A wise old man once told me: “you can’t just own a Jaguar, you have to have a love affair with one.” The reasons for this were several, the sexy rooflines hampered head room and visibility, trunk space was non-existent, and then there are those reliability woes. Although my 2000 XJ8 has (no kidding) been the definition of a reliable car for the past 120,000 miles, the mantra applied. When Jaguar came out with a new S-Type, the restrained classic styling screamed “this is your father’s Jaguar.” When Jaguar created performance models like the XJR and S-Type R, they were just fast fat cats, not really holding their own against the Germans. But that wasn’t their goal at the time, the goal was to propel an English gentleman’s club on wheels with “swift progress” to quote the XFR’s owners guide. Jaguar styling was the definition of restrained classic elegance. Everyone who saw a Jaguar would gush about how gorgeous they looked in the parking lot. Consumers loved the look in someone else’s parking lot, but put a BMW in their driveway. Like the box of abandoned kittens at the PetCo front door, nobody really wanted to take the kitty home, and that’s a pity.
While beating the bushes at Jaguar over a 2011 XJ test car, I was given the opportunity to sample the 2010 XFR, a car that had been a bit low on my list. I’ve driven the 2010 E63 AMG and the 2010 BMW M5. My kidneys still hurt after only a few hours behind the wheel of the M5. I still have whiplash from the harsh shifting of the E63’s 7 speed contraption. I was therefore somewhat wary of what the XFR would bring to the table especially since the lads in Coventry had decided to compete head on with the E63 and M5 rather than just making a faster cat. Thankfully for the masses, the Jaguar is both worthy competition for the German ‘bahn burners, and a faster cat.
Looking at pictures of the XFR since its release, I was concerned that the XFR would look too bland, too conformist in styling, but in reality the front is expressive and the rear end has an Aston Martinish feel that pictures fail to convey. The only styling let down is the XFR’s side profile, which could stand to be more expressive. Parked next to a BMW or a Mercedes, the XF looks plain, or perhaps I should say restrained. Minimalist styling continues into the interior, which I would swear is more of the Stockholm design school than classic Coventry. Build quality is excellent, save for some nasty plastic on the airbag cover and steering column. Truth be told, the plastic on the airbag cover is competitive with the E-Class and BMW 5 series, but everything else in the XFR’s cabin is so sumptuous that these two parts stick out like a sore thumb. Speaking of those German rivals, the XFR on the whole gets high marks for interior quality and feel compared to all except the Audi RS6.
Bumping up to the XFR from the plebian XF gets the buyer full leather upholstery with more seat bolstering, a stitched dashboard, alcantara headliners, dark oak trim with knurled aluminum accents. And just about every option available in the XF is standard in the XFR, 20-inch wheels, subtle side skirting, extra exhaust tips, and lest we forget an insanely powerful 510 horsepower 5 litre supercharged V8. The 18 way adjustable driver’s seat is very comfortable and just in case your backside needs extra care it is heated and cooled as well. Bolstering is not at BMW levels, but let’s be realistic; with a 4,000lb car you really don’t need them. Sadly the rear seats in the XFR are just a bit less special than the front. Rear thrones in the XFR get neither heating nor cooling, and absolutely no special controls or knobs to play with.
The XF and XFR share the same touch screen navigation system. While the system is fairly simple to use, the system has an annoying delay when switching screens. I appreciate minimalist design in theory, but in practice putting controls like the seat heater/cooler and the steering wheel warmer in the touch screen just seem odd. Jaguar’s voice control system unfortunately receives my harshest judgment, this thing is terrible. Not only are the commands not intuitive, the help feature unhelpful, the system slow to respond, but it also didn’t seem to understand anyone at least half the time. My local Jag dealer tells me it is a common complaint. Adding to voice control’s issues: you can’t control your iPod at all with the voice control system. Jaguar’s previous owner Ford should be blamed for this deficiency, none of Ford’s PAG companies were allowed to use Ford SYNC which is a pity since this means the Ford Fiesta has a better voice control system than an $80,000 Jaguar. For shame. For those into comparisons, fear not: the Mercedes voice command system is just as terrible.
Taken on the surface, the XFR looks like an also-ran in the performance luxury space. The styling is no longer unique or quirky, the exterior is modern, and the interior is Scandinavian chic. What takes this car from average to extraordinary is how it drives. Your average 500+ horsepower luxury car is an odd animal, you get the trappings of luxury but all too often you get a harsh crashy ride, jerky transmissions, and occasionally you are [gasp] expected to row your own gears. The jerky transmission is one lesson that Maserati learned early on with the Quattroporte, installing a ZF 6 speed after massive complaints about its daft transmission. Likewise the E63 could be a great car except the transmission is so herky-jerky when driving in stop and go traffic or trying to drive that the current generation E-Class AMG joins the M5 on the list of cars that are great, but just aren’t daily driver material anymore. The XFR on the other hand is smooth, Lexus smooth, on the highway you might even think that it’s too smooth to be a performance sedan, but you’d be wrong. One firm press on the accelerator pedal and the XFR accelerates with a combination of effortless grace and some seriously aggressive snarl from the exhaust.
On windy back country roads, the XFR is incredibly agile, the ZF 6 speed transmission is lightning fast even in regular Drive mode. Flick the silly hockey-puck shifter in to Sport mode and any desire for a DSG-style transmission vanishes. All automatics should be this good. Shifts are practically psychic, and should the computer somehow get you the wrong gear, the paddle shifters summon that gear up in an instant. Every time. Speaking of the hockey-puck, yes it is a tad gimmicky but it is easy to use and with fast rev-matched shifts I quickly forgave the quirkiness. If you actually decide to exercise all 510 ponies and 461 lb-ft of torque, vanes in the exhaust open up and the XFR goes from house cat to a wild snarling beast, but thanks to an electronic rear diff (and more processing power than NORAD) the XFR is a wild beast on a short leash.
Over boosted numb steering has been a complaint of high-speed Jags for some time, but the XFR’s steering is quick and communicative and straddles that line by being neither too light nor too heavy. The dynamic suspension is also excellent; it firms up when you’re thrashing the XFR on the twisties and settles down to provide a smooth ride on a rough freeway. The combination of excellent ride and the incredibly quiet cabin belie how fast this beat can be. If you aren’t careful on freeway onramps you’ll find yourself in the triple digits in less than 10 seconds.
After a full week with the XFR I was sad to see it go. At $82,000 as tested, the XFR isn’t exactly cheap, but compared to a similarly equipped M5 or E63 the XFR represents a decent bargain and that’s important in this space. Many shoppers who are buying a car in this price range still care about the “deal” and an extra $10-15k is still noticed. Many publications will never dare to say something is better than a BMW, but that’s not the TTAC way: The XFR is the better car when compared to the E63 and M5 and given the choice I would take the XFR every time. At the end of the day Jaguar has managed to get the luxury side of the equation balanced perfectly with the performance side. The XFR is a car you can drive every day with a smile, it gets looks from people on the street, and while it may not beat an M5 at the track, it will sure give it a run for its money. The XFR may just be the perfect sleeper, and the best kept secret in the European sports sedan lineup.
For 2011 Jaguar has made some subtle changes to the XFR, including a new front grille unique to the XFR, a real button to open the glove box rather than the proximity sensor, and the radar cruise is now a $2000+ option. The BMW M5 is on hiatus for 2011 returning as an all-new 2012 model.
Jaguar provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.