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2010 Jaguar XFR Credit: Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail
2010 Jaguar XFR Credit: Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail

2010 Jaguar XFR

Plenty of growl, but where's the purr? Add to ...

Jaguar's new XFR polarizes all those who drive it. The R-model is such strong medicine.

Step out griping - as I did - or emerge in a state of bliss wondering how anyone could ever find fault. The reaction is personal either way, growing into firm conviction.

Three respected colleagues were confident after driving the XFR and its competitors that it would win the Sports/Performance over $50,000 category at the Canadian Car of The Year TestFest by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. Yet it finished third behind the winning Audi S4 and Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe.

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Personal notes taken two weeks before the AJAC event during a drive to Algonquin Park may indicate why the experts' scorecards tallied as they did. This Jaguar slams over potholes like a delivery truck, I groused, and is afflicted with a throttle response as abrupt and threatening as a rhino's.

Most un-Jaguarish, and the absolute topper, this car in silhouette is without distinction. Handsome as it is, it could be taken for a Lexus if you somehow missed the time-honoured Jaguar emblems, the growling cat's face on the nose and the leaper chrome cat on the trunk.

Certainly it's a fabulous car, if extreme. It has 510 horsepower - up from 420 in 2009 - and an interior to die for.

At $85,300, it's priced under comparable German competitors, the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, which both start at $106,900, and in the wider automotive world only the Cadillac CTS-V holds an advantage in horsepower per dollar, boasting 556 hp at $72,045.

It's just not as sophisticated as a Jaguar ought to be.

Jaguar management might argue that its R models are uncompromising in their sporting nature, but competitors - the AJAC class-winning Audi S4 being an example at hand - manage to cosset their drivers and passengers in a way in which Jaguar once provided the standard.

Depress the accelerator with anything other than utmost respect and this Jaguar launches with unintended force. An increase in engine displacement (from 4.2 to 5.0 litres) and direct injection brings about the massive increase in power over the car's 2009 predecessor, along with 461 lb-ft of torque that is on tap at 2,500 rpm.

One reviewer described last year's XF Supercharged as being so docile it was easy to forget the 420 horsepower under the hood. If only the same could be said about the XFR.

Some will find the throttle sensitivity unpleasant. Others will be bothered by the tendency of the very wide tires (P255/35ZR20) nibbling in the longitudinal grooves worn into the pavement of some Ontario highways. And the issue of thumps over bumps is significant.

Attaining a sumptuous ride, though, obviously was considered of no consequence in the tuning of this car. Fitting 20-inch wheels shod with low-ratio tires set the course.

Nor is there a Comfort setting for the variable shock absorber damping - as is provided in BMW's M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG - that allows the driver to choose a softer ride when roads become rocky. The Jaguar's damping varies automatically in response to sensors reacting to driving style and speed - but its range is from firm to firmer.

The driver is granted the ability to control such systems as dynamic stability control, winter mode and dynamic mode (but not the active differential that engages automatically). Pages 162 through 166 in the owner's handbook are a must-read if one is to actually utilize the plethora of console buttons controlling all of the above. Best to bone up on the touch-screen operation, too, rather than attempt changing temperature or radio station going by intuition rather than understanding.

The XFR is at its most impressive on a racetrack. There the pavement inevitably is smooth and full throttle acceleration the norm. When Jaguar introduced the XFR to automotive journalists last February of this year, the Circuito Monteblanco near Madrid was chosen in the knowledge the scribes would be thrilled. When AJAC members drove the car through the long pylon course laid out on an airport runway at TestFest, they experienced the XFR at its very best.

Some got the XFR max-ride, at least. Others, including yours truly, failed to engage its track mode, making the mistake of pressing the dynamic mode button (the one bearing a checkered flag) in expectation. Not having yet read pages 162-166 of the owner's manual, we did not take the additional step of pressing the dynamic stability control (DSC) button for 10 seconds in order to disable the safety system. As a result, engine power was reduced and individual wheels braked automatically, when dancing through particularly tight series of curves - and still the XFR impressed.

The drive to Algonquin Park two weeks earlier was not nearly as positive.

With temperatures near freezing and a steady rain, the winter mode button was pressed to harness the supercharged V-8. Blame it on this driver's throttle application, perhaps the thick-soled hiking boots came into play, but more than once in these conditions the Jaguar exploded forward following a wag of its rump when all that was called for was gentle acceleration.

A driver needs to pay full attention, then, and not just on the track. Those who enjoy such engagement, those with a taste for explosive power, may feel almost immediately that the XFR is their kind of perfection. Other drivers, and certainly tranquillity-seeking passengers, will agree this Jaguar is a world away from offering the balanced attributes characterized as Grace, Pace and Space in the marque's finest models.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

******

2010 JAGUAR XFR

Type: Four-door sport sedan

Base price: $85,300; as tested, $86,370

Engine: 5.0-litre, DOHC, direct-injection, supercharged V-8

Transmission: Automatic six-speed with paddle shifters

Drive: Rear-wheel-drive

Horsepower/torque: 510 hp/461 lb-ft

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 18.7 city/8.7 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63, Cadillac CTS-V

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