2014 Jaguar XFR-S: First Drive

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Spend around a hundred grand on a performance sedan, and it had better put a smile on your face, right?

After driving the 2014 Jaguar XFR-S up on Pacific Northwest mountain roads, as well as on the track, we can say that this very focused model—the fastest, most powerful Jaguar sedan ever—never ceased to have us grinning. A wicked grin, at that.

If you're not already familiar with the idea, the XFR-S is a serious, rather edgy (or about as edgy as Jaguars get) model that pushes the performance envelope further upward from the XFR. But it isn't simply chasing German super-sedans. From the driver's seat, we found it more thrilling (and satisfying) than some key rival models like BMW M5, Audi RS 6, or Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG.

Those each might have a slight edge on the XFR-S in straight-line performance, but the XFR-S is the wild child of the bunch, the one that keeps you close at heart. From the time you press the engine-start button and the big 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 barks to life, it's clear that the attitude is a bit different behind the wheel of this one.

Charm in what's not on board

It's probably best to start with what the XFR-S doesn't have. Thankfully there's no managing a slew of drive modes and steering heft levels and suspension rates. There's nothing complicated about the steering, either; it's merely a very good hydraulic system. And don't expect a dual-clutch gearbox or clutch packs in place of torque converters.

What you do get is a raucous 550-horsepower V-8 that's not only full of character but fully fitting the character of the car, mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with Jaguar's new (F-Type-derived) Quickshift logic to intuit corners, and a handful of meaningful changes to the suspension and running gear.

Front and rear spring rates have been boosted 30 percent over the XFR (which adds up to about 100 percent over the base XF), and the XFR-S get special front suspension knuckles that allow increased camber and castor stiffness (plus new wheel bearings), a new rear subframe, and a 'bespoke' staggered Pirelli P Zero tire setup—265/35R20 size in front and 295/30R20 in back. Special lightweight forged wheels and a high-performance braking system round out the improvements.

In addition, there are a series of functional aerodynamic improvements, including carbon fiber front splitter and air intakes, plus a carbon fiber rear diffuser.

Official 0-60 mph times put it at 4.4 seconds, with a 186-mph top speed.

Boy racers, get a load of this wing

And that big wing on the back? It plays a crucial part in reducing high-speed lift by 68 percent. It makes a very meaningful contribution to stability at mid- and upper-triple-digit speeds; but because of the controversy over...um...the boy-racer stigma that tall, bold rear wings carry, it's optional on the XFR-S—and a hefty $3,500 extra. But if it's functional, you really must get it.

Output of this engine has been boosted to 550 hp, with 502 lb-ft of torque (versus the XFR's 510 hp and 461 lb-ft); and it's a difference you can feel. Through breathing improvements, Jaguar has boosted power delivery from the 3,000-rpm range on up. And on the torque side, it's essentially taken the torque plateau of the XFR's engine and allowed it to climb—together with the more aggressive throttle map, allowing that very sharp at-speed throttle response, and allowing increased rewards for revving the engine into its upper ranges.

Revving this engine is something we couldn't resist. It's beautiful-sounding from the outside or the inside. Curiously, from the outside there's a strident, V-10-like pulsation to the exhaust note that sounds sexy and different as it passes by at full wail; but inside, selectively ducted-in intake noise helps provide a deep, bellowy exhaust note that's unmistakably a V-8. What you do hear from inside the cabin—especially if you tip into the throttle lightly and then back off—are a series of burbles and pops that seem so forceful at times you might think someone's kicking in the trunk.

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