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02-14-2009, 08:57 PM

Sometimes itís wise to have a good ponder about your prejudices, an internal audit of long-held beliefs, just to make sure that stuff hasnít changed when you werenít looking. As evidence, I submit the fact that for 25 years I havenít eaten curry, convinced that it was food-shaped napalm containing suspect meat.

This was of course more than a little misguided. But Iím not the only one: people do like to write stuff off, even if their experience of a product is actually quite limited. And so it is with Jaguar.

The number of times Iíve heard people harrumphing themselves almost inside out and declaring that Jaguars are an ďold manís carĒ, based on the fact that they once saw Inspector Morse fondling a Mark II. When you ask them whether theyíve ever driven one, they tend to say no, or hold up as evidence an aged X-type that their brother-in-law once borrowed from work. But time for a revisit, because Jaguar has been busy.

In a stroke of genius timing, and in the face of a global economic meltdown, Jaguar has launched this: the newest and fastest version of its XF saloon, the 510bhp £60,000 XFR. Sod the credit crunch and all that. And you can forget the bleating that the new engine produces less CO2 than the previous 4.2-litre V8 and that it is still comparable on fuel consumption, because a four-door saloon that does 0-60mph in 4.7sec and an electronically limited 155mph is not here to save the world ó albeit perhaps from boredom. It is here to step Jaguarís game up a notch because this XFR is seriously good.

Now Iím not being randomly pseudo-patriotic, as the basic XF is a pretty good starting point: stylish, swish, fast and comfortable. Itís good looking, possesses an interior you want to lick and has a decent drive that concentrates more on the waft than the on-the-limit cornering weave.

Itís so good in fact that youíd think all Jaguar needed to do to make the XFR would be to just slap on some Vaseline, squeeze in a hugely powerful engine and ó bingo ó instant world-beater. But no. The XFR is more than that, and really quite a subtle, rounded prospect.

It doesnít look like a car with a supercharged V8 and 510bhp, for a start. It just looks like an XF, albeit one with extra tailpipes and ducts on the front bumper. It hasnít sprouted a fungal mess of spoilers or suddenly developed a ďlook at meĒ complex. True, the 20in wheels have the word ďsuperchargedĒ engraved showily around their centres, but thereís a comforting lack of cheesy bolt-on bitsíníbobs that might chip away at the confident subtlety.

And it dribbles around like a diesel XF ó which is to say very well indeed ó with a great ride, nice steering and a slick-shifting six-speed automatic gearbox. The XFR serenely manages all the slightly dreary, day-to-day stuff without breaking sweat. But when the road clears and you snap the accelerator to the floor, the realisation is that under the thick veneer of sophistication the car is completely bloody bonkers.

The change is quite extraordinary; somewhere along the lines of your local vicar suddenly brandishing a Desert Eagle handgun and addressing the problem of littering on the village green with extreme prejudice. Indeed, if you were to drive the XFR gently, you might never even tap the well of extreme dynamic violence that it is blatantly capable of. But when you really go for it, the huge reserve of deep-chested power becomes a very real, colourful thing; the supercharged fishing rod that you can use to reel in the horizon.

It accelerates spectacularly from rest, but itís on a sweeping A-road or motorway where the big Jag will really bare its teeth. Flick the paddles behind the steering wheel to select third gear, stamp on the throttle at 50mph and an enormous 461 lb ft of torque will shunt you forwards with supercar pace, pinning your body back into super-comfortable seats. You know the bit when an airline pilot guns a jumbo and you surge up the runway? Itís like that. Except slightly more scary. Suddenly that beautifully crafted English brogue turns out to have a steel toecap ó and itís perfectly capable of using it.

You arrive at the first corner rather more rapidly than you anticipate and, somewhere in the back of your mind, expect to wake up in hospital wearing the XFRís steering wheel as a headband. But you donít. The XFR has a new system called Adaptive Dynamics that alters the way the dampers work (500 times a second, no less) depending on how the car is being driven. Thus you can have a bottom-friendly ride when cruising back from the supermarket and something a little firmer when you fancy annoying the boy racers. It also means you can drive around corners at a speed that borders on witchcraft ó and still listen to Radio 4.

Fiddle with a couple of buttons and you can even stop the auto gearbox changing up at the red line for extra control, stiffen things up even further and allow the car to do the kind of effortless powerslides that should keep even Clarkson happy. Yet it also has tremendous grip. Grip that can happily pull your features into interesting new arrangements and alter the orbit of your pupils. And brakes that can clench the car to a stop. It is, from where Iím sitting, absolutely exceptional.

The trick is that the XFR has a supreme grasp on the duality of purpose it needs to succeed. Fast four-doors generally have some sort of glaring personality disorder, a piece of the overall puzzle that inexplicably goes missing in the pursuit of out-and-out speed. The BMW M5, for example, is horrendously clever, and takes a lot of perverse pleasure in demonstrating exactly how much cleverer than you it actually is. There are way too many settings for human comfort, lending it an air of technological brilliance that somehow fails to connect at an emotional level. Itís like trying to have an affair with a calculator.

The £65,000 M5 also uses a naturally aspirated and extremely revvy V10 engine that unfailingly encourages you to drive like your nether regions are on fire ó all of the time. The Audi RS6 at £75,000, on the other hand, offers the surety of four-wheel drive and the sneering absolutism of not just a V10 engine, but one with twin turbos and 572bhp. Which is a lot, and the car is brain-meltingly fast as a result. The problem? Itís deadly dull to drive.

The point is that the XFR is more complete than any of its rivals. No, the automatic gearbox isnít as fast as either the Audi or the BMW, the V8 could do with being a tad noisier when it gets going and in the final reckoning I still think a brilliant driver could wring more speed from either of the Germans. But 99% of us arenít brilliant, or if we are, arenít in a position to be brilliant on a daily basis. On those days, you need your four-door saloon to be able to swan around doing normal, everyday stuff.

You need it to go shopping, carry people without making them sick and then, on the odd occasion youíre in the mood, still make that idiot in the BMW M3 swallow his tongue. And it is this the XFR manages so well. Itís got old-school Jag values, with cutting edge performance. What more could you ask?

02-16-2009, 11:17 AM
Great review. I wish they didn't limit the top speed to 155mph but you can't have it all.

02-16-2009, 02:49 PM
I feel about my ordinary, base level 4.2 XF.

Even the base engine just trickles around town in a thoroughly civilized manner until you bury your right foot down into the carpet ( the elecronic throttle even has a slight resistance about 3/4 of the way down just like the old "kick down" point on autonatics of old). The roll on acceleration of the normally aspirated V8 is impressive. The supercharged engines must be just mad to drive.

02-16-2009, 04:55 PM
And the sound the 4.2 is really, really good. I almost like the 4.2's more than the blown engines. You can apply full power under much more road conditions without the tires breaking loose. Like you are driving the car rather than firing a cannon and holding on. It's almost how a 600cc bike is funnier to ride than a 1,000cc.

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