Road Test: 2010 Jaguar XFR
This 2010 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
By Mark Gillies of Car and Driver
Appearances can be deceiving. Jaguars are for old geezers, aren't they? And they definitely shouldn't be spending time on a dirt oval, that most down-home of American automotive playgrounds, should they? But the new XFR most certainly isn't for the AARP set, and all that it offers can't be exploited fully on a paved public road.
On the surface, it's elegant and refined. Yet it also has 510 horsepower capable of tearing the tail loose at a twitch of the stability-control button. It's a lugubrious Jamaican fast bowler who's your best friend until he takes to the field and tries to knock your head off.
To test our theory that the XFR is really an old-style muscle car at heart, we decided to take it to Butler Motor Speedway, a three-eighths-mile drifting nirvana near Quincy, Michigan. As a playground for large, overpowered V-8 stock cars, it's the perfect place — no cops, only one concrete wall to hit — to wring out another overpowered V-8 sedan.
Now, it might seem that taking this $80,000 sports sedan to an oval in the wilds of Michigan isn't exactly cricket, but then, that game is deceiving, too. To the outsider, cricket is a screwy English game with impenetrable rules, played in bucolic settings by persons dressed in white street clothing. Between jack-rabbit bursts of activity, there's no action aside from the eating of crustless cucumber sandwiches and the sipping of tea.
But under this veneer of gentility, cricket is a vicious game in which bowlers (they're called pitchers in baseball) try to maim batsmen with 5.5-ounce balls made of compressed leather and cork and wool that are hurled at up to 90 mph. It's also a game in which "sledging" is an art form. (Example: A bowler yells at a batsman: "Why are you so fat?" Retort: "Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me a biscuit.") And the spectators on the sidelines who are clapping and providing vocal footnotes (but not too loudly) such as "Good show!" — well, they're drunk. Why else would they turn out for days on end, except as an excuse to go boozing?
We were already partial to the XF, which won a spot on Car and Driver's 10Best list for 2009. Thus the R model of this Jaguar, which has more power, more brake, and more grip, is an appealing concept. To turn it into a competitor for unhinged sedans such as the Cadillac CTS-V, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, and BMW M5, Jaguar started with the engine. Although the 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 shares the same AJ V-8 nomenclature as the 4.2-liter engine that carries over in the base XF, the only components that are shared are the valve tappets and the head bolts. The new block is made of high-pressure die-cast aluminum and is 0.9 inch shorter than that of the old 4.2 because the oil pump is now located inside the engine rather than mounted externally.
Like the old V-8, it has aluminum heads and four valves per cylinder. The new supercharger is an Eaton TVS (Twin Vortices Series) Roots-type unit that feeds through twin intercoolers and runs a maximum of 11.6 pounds of boost. The engine's most significant new technology is the use of direct fuel injection, which allows the compression ratio to jump from 9.1:1 to 9.5:1. The numbers this engine produces are big: 510 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 461 pound-feet of torque at 2500 rpm.
Perhaps the most important driveline change is an electronically controlled differential that uses an electric motor and a ball-ramp assembly acting on a multiplate clutch pack. To best deliver the power to the ground, the diff can be varied from fully open to locked, depending on a variety of parameters.The chassis gets a raft of changes. Jag claims the spring rates are stiffer by 30 percent and the anti-roll bars by about 25 percent. The R gets a steering rack that's about 10 percent quicker than the stock car's, plus Bilstein continuously variable shocks. They progressively alter damping according to vertical movement, pitch, and roll rate. There's also a dynamic mode that further stiffens the damping and holds the transmission in gear, even at redline, when shifting manually.
Sublime-looking 20-inch wheels are shod with wide, low-profile Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber, 255/35 in front and 285/30 out back, the same sizes as the outgoing XF Supercharged model's. Peeking from behind the aluminum wheels are 15.0-inch-diameter front and 14.8-inch rear vented disc brakes, an inch larger up front than on the XF Supercharged and two inches bigger at the back. To demonstrate intent, the bodywork gets a suitably muscular upgrade, with a mesh grille, quad exhaust tips, a trunklid spoiler, and sculpted side skirts, but the overall effect is quite understated.
The interior décor — leather and wood and wool, as English as bad teeth — is freshened with tasteful aluminum mesh trim and an Alcantara headliner. The R gets model-specific sport seats with electrically adjustable side bolsters that are much more supportive than the buckets in the regular XF. Soft-grain leather is standard.
Otherwise, the interior is virtually identical to the standard XF's. Lanky rear-seat riders aren't going to be happy with their allotment of space, but there's decent head- and legroom for anyone shorter than 5-foot-10. The infuriating multifunction central touch-screen display remains: One needs to go back and forth through submenus to change the settings, and that grows wearisome quickly.
The XFR certainly sounds like it belongs at Butler speedway, where the music on a Saturday night is all-American V-8. At least it makes the right kind of noise from the outside, where the engine has the same hard-edged growl as a highly tuned stock car's. In the cabin, there's a mild snarling sound as the pedal is pushed hard, but it's relatively serene even under hard acceleration.
And, boy, does this thing accelerate, even though it's not quite as quick as the lighter and even more powerful Cadillac CTS-V automatic or the last BMW M5 or Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG we tested. Zero to 60 mph comes in 4.4 seconds, 0 to 100 takes 9.8, and the standing quarter is breached in 12.7 seconds at 114 mph. (With an automatic transmission, the Caddy hits these marks in 3.9, 8.7, and 12.2 seconds, respectively.) We'd have turned quicker acceleration times if the car had hooked up better, but most launches ended up frying the Dunlops. Passing performance is sensational, as are the smooth, instant shifts, whether you let the gearbox do the work or choose to use the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to change gears "manually."
At Butler, where the XFR proved quite the drifter, the 510 horses easily overwhelmed the rear tires once we'd switched off the stability system. The steering is a little numb, but the chassis is wonderfully progressive and communicative, which is important on damp clay: The grip levels change through a turn, forcing the driver to react to the car's ever-changing attitude. On blacktop, which is where we expect 99.99999 percent of owners will spend their time, the XFR is nicely balanced and grippy, with impressive body control and a ride quality that's nothing short of miraculous considering the giant wheels and super-stiff tire sidewalls. The brakes have great feel and bite, with a 70-to-0-mph stopping distance of 158 feet, four feet more than that of the CTS-V. The XFR's skidpad figure of 0.89 g is comparable with the performance of both the M5 and the CTS-V.
The XFR is a mighty fine machine, as it should be for a base price of 80 large. It's a compelling blend of sophisticated highway cruiser and ferocious back-road bruiser, wrapped in a handsome set of clothes. Arguably, it's the best-looking car in its class, i.e., that group of sedans with more horsepower than you'd ever really need. Perhaps the days are numbered for cars such as the XFR, but we'll be remembering them fondly in the future in the same way old-timers today harken back to muscle cars from the 1960s.