An English Bulldog Learns New Tricks

2012 Jaguar XFR

The booming woke us. We had spent the night on a slip road next to Stonehenge, and now somewhere, every few minutes, a cataclysm dropkicked the sky and beat Mother Earth badly enough to warrant pressing charges. This is a miserable wake-up call: Gray sky, foggy Earth, a mystical monolith, the ground beneath having a seizure and Chinooks and Apaches floating over the harvested fields. Death was on the way, and he was in a mad hurry.

Which would have been a shame, because our 'bed' was the driver's seat of the 2012 Jaguar XFR and we weren't finished enjoying Jaguar's junior B-road mauler. The major organs of the XFR, pumped full of life by its supercharged V8, have been with us since 2009. It is the reskinning of those organs – probably the most significant cosmetic surgery in Coventry since the XJ stepped out of its antiquity – that's meant to make the magic of this particular car. Representing the long-overdue promise of the C-XF concept, this update allows us the hope that it would move past the Ford-mandated bait and switch that sucker-punched us when, after the C-XF, we were given the production version of the first-generation XF.

With no major changes made to its mechanics, we already know how the XF drives. We were spending time with it to make sure its beauty was as deep as its ability. Or put even better by Clive, the otherwise imperturbable English gent we met on the Salisbury plain, "Look at it! That's dogs, 'at is! Dogs!" And in this case, "Dogs!" was a very, very good thing.

We'll get to Clive in a moment. Jolted and awake, we ignited the beast and prepared to make the run from Stonehenge to the Paris airport.

But first we had to outrun that booming doom.
Related Gallery2012 Jaguar XFR: Review

2012 Jaguar XFR side view2012 Jaguar XFR front view2012 Jaguar XFR rear view

Five-point-zero liters; eight cylinders; one Roots-type, four-rotor Eaton supercharger; 510 horsepower; 461 pound-feet of torque; six-speed automatic; electronically controlled damping and rear differential; 285/30 Z-rated rear tires on 20-inch wheels. Those are the individual proteins recombined into the chunk of fast-twitch muscle we call the XFR. It will do 0-to-60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph, returning a combined 17 miles per gallon so long as you spend your time far away from that acceleration sprint and terminal velocity.

In spite of pedestrian impact laws, the front fascia of the XFR doesn't look like a quarry wall.

We pulled off the slip road and onto the A303, heading for London in hopes that it, too, wasn't exploding. About a mile down the road we spotted Clive, cooking meals in a trailer attached to a Volkswagen Passat parked in a lay-by, and decided we should have sustenance to meet whatever the day might bring. He delivered his signature line – "Dogs!" – as soon as we walked up to the counter to order breakfast.

And we fully agree: the XFR is a sedan of perilous, vital beauty. It is established at the very front and carried, though more subtly, through the rest of the car. In spite of pedestrian impact laws, the front fascia of the XFR doesn't look like a quarry wall; in truth, it probably contains no more rake than the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, but to the eye it appears otherwise. This illusion is aided by a conspicuous convex bow in the aluminum hood, flagrantly accentuated by two sculpted arcs that gently flare out from the grille to the A pillars. They, in turn, form a dais on the hood, upon which sits, lord-like and symbolic of potency, a power bulge.

2012 Jaguar XFR engine

Taken front-on, the XFR possesses few rectilineals; its curved forms, anchored at the grille and lower intake – twin air inlets (the driver's side inlet is closed off), headlight arrays and hood detailing – explode away and expand toward the edges of the car. Furthermore, the vivifying effect is underscored by the headlights, canted and shaped like anime eyes under a hood shutline that dips like a determined brow. And as much as we'd like to mock "J-blade" daytime running lights, they enhance the package and look the business in the rear-view. It is not, explicitly, the face of a machine – a design fact that separates it from the battlewagon miens of its German competition. True, they all reek of mercenary vengeance, but whereas the E63 AMG and BMW M5 look programmed to pulverize obstacles with the detachment of a hammer mill, the Jaguar looks like it will place a claw on your chest and pin you to the ground while it decides which of your supple human cutlets it would like to tear into first. We like that.

The XFR doesn't look unwieldy or imposing, even sitting low on 20-inch wheels.

The remainder of the car isn't so explicitly savage, but provides the bulk to back up the first impression. Alongside there is just one embossed fillet, down low on the car near the bulging side skirt, and an aluminum ingot inscribed with "Jaguar" atop a C-XF-inspired sail vent to break up the mass. Yet, with the ends of the sedan wrapped around onto the sides, the XFR doesn't look unwieldy or imposing, even sitting low on Marble-Arch-filling 20-inch dark grey Draco alloy wheels.

The stern has been given a revised expression, with chrome accent sporting The Leaper instead of the name of the brand, bracketed by LED taillamp elements above and below and complementary "light blades" adorning the LED outer elements. An innocuous set of dual pipes on both sides will let the world know when the doctor is in and performing serious operations.

