One of the first things you notice about the Jaguar XF-R when you slide behind the wheel is that there is no gearshift lever.
Not on the steering column, not on the dashboard. What you get instead is a large rotary dial mounted on the centre console below the stop/start button. Want Reverse? That’ll be one click to the right. How about Drive? Two more clicks. You get back to Park by dialling to the left.
It’s alien and off-putting at first – old habits die hard – but, aside from low-speed, back-and-forth manoeuvres, such as parallel parking, which confound it, you soon get used to it.
It’s certainly more intuitive than Mercedes’ steering-column push-button arrangement and BMW’s uncooperative stick-shift button control set-up, and is not as oddball as you might think. I can still remember when Chrysler products had a mechanical push-button gear selector located on the left-hand side of the dashboard, and Edsels had a similar arrangement – located in the middle of the steering wheel. Not that Ford’s disastrous mechanical love child was a car to emulate in any way, shape, or form.
The second thing that strikes you is that this car has some serious snap. With a supercharged 5.0-litre V-8 nestled in the engine bay, there’s a hefty 510 horsepower on tap, and Jaguar is claiming a 0-100 km/h time of less than five seconds for the XF-R. Transmission choice is a six-speed automatic only, and the XF-R has a top speed of 250 km/h, according to the company.
Number three is that the XF-R looks, well, mainstream. In the past, Jaguars have sometimes been idiosyncratic, at least from a stylistic standpoint. But this model looks like just about every other car on the road and is much less striking than the XK series, for example. You could park it beside a Buick LaCrosse and most people wouldn’t know the difference. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and this is not an ugly car, by any stretch, but in terms of a visual presence, well, the XF-R falls a bit short of the mark.
Three versions of the Jaguar XF are available, with the base model utilizing the same V-8 but sans supercharger. It’s good for 385 horsepower and is a couple of seconds slower to freeway speed than the XF-R, which features the supercharger, of course, as well as some discreet body badging and different exhaust tips. But both models look about the same. There is also a Premium model that is also supercharged, but with a lower output: 470 horsepower.
As far as fuel economy goes, if that’s at the top of your list of “must-haves,” you might be looking in the wrong place. While it isn’t voracious, the XF-R likes to quaff premium gas. Natural Resources Canada rates it at 14.1 litres/100 km in town and 9.3 on the highway. By way of comparison, a Porsche Panamera Turbo S is rated at 14.1 city/8.6 highway and a BMW 550 at 13.5 city/8.3 highway.
Inside, look past the gearshift selector and you’re clearly ensconced in an upscale car, with all the modcons and extras you would expect. Nicely done leather upholstery, heated front seats, navi system, Bluetooth, cruise control and so on all come standard, and the R has extras such as a back-up camera and blind spot warning. My tester also had an Italian racing red paint job ($1,500), heated windshield ($300) and highlighted brake calipers ($500), all of which bump the price up to more than $92,000.
Like just about every Jaguar I’ve ever been in, the XF-R is a treat to drive. Super responsive, silent in operation, exemplary road-holding capabilities, prompt braking, and, yes, impeccable road manners. This is a car you can drive hard without disappointment, absolutely soars on the highway, yet behaves itself trolling in town. Sometimes, high-performance prestige cars can be a little stroppy and uncooperative at slow speeds – BMW M-models, for example – but that’s not the case here.
One note: the interior controls – power windows, climate control, sound system, stop/start button, etc. – are on the slow side. Everything is relatively easy to understand, but there’s a split-second delay before they do what they’re supposed to. The touch-screen controls are particularly irksome and need to be redesigned.
On an emotional level, I’m rooting for Jaguar to succeed. I like the XF-R and the fact that this company has hung in there through thick and thin, and still manages to put out a decent alternative to BMW, Mercedes and Audi models.
But the ghosts of the past are still hovering. Jaguar pretty much soiled its own bed back in the 1980s and 1990s, and buyers have long memories when it comes to reliability and repairs. Even today, Consumer Reports says that the XF series’ reliability is “well below average.” For a $92,000-plus automobile, that’s just not good enough.
2012 Jaguar XF-R
Base Price: $86,900; as tested: $92,150
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V-8
Horsepower/torque: 510 hp/461 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.1 city/9.3 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Panamera, BMW 550i, Audi A8, Infiniti M56, Lexus LS460, Mercedes-Benz E550