“It’s our time to shine,” said Jaguar at the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum in Seattle. Indeed, Jag has been gleaming of late, brighter than the glow reflecting off the Frank Gehry-designed museum building. And having just driven the 2014 Jaguar XFR-S and XJR, the most powerful Jaguar sports sedans ever, my verdict is this: Germans, beware. The British are coming.
Jaguar’s R brand has been around for 25 years. It exemplifies the automaker’s performance potential, and sits as a hub for the R-S line and, most recently, the (XKR-S) GT. The latest offerings on hand in the city famous for rain, coffee and Sir Mix-a-Lot, were the XFR-S and XJR. Interestingly, during my stay in Seattle, it didn’t rain, I never drank a sip of coffee, and Sir Mix-a-lot didn’t play on the radio once. (Is Sir Mix-a-Lot still even a thing?)
The plan was a long drive, circumnavigating Mount Rainier, to a racetrack I’ve never heard of. We’d start out in the Jaguar XJR, a rival to the Mercedes S63 AMG, before slipping into the E63 AMG / BMW M5 fighter, the XFR-S.
As is always the case when driving an XJ, luxury encompasses you. Every nook is lined with the softest of leather, the seats cushion you like being swaddled in a Pottery Barn blanket, and the steering wheel forms to your hands like a Tempur-Pedic mattress. While the XJR certainly evokes sportier thoughts, it still possesses the same XJ qualities.
With meaner aesthetics, the XJR takes a leap forward. While the XJ appears elegant and sophisticated, the XJR adds bite, featuring hood vents, a rear spoiler and front splitter. It feels like the right evolution for the executive sedan, whereas the almighty XFR-S undergoes a transformation akin to Christina Aguilera in "Dirrty." Its rear wing looks like it’s taken from a WRX rally car, and its chiseled features look stolen from Johnny Deep. It appears on the surface to be as tough as nails, like a cross between Al Pacino in Scarface and James Bond.
Both the XFR-S and XJR sport the same 5.0-liter supercharged V-8, boasting 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque. The power at low revs is magic, meshed with short ratios in the lower gears, delivering a tire-shredding punch on acceleration. 0-60 mph, for both the XFR-S and XJR, takes place in 4.4 seconds (slightly slower than their competitors--but honestly, it still feels as fast as hell). In the XJR, 50-75 mph occurs in just 2.46 seconds, proving that the initial launch doesn’t stop.
It goes. And goes. And then it goes some more.
You’d think the hefty XJR sedan would weigh about the same as a troop of African hippos. Instead, it tips the scales at around 4,129 lbs., solid numbers for an executive saloon, while the XFR-S comes in at approximately 4,380 lbs. If you'd have told me beforehand that the XJR would be the lightest of the bunch, I'd have laughed out loud.
What that means is it remains relatively agile and nimble, not too dissimilar from the XFR-S--despite the latter’s focus on more dynamic driving at the expense of comfort. With the Jag’s Adaptive Dynamics system controlling body movement, adjusting damper rates up to 500 times per second, the ride on the XJR remains supple and comforting, while aggressive driving induces little body roll, keeping the platform taught and composed. The V-8, too, growls like Bruce Springsteen.
Has Jag inadvertently created a muscle car? Not quite, but the result certainly adds character. I came into this drive primarily excited about the XFR-S, but the XJR was making its presence heard.
Given its aggressive look, I expected the XFR-S to be sinister, loud and rambunctious. But it mostly isn’t. It’s refined and connected. It’s more M5 than E63 AMG, which isn’t a bad thing. It just isn’t what I’d anticipated. Compared to the XJR, the 8-speed ZF transmission delivers more aggressive shifts with each click of the paddle, like a more polished attempt at Lamborghini’s notoriously sharp transmission. That attribute, plus a Rice Krispies-like snap, crackle and pop from the overrun, add a dollop of visceral depth to the driving experience.
The noise from the monster exhausts, however, is less Bruce and more Bob Segar. You can hear it’s a V-8, but it can extrapolate higher tones at wish, and offers less gruffness. Personally, I prefer the Brilliant Disguise of the XJR.
On track, the XFR-S is certainly more nimble. It's stiffer (the XFR-S is 100 percent stiffer than the standard XF) and boasts less body roll. Braking, despite using the same brake and tire package, feels more planted, the steering appears sharper while the car rotates quicker. Both machines, however, offer the sought-after neutral balance that can be adjusted at will from the driver’s seat. A tap on the gas swings the rear around gracefully, while an increase in steering lock delivers mild understeer. Compared to the E63 AMG, the lack of body roll is massive, but it’s in a similar realm to the sharp BMW M5.
If there’s one complaint with the XFR-S, it’s that it lacks personality, in the same way an M5 does. Perhaps being less capable on track, featuring a more obtrusive aural soundtrack, can actually make it better? It works for the Mercedes E63 AMG.
The XJR, conversely, possesses some of those Merc-like attributes, only in a more sophisticated way. That elegance is key for Jaguar, and blending it with pure muscle is what makes the XJR so good.
The XFR-S will set you back $99,000, although Jaguar are only selling a couple of hundred here in the U.S.; an incredibly low figure for a machine I believe could sell in good quantity. Both its BMW and Mercedes competition start around $10k less than the XFR-S, but by the time you option up, the Jag may be the better deal. The decision comes down to personality; do you want BMW’s clinical, somewhat sterile approach, offering an exceptional performing machine, versus Mercedes’ muscular strategy, that sacrifices prowess for personality. The Jag falls somewhere in between the two.
The XJR starts at $116,000, far less than the S63 AMG. And it’s the XJR that really blew me away, as I simply didn’t expect to unearth such a brutish character, yet properly blended with opulence in Jaguar’s true gentleman-like fashion.
Both cars enter the fray with the Germans as legitimate contenders, offering wildly capable British sports sedans to compliment its successful foray back into the two-seater sports car market with the F-Type. With this, Jaguar continues its rise back to relevancy. Which remains more than can be said for Sir Mix-a-Lot.