2012 Jaguar XFR headlight2012 Jaguar XFR grille2012 Jaguar XFR brake caliper2012 Jaguar XFR taillight

Having finished brekkie and our walkaround with Clive, who was still exclaiming "That's dogs 'at is!", another aerial blast reminded us of our mission and our mortality. Clive rescued both, revealing the cataclysms to be just morning practice at the nearby Larkhill artillery range.

And with that, free from the threat of villainous Druidic juju, we suddenly had an overcast English day to enjoy before our cross-Channel cannonball to Roissy.

There is little to blunt the sensations either coming or going, or to mask what's actually being done. All positive traits in a proper sport sedan.

Cruising the Salisbury Plain, an earnestly beautiful countryside, in an XFR is a terrific life-after-imagined-death. Although planners laid out the entire English B-road system without the use of a single compass or protractor, their rulers were apparently beset with doglegs and obtuse crooks that provide squiggly interludes in otherwise straight-line driving. These have been combined with the rolling hills, hedgerows, tree lines and stone walls to provide constant surprises, usually around blind corners.

Not that such trifles could upset the XFR and its solid, intentional inputs and responses. Additional sound deadening has been added to the body for 2012 and it probably is quieter; however, at mid-range double digits during our jaunt through Salisbury, Normanton and Upper Woodford, what was foremost was the constant communication of the 255-section front tires and 285-section rears through the front seats and thick (no, really, thick) steering wheel. It's a rewarding wheel to helm: its hidebound thickness is excellent in hand, the quickened rack responds just as you request, and it feels like you're turning wide, 20-inch wheels. There is little to blunt the sensations either coming or going, or to mask what's actually being done. All positive traits in a proper sport sedan.

2012 Jaguar XFR interior2012 Jaguar XFR front seats

The rear seat is cozy, but still roomy enough for three internationally sized adults, or two American adults.

The new seats deserve special mention. They're wildly bolstered: if you were going to FedEx a human somewhere, XFR seats would form one half of the packaging. Yet such intensely carved thrones are easy to get wrong; often the initial impression of confident grip gives way to the sensation that you've been seized by a giant clam and it's trying to make a pearl out of you. We'd been with the car for a week up to this point and found our seat a welcome support for any task – forgettable days navigating the legendarily seizure-prone traffic of central London, hours on the highways and lanes of southwest England, the monotony of dark hours on the French autoroute, and even when we needed to stop for 40 winks next to the Texas-sized garden ornament that is Stonehenge. The rear seat is cozy, but still roomy enough for three internationally sized adults, or two Americans.

We spent the day discovering all kinds of castles and henges in the area, as well as discovering that Stonehenge isn't really a henge at all – but that's for another time. The sun finally made an appearance in the afternoon, and the minor revisions to the Jag's interior made themselves welcome. The previous interior was fabulous to look at, though not as fabulous to actually use depending on the angle of light entering the cabin. So the faux aluminum décor of the erstwhile "Tungsten finish" has been traded for the thicker, black, soft-touch buttons of the "Aurora" interior. The new switchgear is easier to see and use during the day, which was the point, and there are more hard buttons to make cabin settings quicker to access. There are other eye-catching changes like the full-color TFT screen in the dash cluster and halo lighting throughout the center stack, and the XFR gets exclusive treatments like carbon fiber instead of wood veneer and contrasting ivory stitching.

2012 Jaguar XFR gauges2012 Jaguar XFR climate controls2012 Jaguar XFR center console controls2012 Jaguar XFR dash

We have long been a fan of Jaguar interiors, and this one upholds the cause. Yes, incremental improvements make it better, but the brand is second only to Aston Martin – and that's a very close second, especially in light of the price difference and the fact that we're comparing a sports sedan to true sports-car coupes – in its ability to create seductively enveloping cabins. It's a combination of things, from those cozy seats, to the way the car is structured around you, to the way the leather is stitched and how it looks and feels like it's slab-thick everywhere. Every car in this price bracket is luxurious, but you'd have to go to Italy to get close to that same sense of detailed, crafted luxury, and even then the XFR, for us, still takes it.

The brand is second only to Aston Martin in its ability to create seductively enveloping cabins.

Where does it stumble? The touchscreen. The new one is supposed to be an improvement over the last, but it is astounding that a car this good from a brand on the rise is fitted with a touchscreen system with the mothballed reflexes of a patient recovering from a triple heart-bypass. It vexes the soul to have to use the navigation: the triangle that is meant to represent the position of your car is, due to some Heisenbergian quantum befuddlement, almost never where you need it to be when you most need it to be there. They might as well program the nav to mock you with "Haha, the turn was back there!" And it would be preferable to be gnawed on by a bull shark than deal with the waypoint system. Yes, this is harsh criticism, and perhaps even hyperbole – but the rest of the car is so good, we were thoroughly amazed by these seven inches of full-color, illuminated taunting.

On the other hand, the 1200-watt, 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo is obscene, glorious overkill.

