there is in the much older BMW 5-series, especially when it comes to head room. That’s surprising, given how much newer the XF is as a design, even if it does compensate in part with a genuinely enormous boot that can swallow 500 litres of luggage.
Even though the XFR is fast enough in raw terms to keep pace with a BMW M5 in a straight line, it was never Jaguar’s intention to create a hot rod with this car. And in the event, the way the XFR combines such monumental acceleration with quite extraordinary refinement is probably what defines its personality most clearly. As a result, it is a deceptively rapid machine to drive on the road – the sort of car in which you can find yourself arriving at corners going rather too quickly to begin with, simply because you don’t realise how fast you’re travelling.
Nor is it in any way vocal about its abilities, even though there is a distinct V8 howl if you explore the upper reaches of the rev range. It’s less manic than the M5’s V10 howl but also much more refined at normal speeds.
Within the XFR’s vast performance envelope, the most impressive aspect of all is its throttle response in the low and mid-ranges. The way the accelerator has been so perfectly matched in its weight to the immediate response from the engine makes the XFR quite amazingly effortless in its gait across country. It feels almost as if it is floating down the road, with the engine responding to messages that come directly from your brain. Sometimes you don’t even notice if it changes gear, and for much of the time it doesn’t need to, so strong is the performance in fifth and sixth gears. The way in which the gearbox has been tuned to provide different degrees of response is also a real plus, in effect allowing the driver to change the character of the car depending on his mood and intended pace.
So how fast is the XFR ultimately? Without its 155mph speed limiter you would imagine that it could easily top 185mph, but it’s the torrential flow of torque, available almost from tickover, that provides the XFR with its biggest weapon: overtaking acceleration. To get from zero to 60mph it needs just 4.7sec, and it reaches three figures in a scant 10.2sec, but the real killer blow is how fast it can get from 50-70mph – just 2.1sec – and how fluid it feels while doing so. Against the clock the M5 is fractionally quicker, but in real-world driving the Jag’s broader on-demand performance makes it the quicker car.
The braking power of the XFR is similarly impressive, but again it’s the feel and response of the brakes that stand out, more so than the fact that, if pushed, it’ll stop from 60mph in just 2.57sec.
RIDE & HANDLING
We don't dish out full five-star ratings very often in road tests, but the XFR deserves nothing less in this particular section. How so? Because it strikes a balance between ride comfort, handling precision, body control and steering accuracy that is genuinely unique in our experience, even at this rarefied level of the market. In short, it handles more sweetly than an M5, rides at least as well as any Mercedes and steers better than any rival we can think of. It steers so crisply, in fact, that there are out-andout sports cars that could learn a thing or two from the XFR about how to telegraph their intentions.
And what's most amazing is the way in which it disguises its weight. According to our scales, the test car weighed just 10kg short of two tonnes, yet on the road it changed direction and flowed from bend to bend as if it weighed less than half that. Thank the way Jaguar has fine tuned the steering to be so finger-touch light but also communicative, as well as the quite brilliant machinations of the continuously variable dampers and the basic excellence of the double wishbone front suspension.
What the XFR delivers as a result of all this is quite breathtaking cross-country pace, underscored by an equally amazing level of refinement. You guide it from corner to corner using minimal inputs at the wheel, aware that the chassis is working hard to generate the grip that it can, but in a way that rarely, if ever, feels dramatic. And even on rough roads the ride never threatens to become intrusive, while tyre roar has been similarly well suppressed, despite the 20in wheels.
BUYING & OWNING
With market conditions being the way they are right now, it�s hard to tell how well the XFR will hold its value in years to come. Traditionally, big, fast Jaguar saloons have tended to drop quite quickly, but the XFR is such a great achievement that it may well reverse that trend overall. Either way, it is not likely to be a cheap car to run day to day, even if the real-world fuel economy is reasonably impressive, being in the mid-20s.
AUTOCAR VERDICT 5/5 STARS
AUTOCAR verdict 5/5 Stars
The best executive sports saloon bar none
- Sills have been deepened slightly. They help to make the XFR look lower and a wee bit more menacing than a normal XF.
- Subtle air vents in bonnet are one of the only real giveaways that the car behind you has 503bhp.
- Larger, deeper, chrome-edged air intakes are needed to feed and cool the engine, but they also give the XFR a little extra aggression over the standard XF.
- Lurking behind the mesh grille and Jaguar badge is the radar for the optional Adaptive Cruise Control, fitted to our test car. It�s pricey (�974), but it works well and incorporates Advanced Emergency Brake Assist.
- XFR gets the same discreet boot spoiler as the XF 3.0D S. It may be small but it is surprisingly noticeable and, along with the new front bumper design, reduces high-speed axle lift.
- Quad tailpipes are fairly subtle, and they make a suitably cultured noise; could be a bit louder on full throttle, though.
- Compared with the standard XF, the R gets revised, more aerodynamically efficient door mirrors, which also incorporate LED side repeaters. Our test car also featured �440 blind spot monitors.
- Wheels are 20in but don�t look oversized within the wheel arches. Tyres were developed in conjunction with Dunlop; they are 255/35s up front and 285/30s at the back.
- Touch-screen sat-nav works well and comes as standard on the XFR. Some rivals offer it only as a very costly optional extra.
- Seats strike just the right balance between support and comfort. Again, they are not overly aggressive in design.
- Rotating gear console is not to everyone�s taste; most testers like it but some hate it, claiming that it�s not intuitive to use.
- Steering wheel is slightly thicker for the XFR; otherwise the car looks and feels remarkably like a regular XF inside.
- Air vents automatically revolve open whenever the engine is fired � a neat party trick as they declutter the dash when closed.