The Jaguar XF has been a great success and, for that to happen, it’s had to compete with the likes of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Both of its German rivals have rear-drive performance variants and the Jaguar XFR was introduced to compete with them. It’s a plenty powerful car but, whether to keep up with the Germans or otherwise, there’s now an XFR-S, with more power, handling tweaks and tougher styling.
It’s still a luxuriously appointed four-door saloon, though. It has the same theatrical air vent operation as any other XF and a similarly spacious cabin, albeit with sportier, electrically adjustable seats. Equipment is as generous as it should be for an £80,000 car, with an excellent audio system, parking sensors, sat nav and keyless entry. There are a few things you have to pay extra for, though, including the useful reversing camera.
Cosmetically you get much beefier styling with new bumpers, a redesigned bonnet, unique side skirts and a huge carbon-fibre rear wing, along with some neat interior embellishments like stitching to match the exterior paintwork. It certainly looks more purposeful than the more subdued XFR. The engine is the same supercharged 5.0-litre V8 but your £15,000 extra buys you more power and torque, up 39bhp to 542bhp. Despite the power hike, emissions and fuel economy are unchanged if unremarkable – 270g/km and 24.4mpg.
The power hike and styling tweaks aren’t the full picture, though. The speed limiter has been raised from 155mph to 186mph and there’s recalibrated traction control, tweaked front and rear suspension, wider tyres and improved aerodynamics. It’s quite a performance-oriented overhaul and it shows, right down to the more purposeful growl you get from the exhausts as you press the starter button. Once you find a straight stretch of road you’ll be rewarded with stunning performance. 0-62mph takes 4.6 seconds and the sound is simply awesome.
However, you almost immediately realise that this car is not for the clumsy – if you don’t have your wits about you, particularly in damp conditions, then the rear wheels will readily spin – and that’s with the traction control at its safest setting. That might be music to the ears of drivers who spend a lot of time on track days but, on the road, it means you have to be extra cautious and judicious with your right foot. You can’t afford to lose concentration on a twisting road.
That said, when you learn how the car tends to respond it’s an absolute joy to drive. The gearbox is an eight-speed automatic and in ‘D’ mode it responds well, changing up and down smoothly, but it’s even better in S. It will hold onto gears for longer and help with downshifts, or you can simply override it with the paddles on the steering wheel – which are fast to respond most of the time and allow you to change up or down two gears at a time.
The steering is wonderfully crisp and responsive and, if you’re progressive with the brakes and throttle, the XFR-S is involving and thoroughly great to drive – it feels balanced, poised and far lighter than it actually is. Unfortunately, the stiffer suspension set up means the ride borders on uncomfortable over all but the smoothest road surfaces – there is always that niggling knowledge that the rear wheels want to break traction if you’re heavy with your right foot.
You could feasibly use the XFR-S everyday, though. Slipping the transmission into D and keeping the ‘Dynamic’ traction setting switched off makes it possible to drive with relative ease because there’s no heavy clutch pedal to operate – but even then you still have to be careful with the accelerator pedal on a slippery road. There is a setting for snowy roads but it’s not going to give you Land Rover levels of traction.
There’s space for passengers in the back seats and you could easily trek a long way across the continent in reasonable comfort with smooth roads but, as a family car, it seems a little bit too hardcore. It has an obvious performance focus that some big, fast saloons like the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG can hide in normal driving. The XFR-S simply can’t, it feels like a performance car even when you’re trundling around town.
It seems the XFR-S has really been designed for true driving aficionados – the type of people who spend their weekends on track days. For those people the £15,000 increase over a ‘normal’ XFR will easily be worth it but for everyone else you’re essentially paying more for a car that’s less comfortable and more difficult to drive. A regular XFR will suit you far better – though calling any car with 503bhp ‘regular’ seems strange.
More power, aggressive styling and more purposeful performance aren’t all you get with the XFR-S, though. Jaguar is only making a limited number and if you’re one of the few who is interested then the greater focus on performance will likely be exactly what you’re looking for. It really is a noticeable difference that comes with the added benefit of exclusivity. The XFR-S isn’t, then, a car for everyone but its target market will absolutely love it.