2012 Jaguar XFR navigation system2012 Jaguar XFR door speaker

After a day of rolling through the countryside we stopped at The Bridge Inn in the very upper class and very English Upper Woodford – i.e., Madonna and Guy Ritchie had a house there, and the servant's abode on Sting's nearby compound probably qualifies as a mansion on its own. The XFR got approving looks in London everywhere we drove, from all kinds of people. It's a great looking car, but it's also £65,380 ($100,654 U.S.) and thirsty in a land of $8-a-gallon gas, making its rarity a factor we had to consider. On this day, driving through the city of Salisbury, by the cathedral, we missed the initial exchange between a group of boys gawking at the XFR, but we did hear one of them smack another and admonish, "Shut up! You'll never own one of those!"

It's a great looking car, but it's also £65,380 ($100,654 U.S.) and thirsty in a land of $8-a-gallon gas.

But there were two attractive young women working at The Bridge, so we thought we'd get their opinion on the XFR, here where we'd seen all kinds of spendy metal and vanity plates behind partially opened manor gates. It took a while to get an answer we expected. "What do you think of Jaguar?" we asked. The first answer, from the woman whose own car was a kitted-out Mini Cooper with the supplemental light package and a checkered flag roof, and who wanted an Audi S-Line A3 or A4, was, "I think it's a car for a very rich old man." We asked her to clarify: "The kind you'd like to know, or a regrettable old rich man?"

"A nice old man – not doddering about, frail, but he wears a tweed jacket and goes shooting."

We asked, "What would you think if a guy came to pick you up in a Jaguar?" The response was "I'd think he were showing off a bit," in the unmistakable tones of a mark against.

Her colleague voiced a second opinion, saying "It's okay if he shows up in one. It'd be quite a good thing..."

2012 Jaguar XFR badge2012 Jaguar XFR chrome trim2012 Jaguar XFR badge2012 Jaguar XFR badge

Asked about the particular Jaguar we were driving, we finally achieved a unanimity and success: They both liked the look of it. Even so, we made a mental note never to take it on a first date and to avoid pairing it with tweed.

There is a vault of torque in the engine bay, always ready to make it rain foot-pounds whenever you want to get down.

Caffeinated for the drive ahead, we pointed the XFR toward the M4, traveling through hamlets like Over Wallop, Middle Wallop and Nether Wallop on our way to the Channel ferry. We've driven the XFR through twisties before so we know what it can do, ably attacking esses under a firm hand, with a portion of BMW's suppleness and another of Mercedes' stolidity combined with a Jag-ness that is all its own. Even so, a long, straight road or a highway on-ramp is probably our favorite place to exercise an XFR. There is a vault of torque in the engine bay, always ready to make it rain foot-pounds whenever you want to get down, and the urgency never quits. Most engines get emphysema when they get within sight of their terminal velocity. Not Jaguar's supercharged V8. Even as the needle is swinging past 135 mph, the blown eight is still pulling like it has no idea that its top speed is an artificially limited 155 mph.

This comes in handy on the M4, where Audis on the triple-digit giddyup are constantly racing by in the fast lane. If you lack the juice, when you pull over to make a pass you'll find the distant speck that was in your side mirror has become a set of four rings and flashing lights in your rearview mirror. You never have to worry about that in the XFR, which can pile on another ten miles an hour about every second.

And while it's doing it, the appalling thunder emitted by its exhaust – yes to that noise, we say. Yes.

2012 Jaguar XFR rear 3/4 view

We know the Jaguar XJ Supersport was built for the spotlight, being the flagship and 'Ring Taxi and luxobarge monster. But the XFR is purposeful in a way the XJ isn't, and it's so capable and so honest about it. The two sedans feel much further apart than their dimensions indicate: the XJ Supersport is 17.2 feet long with a 10.4-foot wheelbase, the XFR is 16.3 feet long with a 9.5-foot wheelbase, but because of its aluminum construction the 4,281-pound XJ Supersport is 25 pounds lighter than the XFR.

The metaphor for the XFR isn't any cat – it's the erstwhile, bull-baiting English bulldog.

The XJ Supersport, however, feels like a massive car given some performance enhancing substance – gunning it around a track compels the same kind of "How have they pulled this off?" queries also raised by unlikely performers such as the BMW X6M and Bentley Continental GT.

Conversely, the XFR never feels like anything other than what it is: a 4,306-pound sport sedan built to go fast with walloping torque and horsepower, handle well with mechanical engineering that stays ahead of its electronic assistance, finished in English luxury. It is a truth that doesn't hurt at all.

If we go back to dogs and claws and cutlets, Clive had a point: The metaphor for the XFR isn't any cat – it's the erstwhile, bull-baiting English bulldog. This is the prognathous brute in the metal – calm and dignified in the main, loyal to the committed handler, ferocious when called on to attack. As long as we didn't need to ask it for directions, we loved every second in it. It is, without a doubt, our favorite Jaguar sedan.