Here on this side of the pond we’ve been conditioned to expect British people – especially engineers and military men – to be shy and retiring, perhaps slightly aloof, and certainly not swaggering braggarts.
But this is not the essence of the British at all; it’s just a convenient fiction conjured up and perpetuated by the David Nivens and Cary Grants and Ralph Fiennes of the movies – and British tourism authorities. I know better. My father was raised in Somerset, in the southwest of England and while well-mannered, he most certainly was not retiring.
He was, in fact, a firm military man of the sea, who went to war in 1940 at 17, doing convoy duty from Liverpool to Halifax. At 17. I asked him once, “Were you scared?” And he said, “Of course.” Did you ever doubt the outcome would favour you and your mates? “Of course not. We never thought otherwise.”
I am the son of a Brit so I was not at all startled to see one of the latest “R” performance cars from Jaguar being described by the company bumph as ”Jaguar’s fastest, most powerful and agile sports saloon ever.” No false modesty, not from these Brits, not when it comes to the 550-horsepower 2014 XFR-S.
Or consider the equally powerful 2014 XJR, like the XFR-S brought to life by a 5.0-litre V-8 supercharged mill: “This is a premium luxury supercar that also has an extremely purposeful look to it. This car will surprise, there’s no doubt about it,” says Jaguar design director Ian Callum.
Surprise? No. Not this is Jaguar, not in 2013, not with Jaguar’s revival plan sharpening for all to see, thanks to the heavy and consistent investment of the deep-pocketed Indian owners from Tata. I need just three words to describe these two saloons: delicious, dangerous and different. Delicious in design. Just look at them, and then slide into the buckets, eyeball the colour touchscreen at the top of the console, slide your hand across the carbon fibre or piano black veneer trim. Mouth-watering.
Dangerous? The XFR-S ($104,500) will do 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds, with a top speed of 300 km/h, or 186 mph. In a hurry to get to work? Here’s your answer. And different in that the XFR-S is not a BMW M5 ($101,500) or a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG ($99,700), though top Jag engineer Mike Cross says the XFR-S is a willing and able rival for these beasts from Germany.
“It’s a car for driving purists – it will feel engaging within the first 50 metres but remains accessible and confidence-inspiring at any speed,” says Cross, whose official title is Chief Engineer, Vehicle Integrity, Jaguar.
The XJR ($119,990 for the short wheelbase, $122,990 for the long wheelbase) is a big, bold sedan built first for comfort, but not shy in the speed department: 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds, 80-120 km/h in a blistering 2.46 seconds and a top speed of 280 km/h. These are scary numbers, joyously scary if you’re a committed, competitive gearhead like chief engineer Andy Dobson. The performance, he says with my father’s modesty, delivers “stunning performance,” yet is luxurious and comfortable and a big touring car should be.
“XJR has all the breadth of capability you could wish for in a high-performance luxury saloon car,” says Dobson.
Yes, both the XFR-S and the XJR are thoroughly capable. I tasted some of the breadth and depth of what this duo can do at the Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Wash., just southwest of Seattle. This largely unknown circuit has 16 turns, some of them at the end of a blind rise, and all sorts of elevation changes. A long straight allows you to roar out of the hairpin and reach 120, 130, 140 mph, depending on your exit and your courage. The up-and-down topography challenges the chassis to sit comfortably and hold a line, without getting all squiggly and out of sorts.
Both cars chewed on the Ridge and spat me out a happy man, though a little breathless, heart thumping, the hair on the back of my neck all up and alive. The big XJR is not as quick in the turns as the shorter-wheelbase XFR-S, though I found myself bounding about with confidence. I jumped straight from hot laps in the XJR to the XFR-S and found it necessary to dial up my attention and focus. Immediately. The smaller XFR-S lunges into corners and bounds out of them. Both share a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters that allow you to manage the gearing with precision. And both share an all-aluminum, quad-cam V-8 that sings when pushed past 6,000 rpm. Dobson says this engine actually does some of its best work past 3,000 rpm. Interesting for a V-8.
The gearbox is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, in full automatic mode, its software is smart enough to learn your driving style and adapt the shifting accordingly. Something called “Corner Recognition” holds gearing in a bend so that you can exit in the right ratio. This, in fact, is a thinking gearbox.
On a course like Ridgeway, a car’s chassis gets a workout, managing roll in a corner, and squat in acceleration. Naturally, then, the dampers can adjust to the conditions up to 100 times a second. There is also an electronic rear differential to send torque to the side where it’s needed, too. Monstrous high-performance braking will haul you down from a great speed – and those massive red calipers peeking through 20-inch lightweight alloy wheels are a delight. The XFR-S sports Pirelli rubber – 265/35 front, 295/30 rear. Good, grippy stuff.
As for looks, the XJR is the flagship of the XJ line and it looks the part. R-spec side sills not only give you a visual reference, they also help to keep airflow tight to the side of the car. At the rear is a trunk lid-mounted spoiler and at the front you can spot bespoke “R” hood louvers. The engineers say they are functional; they aid aerodynamics and engine cooling. Like all XJ, the basic design is broad-shouldered and intimidating.
The cabin, meanwhile, is jazzed up with Jet leather trim in either Ivory, London Tan or Red Zone inserts on the seat facings. The seats are embossed with the R logo and you can choose stitching in either Red or London Tan. The roster of goodies is long, including a standard 380-watt, 12-speaker surround-sound Meridian system in both cars.
The XFR-S is, naturally, an older design and possibly because of that, the stylists have reigned in themselves. A deeper front bumper has air intakes framed in carbon fibre. Other aerodynamic tricks include extended side sills and aeroblade mouldings behind the front wheels. A bootlid-mounted spoiler provides downforce at higher speeds. The Jaguar types say extra XFR-S bodywork cuts overall lift by 68 per cent. The cabin? The seats are embossed with the R-S logo, among other things.
In a nutshell, these two are powerful, capable, near-exotic saloons from a decidedly unabashed Jaguar. Shy and retiring? Don’t be silly.
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