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Smoking gun: Top Gear in the Jag XFR-S

  1. The smoke comes later. Right now, it’s a grey Monday morning in the Surrey commuter belt and I’m parked up in the entrance to the Drift Golf Club, chuckling to myself at the aptness of it all. I continue to be rather too pleased with this word association until I realise just how incongruous the new Jaguar XFR-S looks in this spot. It turns out that golf-club man these days likes a leggy Vectra. Or a Peugeot. He also favours a look that’s three parts UKIP, one part righteous indignation, tinged with a hint of fear. I’m not sure they appreciate the swing of our club, so to speak.

    Words: Ollie Marriage
    Pictures: Lee Brimble

    This feature was originally published in the October 2013 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. But that’s fair enough. This Jag has a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way. So, not wishing to disturb the peace by seeing if it is actually possible to drift out of Drift, so to speak, we trundle into East Horsley and mingle with the early morning bun buyers at the bakery. Since these are chiefly men on their way to work in white vans, the Jag strikes a chord, adored and admired as much as today’s page three girl.

  3. I decide that it’s best not to point out that this pin-up of aspirational Britishness is painted a shade called French Racing Blue, or that you’d only be able to check the claimed 186mph max in Germany. Instead, I settle for highlighting the carbon-fibre wing, front splitter and rear diffuser, and the aero work that had dictated changes to the bumpers and sills, contributing to a 68 per cent reduction in lift. Shame, then, that Jag appears to have shopped for the wheels at some back-street dealer, and also that there’s an undeniable conclusion to draw at this stage. The Jaguar XFR-S: channelling the spirit of the Vauxhall VXR8 or what?

  4. But this morning is brought to you by the letters P, R, N and D, and the traction setting ‘on’. I’m loafing with the aim of finding out how the XFR-S, the rortiest, snortiest XF of all, manages to dispose of 550bhp amongst the denizens of East Horsley and other small towns jammed into this cramped corner of north Surrey. Glancing around, I suspect local chiropractors are going to be busy with tweaked necks in the coming days, but my experience from inside is a whole lot less jarring.

  5. The cabin is soothing and snug, with thick, cosseting seats and, well, a feeling of familiarity due to the fact that, barring some electric-blue stitching and carbon-effect leather, not a whole hill of beans else is new. It’s a clean, classy design, but no longer the freshest, and unless you look in the mirror and catch sight of the plod-blocker of a rear spoiler, it doesn’t exactly make much of its extra sportiness.

    So, from within, I feel like I blend in and, right now, that’s just fine. But if I were going to make a hardcore version of my already ferocious super-saloon, I’d be prepared to make some sacrifices, to let the ride jar occasionally, to turn the engine and exhaust volume up properly, to make the steering a damn sight less light and twirly. Not Jag. Apart from the visuals, what we have here is an easy-going car that minds its Ps and Qs and knows how to wipe its feet. You could argue this is a good thing, but what it also means is that the XFR-S is so civilised that you wonder whether the fire in its belly has been snuffed out. It demands nothing of you, except that you be wary of the width, but if I were spending £80k on a super-saloon, I’d want it to feel super all the time.

  6. There is an area where the XFR-S does feel super, though. I can’t recall having ever driven a car that overtakes better - not a Porsche 911 Turbo, not a Nissan GT-R, nothing. Here we have to praise the supercharger. Because when you do spot an opportunity, all you do is press and let 501lb ft of instant-access, zero-lag torque go to work, letting the Jaguar leap forward as powerfully and gracefully as its namesake. For maximum effect, make sure you engage Dynamic mode first, because then the throttle seems to be hardwired straight to your cerebellum. And not only the throttle, but the car itself. The XFR-S neither bothers to change down, nor obey the Newtonian laws of motion for objects weighing perilously close to two tonnes. It just hurls itself forward.

    This is its party piece, and it’s very good at it indeed. The engine doesn’t bother building to a huge climax, it just does the job asked of it, and you, as the pilot, are invited to marvel at its ability to do it. I marvelled.

  7. A drive punctuated by sudden and repeated lunges brings us to Dunsfold. We up the pace gently to start with, gradually stretching the car more and more, like you do when warming up Blu-Tack. The eight-speed gearbox is a brilliant partner for the engine, seamless in its operations and with a Sport mode that utterly negates the need to self-paddle. Just as well, given that the software appears to question manual selections before letting them through.

  8. Despite Jag having upped the spring rates by 30 per cent from the standard 500bhp XFR, there’s still a bit of body roll. Quite a bit, actually, to the extent it robs a little accuracy and adds a little delay into cornering, assisted along the way by the XFR-S’s excessive 1,987kg kerbweight. (Was Jag meant to be taking diet advice from Land Rover, or was it the other way round?). It’s a step on from the almost lazy, languid manners of the non-S version but, along with the placid ride, isn’t quite in keeping with my expectations. Another 30 per cent tighter might not have been a bad thing.

  9. Of course, this means it’s a very drivable road car, but don’t go getting carried away, because, just like the XKR-S and F-Type V8S, there’s only one end that’s going to break free, and the XFR-S ain’t no cowardly understeerer. It likes to take things broadside. Fortunately for those who don’t have an airfield at their disposal, there’s a TracDSC mode which lets you play like a toddler on a rein - however, if you do turn everything off, ironically a small child is exactly what you feel like as 542bhp cuts loose.

  10. The XFR-S uses the same E-diff (an electronically controlled LSD) as the flagship F-Type, and it’s a clever thing, open in normal driving, but able to lock up to aid traction. Except for when it’s doing long skids, when it reopens to protect itself, spinning up the inside wheel with a banshee shriek and laying down a thick blanket of E-Z-Fog. Fried carbons reduced to base formulae by the process of extreme friction. Tyres exercised by a supercharged V8 do not last long. We needed spares.

