2012 Jaguar XFR Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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For decades the classic duel between top-tier sport sedans has been between the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class AMG, while occasionally Audi would pack its musket with some brilliantly explosive firepower like the RS6. More recently Cadillac joined the super sedan fray with its second-generation CTS-V, but I must admit the latest entry into this coveted class might just be my new favourite.

Jaguar's XFR is really quite special. From its elegantly understated shape to its plush leather-lined cabin it's a car that could only hail from Britain, although it comes across as more London than Birmingham, where it's actually built. And I'm not talking Hackney to the east or Lewisham to the south, or for that matter more centrally located Lambeth. No, it feels more like Hampstead or Richmond. It's been a while since I lived in good old London town, but I remember it being a mecca for the automobile. Of course Jaguars were everywhere, although the brand had nothing as intriguing as the XFR when it was under the blue oval umbrella.

That was in the late '80s and early '90s when Ford had taken over the reins and placed Jaguar within its Premier Automotive Group (PAG), just underneath once-rival Aston Martin, the group's flagship brand. Ford did a lot of good for Jaguar, making it amongst the most reliable premium brands available included, but they also stole its oval grille for the midsize mainstream Taurus sedan in similar fashion to how its designers are now pilfering from Aston's heritage to make its new Fusion appear more upscale. Of course, the new XFR couldn't have existed within the PAG division. One of the first things that Jaguar did to let the world know it was on its own as well as remind everyone that it was once a technology leader, not to mention one of the most coveted sports car brands in the world, was trump Aston at its own game with the 510-horsepower XKR. The XFR is basically the same powertrain adapted to Jag's midsize four-door sedan, and the result is beyond brilliant.

While the XFR has been around for a couple of years, this 2012 model is the first opportunity I've had to drive it. Sliding inside certainly didn't remind of my old 1990 XJ6 Sovereign, the only Jag I ever owned, which incidentally was miles more reliable than any of the five BMWs I had prior to that. That car was all grey leather and glossy burled walnut with picnic tables on the front seatbacks, where the XFR was opulently appointed, of course, yet infused with a more performance-oriented interior design. The woods, while gloss, aren't brown but a grey stain, while the leathers are perforated with ivory contrasting stitching over seats that are truly deserving of the term sport. Those seats were updated for 2012 and are some of the most supportive yet comfortable in the performance arena, while the XFR's buttons and switches are now painted black for better daytime legibility. A revised infotainment system is surrounded by a textured metal surface that covers most of the dash, while carbon fibre accents enhance the tech experience.

I'm glad Jaguar didn't touch its ultra-cool transmission dial. It's a circular knob that powers up from the lower centre console on ignition like some rotating stage rising out from the centre of the crowd at the beginning of a Yes concert (if memory serves, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe and the rest of the Roundabout boys played a pretty awesome "Yes in the Round" tour way back when you could still buy a brand new E-Type). Like that concert was, the car is a spectacle to behold, yet not even the smoky mist floating up into the old Vancouver Coliseum's cheap seats could elevate the mind to appreciate anything like what the XFR can do with adrenaline levels.

Let's face the facts, 510-horsepower sounds like a lot and feels like a lot. There's nothing subtle about it. It's 5.0 litres of Roots-type four-rotor Eaton supercharged V8 goodness that must be experienced at full wide-open throttle to even be imagined. Certainly I've entertained cars with such levels of power before, and much more. I've driven nearly every generation of M5, numerous Mercedes AMGs, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsche Turbos, and even that German brand's sensational Carrera GT. I've even piloted the outrageously overzealous Bugatti Veyron, and one thing I've learned from experiencing all of these cars and many more is that too much power is never a bad thing. As long as the chassis is willing and able.

And the XFR is certainly willing and plenty able, with a nicely balanced feel that, despite its 1,953-kilo girth, responds to input an immediate exactness yet isn't overly firm. That's the electronically controlled dampers at work. Even when all 461 lb-ft of torque are let loose, the 285/30 Z-rated rear tires on 20-inch dark grey Draco rims lock up and catapult the car forward to 100 km/h in less than 5 seconds without getting a whit unsettled. Likewise it remains planted and stable when putting that power down mid-corner, its 6-speed automatic finding just the right gear if left to its own devices, or alternatively coaxed cog by cog via fingertips on paddles.

Fingertips on the 7-inch colour TFT touchscreen navigation display weren't quite as rewarding. Jaguar updated the infotainment system for 2012 and, while better in most respects, its navigation program is still more trouble than it's worth. Rather than run the risk of missing another turn I opted for the TelNav system in my phone that always gets me where I want to go without hiccup. As for the 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system with its soul shaking 1200 watts of power, I only wished I had Owner of a Lonely Heart on my iPhone. And I'm guessing a more subtle choice of classic rock, or for that matter the classics themselves, would sound even better in the 2012 model than last year's XFR, as Jaguar went and added more sound deadening materials to hush noise, vibration and harshness.

Yes, there's really nothing harsh about the XFR. From its beautifully detailed cabin to its mellifluous drivetrain, even the kick in your back at full throttle feels as if it's swaddled in a soft slipper rather than a thick hobnailed boot. Smoother still is the XFR's updated styling. There's hardly a hard edge about it, every corner rounded and each crease tapering out to form fluid visual movement. I especially like the new headlight treatment, the bulbously uncomfortable Marty Feldman eyelids of the outgoing model now replaced with a proper set of Nastassja Kinski cats-eyes, which of course feature de rigueur LED running lights.

When all is said and done there's one thing I like more than all of the above, Ms. Kinski aside: the price. At $88,230 including shipping you'd think the XFR was built in Scotland! It's a shockingly good deal compared to its German rivals, the E 63 AMG priced $13,465 higher and the new M5 demanding another $15,365 from your wallet! You can buy a lot of premium for $15k, even at this Jag's rather ravenous claimed 14.1 L/100km city 9.3 highway fuel economy. You can even afford to download a TelNav or TomTom app for your smart phone.

Directional foible aside, the updated 2012 Jaguar XFR is a fabulous car worth every penny asked.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Jaguar, 2012, XFR, $75,000 - $99,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Jaguar

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