Mike Humble gets to grips with Jaguar’s latest XF performance flagship. Lucky beggar – here’s what he made of it…
The current XF and XJ have been with us for a few years now, yet I still cannot believe what a turnaround has taken place with Jaguar Cars in such a seemingly short space of time. The fondly-remembered Jaguar image of Camel coats, trilby hats and slim-line Panatela cigars washed down with a large V.A.T (on the slate Dave) is as old as Fulham’s finest trader and wholesaler himself – stand on me – but it’s now obsolete. Business and commerce is now a younger man’s game and today’s Jaguar has the right style and brand perception that’s befitting of modern commercial Britain.
Ian Callum’s XF was a good-looking thing when originally launched and, following a minor restyle that’s seen the departure of those slightly bug-eyed headlamps, the XF now looks smart and subtle. We had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with the awesomely powerful “R” version to see what us Brits can do against the Fatherland in a class of vehicle that’s usually dominated by ze Germans. On paper at least, the XF-R certainly impresses and promises a good scrap.
Down in the engine room you’ll find the familiar AJ133 5.0 litre V8 petrol – twin turbo maybe? No, sir – for your special enjoyment and delectation Jaguar have opted to fit a twin-vortex supercharger giving that epic engine an impressive 510bhp with 625Nm of torque. And yet to look at, in a first impression kind of way, the XF-R is business-like and slightly understated in a fashion only the British can do to perfection. There’s no excess bling and chrome and no Howitzer like exhausts – even though the sound that emits from the rear is to die for!
From a short distance, the XF-R looks like… erm… an XF, it’s only once you get up close and personal when all the cues come together warning you that this is really something quite special. The bonnet features a pair of vents to release some heat from the engine bay that look very classy and the 20” wheels are shod with super sticky rubber – both the aforementioned feature the word “Supercharged” in a discreet way.
The rear view aspect displays a smart sports aerodynamic lower bumper with a brace of slash effect exhaust tailpipes either side. Even the boot mounted spoiler is small and understated – there is nothing fitted to the XF-R to make it appear brash or brutalistic. But nor does the XF-R come over as all boring and bland either. The same goes for the interior, sure there are some wing backed sports seats but again – it’s a low key affair and boy is it comfortable.
No chintzy mock carbon fibre or horrible drilled and milled alloy pedals, just a nice pleasant and well laid out interior with the right number of subtle sporting cues and nods towards the extreme machine that lives under the bonnet. The roof lining is trimmed in tasteful Alcantara (always a favourite of mine) and this model had an optional sunroof which sadly robs a fair chunk of useful headroom making you sit lower to the floor than you would like to.
Clutter clad folk will appreciate the storage space inside the cabin from the sensible door pockets, centre armrest cubby box and spacious glove box, but oddly enough nowhere for the Ray-Bans or loose toll change. Rear passengers have a sublime bench seat, just about enough leg room and privacy glass on the windows. All the usual bells and whistles come in the package such as a superb Meridian audio/sat nav system, dual zone climate and hand stitched hide as far as the eye can see.
The build quality is a match for rivals too. I heard not a squeak or rattle from the interior and the shut lines of the exterior panels are impressive. There are a couple of minor oddities like the far away positioning of the panel dimmer and rear fog lamp switch panel – the former also feels and looks slightly cheap. The rear seat backrest folding knob is awkward to locate, its buried half way down the parcel shelf base and has a cheap feeling action when in use.
But that’s enough of that – what’s it like to drive? Well, in a nutshell, she’s utterly brilliant in every situation imaginable. Starting the engine has almost the same sensation I remember as a child on a visit to a power station when the turbines were switched on. The burble from the quad tailpipes on idle makes small children gaze and grown adults drool – and that’s an honest fact. Pootling around the town shows the Jaguar to be a docile as a Spring lamb, even the ride, although firm, is on the right side of pliant and comfortable.
The sheer power and torque is of genuine supercar class and once you are away from the bright city lights the power has you almost yelling with ecstasy. They claim that 0 – 60 is sub five seconds, they are correct of course and the (limited) top speed is getting close to three miles a minute. Mid-range acceleration is devastatingly rapid (50 – 70 in 1.8 seconds) and if you use the car in 8-speed paddle shift mode you will never ever want to listen to the radio again – oh the noise!
Road holding is safe yet entertaining even on the upper limits and the front seats feature pneumatic adjustable side bolsters to pin you into the chair. The grip from those massive steam roller wide tyres, even when ploughing out of a mid apex, gives the driver oodles of confidence and the body control is billiard table flat. The steering utilises a traditional hydraulic set up which is sportily firm and provides a feel that’s almost like reading Braille – you can literally read the road through your fingertips.
Ride comfort at speed on most surfaces is reasonably smooth and Jaguar engineers seem to have isolated most of the tyre and wind noise from the cabin while still letting the right amount of engine noise in to tickle the eardrums. One thing is for certain, the XFR’s level of comfort, power and poise makes motorway driving as light and as easy as dreaming – it really is a car for all occasions and breathtakingly effective to boot.
Is there any point of me dwelling on the fuel consumption? Suffice to say she doesn’t so much as sip the fuel, more like bathes in it. I struggled to get much more that 22mpg but that said, Jaguar claim 27 on the combined cycle so I didn’t do that badly. But taking into account the power, the weight and sheer size of the whole package, I don’t think the XF-R does that badly in all fairness and it’s not that long ago your average petrol Jaguar with half the power returned similar fuel figures – that’s progress I guess.
Where the XF-R does give your wallet a hiding almost as good as the interior, is in the RFL. It’s over £1000 a year to tax which, of course, is tear inducing, but with a car like this being aimed at the performance/business driver with initial outlay being offset, the XF-R is a weapon of devastating efficiency that in view is worth ever penny. An AMG Merc or M Sport BMW may also offer similar levels of performance but the British designed, engineered and assembled XF-R is a brilliant machine that takes speed and serenity to a higher level.
There is of course the “S” version too that develops a little more power and features track day suspension set up and oh… it’s nearly £15k more. For me, I would take the “R” model purely on the grounds of the almost Q-car looks and the ability to cosset and sooth in everyday traffic. Rather cleverly, what the Jaguar has in abundance, is coolness and the ability to turn heads – not only that, it’s alarmingly capable, well equipped, a decent sized trunk, has almost time travelling capability and handles like it’s on rails.
Any old mental images of Jaguar are blown away with the XF-R. This car is 24 carat – stand on me!
[Editor’s Note: At AROnline, we’d be happy to hear of other readers’ experiences with some of the newer models that have stemmed from the British Motor Industry’s fine heritage – all contributions are welcome, although it should be noted that AROnline is not a new car review site, and that any reviews will have relevance only to models we believe have a significant place in British motoring history. For my part, the XF’s role in the reinvention of the Jaguar brand is pivotal – and that’s coming from someone who owns and adores an X300 XJ6, quite possibly the ultimate in Jaguar retro pastiche…]