  11. And that’s sort of the problem. The XFR-S loves to act the loon - it’s beautifully balanced and immaculately behaved on both sides of the limit. But people who buy it (100-120 a year in the UK, Jag believes) aren’t going to melt rubber at test tracks, they’re going to drive it on the road and they’re going to be faced with the same problem I had, namely that it’s all too easy to find yourself happily wafting around in D, the car not asking anything of you. If you do go harder it’ll step up to the mark, but it also starts to feel heavy and big, so you slow down and the XFR-S happily returns to pootling. Odd though it sounds, I hoped the XFR-S would be less forgiving, more compromised and make more demands of its driver. I’m also unsure of the tone Jag have gone for here: it’s a bit… thrusting. So is it really a missed opportunity? Only one way to find out…

  12. Solid, reliable and smokin' - the XFR-S takes on the E63 AMG S

    Some letters are faster than others. ‘R’. That locks straight into racing. ‘I’ works well on hot hatches, but ‘S’ works on anything. Jag has teamed S with R for its ultimate XF, and Merc has now glued it to the rump of the E63 AMG.

    In the Jag, S means an extra 39bhp, 40lb ft and £14,580. Adding S to your E costs £9,995 for gains of 28bhp and 59lb ft. The end result is that the Merc, although a little more pricey, edges this contest on paper: 577bhp, 590lb ft. These are huge numbers, in turn creating some small ones: 0-100mph in 8.5secs. A near-three-second lead over the Jag at 150mph. One word describes the Merc: pulverising.

    But there’s so much more to this contest, not least the way they behave under acceleration. This is the Jag’s forte. It’s supercharged, so needs no time to build up a head of steam. After the shock of that initial surge, it flatlines, and as it’s not backed up by an intoxicating soundtrack, there’s no reason to hold on for higher revs.

    In the Merc, it’s all about the astonishing ramp up. It makes you wait a little, then delivers a thump of such brutality, along with an equally savage V8 war cry, that you never want it to end. But it does, the limiter calling a halt at only 6,000rpm. Too soon.

    Make sure not to venture into manual shifting with the Merc’s paddles. You’ll forget to pull the upshift until too late and so headbutt the limiter. In fact, neither ‘box is at its best in manual. Best to put them in S, and let the software sort it out. The Merc’s is even more scarily predictive than the Jag’s and delivers a mesmeric exhaust flutter on shifts.

    And I think that’s the difference between them. AMG understands exactly what a super-saloon needs to deliver. The Jag hasn’t quite got the focus or control. Yes, the E63 AMG is quite a severe thing. It keeps you a little bit at arm’s length and is less welcoming inside, all solid materials with no give, just a highly tasteful blend of grey leather, silver and carbon. The seats are too firm, and they make up for this with side bolsters that protrude too much.

    Best to grip the Alcantara steering wheel, twist the knobs and thumb the buttons on the centre console until you get a suitably sporty mode and go for a drive. It’s impossible to completely escape the engine, even when cruising - it’s always there, the car’s heartbeat, as deep and bassy as an earthquake. The suspension has little of the Jag’s calmness, but neither ride nor refinement are uncomfortable.

    For all its exterior stealth, it’s the tighter, tenser E63 that delivers the driving experience you expect to get from the more flamboyant XFR-S. I prefer it this way round, stealth overlaying madness. I’d understand if you didn’t, but I’d still say you were wrong - Merc understands the super-saloon game better than anyone. Of course, if you’re spending £80k, your options aren’t limited to four doors…

  13. So what else can you get for Jaguar XFR-S money, then?

    Eighty thousand pounds is a proper chunk of money, not enough for Elton John’s monthly florist’s bill admittedly, but enough to keep the rest of us solvent for a fair few years. It’s also an interesting pricepoint for cars, an amount of money where you get to have your cake and eat it: speed, everyday usability and desirability all wrapped up in one neat box of metal and electrics. That’s right, if you’re shelling out this much, your choices aren’t just limited to four-door saloons…


    The Porsche 911. It not only defines this sector of the sports-car market, it shapes the way every car at this price point is viewed. Are they as fast? As good to live with? As great to drive? You could even, at a push, shoehorn your two kids in, plus enough clobber for a couple of days away. That’s why the 911 is the answer to so many of life’s motoring problems. Or there’s the £76,610 Nissan GT-R: same money as an entry-level 911 Carrera (£73,413), with way more speed but also rowdier and more compromised.


    The £76,985 Audi RS6 is a mighty, mighty thing. We took the opportunity to figure it while it was at Dunsfold. Audi claims 0-62mph in 3.9secs. It did it in 3.5secs. And 0-100mph in 7.9secs. That’s unholy for something that also boasts a 565-litre boot. Quattro traction makes it one of the ultimate all-season point-to-pointers, even if it doesn’t have the handling finesse of the Jag and Merc. Unfortunately, it’s a rare breed, the super-estate, just this and the £75,535 Mercedes E63, or (if you’re happy to shell out more for less) the £83,080 CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake.


    It seems weird, but there’s more choice of fast SUVs at £80k than anything else. Porsche leads the way, although the all-singing Turbo is a bit over budget at £89,324, so it’s just as well our favourite is the more driver-focused £68,117 GTS. Treat yourself to some options. The others are much more closely stacked. The new £81,550 Range Rover Sport Supercharged is the unarguable all-round package, offering seven seats and pukka off-road skills. The £83,655 Mercedes ML63 is almost as demonic as the E63, while, sincethe demise of the X5 M, BMW is keeping up appearances with the £86,220 X6 M. We’d narrow the choice down to the first two…

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