XFR puts Jaguar back on top
Mid-sized performance Jaguars were meat and drink for the company in the 60s.
So much quicker were the 3.4 and 3.8-litre Mark 2s used by serious blaggers and ne'er do wells than anything the police gave chase with, the boys in blue too, had to use the model.
Drivetrain: In-line front-mounted RWD supercharged five-litre quad cam 32v V8. Six-speed automatic with paddle-shift.
Performance: Max 375kW at 6000 to 6500rpm, 625Nm at 2500 to 5500rpm. Max 250kmh (limited), 0-100kmh 4.9 secs, 12.5L/100km, 292g/km C02.
Chassis: Unequal length wishbone front suspension, multi-link rear suspension, variable-ratio power-assisted servotronic steering.
Safety: Front, side and curtain airbags; ABS, EBD; dynamic stability control; traction control; cornering brake control. Four-star NCAP.
Dimensions: L 4961mm, W 1877mm, H 1460mm, W/base 2909mm, F/track 1559mm, R/track 1571mm, Weight 1891kg.
Pricing: Jaguar XFR $160,000. Other XF models from $90,000 to $125,000.
Pricing: Jaguar XFR $160,000. Other XF models from $90,000 to $125,000. With the suave and fashionable also picking up on the model that was surprisingly well-priced in those days, and Grand Prix drivers and gentlemen racers alike conducting them around racetracks, the "Mark two Jags" were everywhere, doing as much for the brand as far as public perception was concerned as the E-type sports car did at the time.
In New Zealand, the "three-eight" did amazing things on the track too, with former WWII Mustang and Corsair pilot Ray Archibald squealing one at the head of the field seemingly every weekend during that era. We still talk about it now.
In 1968 things changed. Jaguar was going through one of its occasional periods of depression and its array of sedans, which numbered four separate models at the time, was refined into a single car - the XJ6.
Thus, along with the other sedans, the Mark 2 was dropped and for what would be 30 years, Jaguar had to do without a model to prop-up its sporting sedan heritage. The XJ6 was brilliant and a standard-setter, but it had no potential to be a track star.
In 1999 the S-type reached the market, a car that under Ford's stewardship of Jaguar would share its platform with the small rear-drive Lincoln LS model.
Engines and gearboxes were shared too and while the S-type would sell well enough, it was hardly a looker. With a facsimile of the old Mark 2's grille tacked onto a frankly less than cohesive four-door body, it tried to be something it wasn't.
Then along came the achingly beautiful XF sedan. It was a beautifully-proportioned four-door with the look of a coupe that, even in its lower powered forms, took the brand to the top of its segment.
If there was a criticism, it was the early cars' strangely bulbous headlights, which looked as if they'd lost sleep and were being propped open like tired eyes.
Now, with last year's facelift, the XF has the look it always deserved, fronting up with the face of an angel and the eyes of a sniper. It has slim slivers of light gazing out either side of a central maw, mounted on the front of what must be one of the best-proportioned bodies in the mid-sized executive sedan segment.
Powered by a supercharged, direct injected 5.0-litre V8, it is effectively the modern kindred spirit of the 3.8 Mark 2.
As well as the lights, the XF range also gained a reshaped bonnet and bumper, a broader side-gill and the new Jaguar cameo badges instead of wording.
Inside, the car has been gently revamped too. There are new softer to touch and move rubberised switches that replace the cold, hard metallic items previously used, while the touchscreen interface seems simpler and friendlier.
Great front seats in this, its performance offering, are matched by a rear bench that was more commodious than most other offerings in this segment, with great shaping and, save for the roofline's slight compromise on headroom, providing a very pleasant place to sit and while away a day's drive.
While you are always aware of the XFR's performance potential, thanks to various whirring noises and the restrained rumbling under the car's bonnet, the effortlessly refined way it goes about its ordinary driving duties is impressive.
In fact I was most surprised that something with such a manageable commuting demeanour, could display such a remarkable performance and handling skill set when you let its hair down.
When you do - all it takes is a sensibly directed right foot - the Jaguar erupts into an elastic lunge of thunderous acceleration that almost feels out of character in light of the cultured smoothie you'd been trickling around in just a second or two earlier.
Jaguar says the car will run to 100kmh in 4.9-seconds and it certainly feels that quick when you floor it.
The transmission's paddle shifters on the steering wheel change-up when you squeeze the right paddle and downshift from the left, and that's probably the best way to drive the car if you want to match the maker's acceleration times.
However, it is only fractionally slower when the ZF automatic is left to its own devices. Most likely the only way you'd feel the slam-dunk shifting benefits of the paddles is if you buy some track time with the car, which is something I'd do if I owned one of these. It may look as proper as a well-tailored club blazer when compared to its almost track-suited hot rodded German equivalents, but its performance makes it their equal on or off the public road.
With the car's maximum torque value of 625Nm being doled-out right from 2500 to 5500rpm, in a great lunging plateau of urge, rather than an annoying peaky spike of performance, its progress is astonishingly flexible and most of the time remarkably undemanding.
It is helped by the Jaguar's uncanny refinement levels, which means that off the throttle it is very quiet. It emits no more noise than even the base $90,000 four-cylinder diesel version of the car, though a gentle squeeze of the "go" pedal generates that delicious underbonnet grumble to taste.
Despite the difference in chassis settings and wheel size, the XFR actually feels every bit as composed over bumps and broken surfaces as the base car which is arguably the very best in the 5-series, A6 and E-class segment.
Jaguar says the latest XF has undergone some work in the chassis area for the XFR, with changes to the car's spring rates, electronic damping system and what the company calls an active differential.
There's no doubt that the "R" is firmer than the rest of the XF range, and there is a slight edginess when moving over rails and white lines.
The XFR has gained a quicker steering rack as part of its facelift, and the car's off-centre and turn-in response is as accurate and incisive as I've come across in what is a pretty hefty motor car, at 1891kg.
A huge amount of mechanical grip, thanks to the 20-inch standard rims, means that in day-to-day running the car's chassis electronics have very little to do.
With barely noticeable interference from those electronics, you can put the power on through an apex nice and early without fear of getting out of shape. As well, I'm told that in track-based comparisons the Jag keeps pace with the similarly hefty and powerful BMW M5.
Sensibly the car's four-wheel disc brakes can get you to zero kmh quicker than the impressive engine can wind the car up to the legal open road speed limit.
Stand on the stop pedal and the Jaguar will strap-hang its occupants to a halt very quickly.
However, most of the time, the deceleration is easy to modulate and hauls the car down exactly and precisely to where you want it to slow or stop.
Once rolling, the response to the throttle is effortlessly linear and rapid, to the extent you have to rethink what you see through the screen compared with what's on the speedometer.
Among the other serious sports sedans out there, its not the Jaguar's ultimate cornering pace and outright urge that really impresses, although it is as quick and biddable as any of its competitors.
It's just that the cars impressive performance and dynamic prowess do not compromise its all-round manners and finesse.
Thus, despite at $160,000 being often tens of thousands of dollars less expensive than its German competitors, the XFR is easily the most convincing, when considering living with a performance sedan every day.