Spend big bucks on a performance sedan, and it had better put a smile on your face, right? After driving the 2014 Jaguar XFR-S on mountain roads and on track, we can say that the fastest, most powerful Jaguar sedan — ever — never ceased to have us grinning.
With an official 0-100km/h figure of 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 300km/h, the XFR-S pushes the performance envelope further upward from the XFR, but it isn't simply chasing German super-sedans. From the driver's seat, we found it more thrilling than some key rival models like BMW M5, Audi RS6, or Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG.
Those each might have a slight edge on the XFR-S in straight-line performance, but the XFR-S is the wild child of the bunch, the one that keeps you close at heart. From the time you press the engine-start button and the big 5.0 litre supercharged V8 barks to life, it's clear that the attitude is a bit different behind the wheel of this one.
It's probably best to start with what the XFR-S doesn't have. Thankfully there's no managing a slew of drive modes and steering heft levels and suspension rates. There's nothing complicated about the steering, either; it's merely a very good hydraulic system. And don't expect a dual-clutch gearbox or clutch packs in place of torque converters.
What you do get is a raucous 405kW V8 that's not only full of character but fully fitting the character of the car, mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with Jaguar's new (F-Type-derived) Quickshift logic.
Front and rear spring rates have been boosted 30 per cent over the XFR (which adds up to about 100 per cent over the base XF), and the XFR-S gets special front suspension knuckles that allow increased camber and castor stiffness (plus new wheel bearings), a new rear subframe, and a 'bespoke' staggered Pirelli P Zero tire setup—265/35R20 size in front and 295/30R20 in back. Special lightweight forged wheels and a high-performance braking system round out the improvements.
In addition, there are a series of functional aerodynamic improvements, including carbon fibre front splitter and air intakes, plus a carbon fibre rear diffuser.
And that big wing on the back? It plays a crucial part in reducing high-speed lift by 68 per cent. It makes a very meaningful contribution to stability at mid- and upper-triple-digit speeds; but because of the controversy over...um...the boy-racer stigma that tall, bold rear wings carry, it's optional on the XFR-S—and a hefty $3,500 extra. But if it's functional, you really must get it.
The XFR-S also boasts special Varuna lightweight forged alloy wheels, and they can be finished in full gloss black or technical grey. In addition to the rear wing and central rear diffuser, there are five colours, including an especially eye-catching French Racing Blue. And inside, the XFR-S gets Warm Charcoal leather seat and door trim, in addition to carbon-effect leather on the seat bolsters and armrests. Contrast-colour micro-piping also accents the seats, and there's a Dark Aluminium dash fascia.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
Output of this engine has been boosted to 405kW, with 680Nm of torque (versus the XFR's 375kW and 624Nm); and it's a difference you can feel. Through breathing improvements, Jaguar has boosted power delivery from the 3,000-rpm range on up. And on the torque side, it's essentially taken the torque plateau of the XFR's engine and allowed it to climb—together with the more aggressive throttle map, allowing that very sharp at-speed throttle response, and allowing increased rewards for revving the engine into its upper ranges.
Revving this engine is something we couldn't resist. It's beautiful-sounding from the outside or the inside. Curiously, from the outside there's a strident, V10-like pulsation to the exhaust note that sounds sexy and different as it passes by at full wail; but inside, selectively ducted-in intake noise helps provide a deep, bellowy exhaust note that's unmistakably a V8. What you do hear from inside the cabin—especially if you tip into the throttle lightly and then back off—are a series of burbles and pops that seem so forceful at times you might think someone's kicking in the trunk.
Provided you're not tapping into the engine's power too much, the cabin is remarkably quiet and luxury-car composed. Despite the much stiffer setup, very little harshness from the coarse road surfaces we had for much of our road drive route made it inside, and the XFR-S's active damping system (which has thirteen different inputs and can make adjustments 100 times per second) manages to filter out minor imperfections.
Take the XFR-S through a series of corners, and the strength of this model's steering are exposed. It's a hydraulic system, and yes, it could be firmer during most normal driving (it feels disconcertingly light for a performance car at first), but just off centre, at speed, it's weighted nicely. Body control is far more in check than you might expect given the lack of fluster in the ride.
On the XFR-S's rotary shifter, you simply have a choice between Drive and Sport (with some great steering-wheel paddle-shifters). Then there's a Dynamic mode that sharpens the powertrain response and firms up damper rates. It also affects the stability control behaviour, and the active electronic differential, which helps get power to the rear wheels in the most effective way possible out of corners.
The XFR-S might not be an easy car to drive near its limits, but it's an easy car to drive fast—very fast. It's a natural understeerer at its limits, but there's no doubt that with more laps we would have been able to learn the ins and outs of finessing the tail out just right. But even in Dynamic mode, with the stability control in its less intrusive setting, you make modest corrections that leave it feeling remarkably neutral once you set it up on the inside line of a bend.
The XFR-S is wicked fast and full of attitude, yet its luxury and comfort are seemingly uncompromised. And many will see it as a more charismatic choice than the top-performance sedans from Germany.
Engine: 5-litre V8 supercharged petrol, 405kW/680Nm
Transmission: 8-spd auto; RWD
Performance: 0-100km/h; 4.6 seconds, top speed; 300km/h (limited)
Price: from $249,900
Engine: 5.5-litre, V8 bi-turbo petrol, 430kW/800Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, RWD
Price: from $311,500 (Competition Pack)
Engine: 4.4-litre, V8 bi-turbo petrol, 423kW/680Nm
Transmission: 7-spd dual-clutch auto; RWD
Price: from $225,000
Engine: 4.0-litre, V8 bi-turbo petrol, 412kW/700Nm
Transmission: 8-spd automatic; AWD