I had more fun driving the 2014 Jaguar XFR-S sedan than I have anything in a long time; that reflects both Jaguar's excellent work and how disappointing the class of maximum-performance sedans has become.
The XF is only the second Jaguar model to add an "S" on top of the performance "R" suffix, following the XKR-S four-seat coupe and convertible. So you can now get an XF midsize sedan with one of three engines (see our review of the 2013 model here), an XFR with a higher-powered V-8 and now the 2014 XFR-S, which adds even more power and a slew of other upgrades. Though Jaguar last year added an all-wheel-drive option for V-6 models, all the other versions have rear-wheel drive. I'm tempted to call the XFR-S the ultimate track version of the car, but Jaguar calls it the ultimate road performance version. There's also an XFR-S GT that the company calls the "track-inspired" variant. (I'm always surprised by the use of GT to represent a track car because GT stands loosely for grand touring, and touring suggests comfort over sport. I digress.)
Exterior changes distinguish the R-S from the R (itself more aggressive-looking than the regular XF). Both the front bumper and the side sills are deeper, and the bumper has large air intakes and a carbon-fiber splitter to reduce front-end lift. Buyers beware: It's low enough to be more vulnerable to damage from parking blocks and curbs.
The rear bumper also gets aerodynamic upgrades, including deeper side sections and an aggressive carbon-fiber diffuser between a pair of dual tailpipes. Like the XFR, the XFR-S offers a tasteful trunk-lid spoiler to reduce rear-end lift. Optional is a larger spoiler that is anything but tasteful, looking like it came off a Subaru STI. On the upside, it's a nice piece of engineering: It reduces lift even more than the smaller spoiler, yet it doesn't produce downforce, which would sacrifice mileage. On a track, you might want some downforce, but if we're to toe Jaguar's line, there's another XF variant for that, the XFR-S GT, which enjoys a claimed maximum of 320 pounds of downforce at high speeds. Only 30 of these cars have been allocated for sale in North America.
Presuming the XFR-S would be a road car for you, I recommend sticking with the smaller spoiler. Even among the other more-aggressive visual elements the S treatment adds, the optional spoiler just sticks out too much because, well, it literally sticks out too much.
How It Drives
Endowed with 550 horsepower, the XFR-S goes like mad. Whether it's from a standing start or already in motion, the supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 rockets the car forward with a robust 502 pounds-feet of torque that ranges from 2,500 to 5,500 rpm. The R-S has 40 hp and 41 pounds-feet of torque more than the XFR and 80 hp and 78 pounds-feet more than the regular XF Supercharged. The three share the same 5.0-liter V-8, and the output increases come primarily from induction and exhaust modifications and engine-management tweaks.
The XFR-S hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds — impressive, but the other V-8-powered variants aren't slouches, either.
|XF Supercharged||XFR||XFR-S||XFR-S GT|
|V-8 horsepower (@ rpm)||470 @
|510 @ 6,000||550 @ 6,500||550 @ 6,500|
|424 @ 2,000-5,500||461 @ 2,500-5,500||502 @ 2,500-5,500||502 @ 2,500-5,500|
|0-60 mph (sec.)||4.9||4.7||4.4||3.9|
|Top speed (mph)||141||174*||186||186|
*With optional Speed Pack; standard is 155 mph
To handle the V-8's extra output, Jaguar upgraded the driveshaft, the prop-shaft central bearing and the standard eight-speed automatic transmission's torque converter.
The lack of a manual gearbox option will be a deal-breaker for some. For those who don't mind an automatic and/or paddle-shifting, the XFR-S' transmission is very nicely executed. I was able to push the XFR-S to its limits in the safety of a closed track, and when in the car's Dynamic mode, the transmission consistently chose the appropriate gear, making multiple-gear downshifts quickly enough, even under the heavy braking necessary on a technical and challenging road course at Ridge Motorsports Park near Seattle.
For many years, Jaguar's six-speed transmission was my favorite conventional automatic specifically because it read my mind so well when in its automatic modes. My enthusiasm cooled once the brand switched to the ubiquitous eight-speed from German supplier ZF, but the XFR-S application brings back some of the old six's brilliance. Are you concerned because it's not a newfangled dual-clutch automated manual? I don't know if you need to be. Its good behavior includes very quick upshifts as well as downshifts, noticeable even when using the paddles. Honestly, the shift paddles — which I often prefer over automatic modes on a track — were unsatisfying. I've come to believe eight speeds is too many for manual shifting. I like to control the car myself, but … enough already.
For a sedan, the R-S felt remarkably at home carving its way through the course, with just enough body motion to feel natural. It's balanced, smooth and controllable, with precise steering and good feedback. The transmission's deft rev matching and intuition on curves allows for smooth transitions in all circumstances. The electronically controlled limited-slip differential and the electronic stability system — in its more relaxed Trac DSC mode — do their jobs unobtrusively. If not for the occasional glance down to see a blinking light on the instrument panel, I'd have thought stability wasn't intervening at all.
Trac DSC is activated by the Dynamic mode, which also firms up the adaptive shock absorbers, triggers the transmission's Sport mode and makes the accelerator more sensitive. Unfortunately, the driver can't configure which of these things occur when Dynamic is activated, as one can in the new F-Type. I'd definitely leave the throttle progression constant. Except maybe with a manual transmission, this ultrasensitivity always strikes me as a parlor trick that actually diminishes controllability.
The brakes showed no signs of fade after four spirited laps, and there was minimal odor as well — impressive because they're shared with the F-Type V-8 roadster, which is a few hundred pounds lighter. A curb weight of 4,134 pounds is actually one of the XFR-S' biggest advantages. Even though the car relies more on steel than the aluminum that comprises some Jaguar models, it's a good 253 pounds lighter than the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, 108 pounds lighter than the Cadillac CTS-V and 264 pounds less than the Audi S6 sedan.
These are all very good cars, but even the legendary M5 feels bloated and detached to me. As for AMG cars, in my opinion most of them are best appreciated in a straight line. The XFR-S feels lighter — maybe even more so than the numbers suggest — and takes to the curves like a cat on a rug.
The R-S' dynamic prowess comes in part from extensive suspension upgrades, including increased spring and shock rates, a new rear subframe and new suspension knuckles at all four corners that increased lateral stiffness by 30 percent, the company says.
Sound like a recipe for a rough ride? Nope. Though firm on its standard 20-inch wheels, the R-S' ride quality out on the road is quite comfortable. In some cars, the difference between Comfort and Sport suspension modes isn't very pronounced, but it is in the XFR-S. The adaptive suspension reads conditions and adapts well in the default mode, but Dynamic mode is what transforms it.
A reasonably quiet interior adds to the comfort level. At highway speeds there's a bit of wind noise about the front pillars and side mirrors, but it's not objectionable. Even the shift paddles have a more muted click than their counterparts in the full-size XJR. Less muted is the engine. I love a good growling V-8, especially from Jaguar, but I have to say I'm not wild about the XFR-S' exhaust sound, which mirrors the F-Type S roadster that shares its engine. Most of the time it's pretty tame, but get on it and it's far from tasteful.
I always like when performance car exhausts burble and pop on lift-throttle, but this drivetrain cracks — loudly. It won't bother you inside with the windows up, but from the outside, it's the audible equivalent of the optional spoiler — trying too hard and embarrassing you in the process.
Like the exterior, the inside has some exclusive touches, like R-S logos on the steering wheel, backrests and patterned aluminum dashboard trim. The seats and armrests have red accent piping and stitching, as well as leather with a carbon-fiber-style weave pattern. Opening the front doors reveals etched XFR-S sill plates.
Another reason to pass on the larger rear spoiler: It's placed exactly where it blocks your view through the rearview mirror.
Like most Jaguars, the XF and its many variants haven't been crash-tested.
In addition to a full complement of airbags and required safety features, the XFR-S includes a backup camera and blind spot warning.
XFR-S in the Market
The XFR-S is a whole lot of fun, and though high-performance sedans aren't exactly rare anymore, this one stands out because it has a lightness that its closest, and often revered, competitors lack. Unfortunately, it will cost you. At $99,895 (all prices include destination charges), it's a princely bit above the 2014 M5 ($91,825), 2014 E63 ($93,695), 2014 CTS-V ($64,525) and 2014 S6 ($74,295). For the price difference the XFR-S commands, you can add a lot of stuff to the other cars, but what you can't do is take off weight.
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