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The 2010 Jaguar XFR: Hel-looo Kitty!

The genius of this super-sedan lies in its sheer will to be different. What we have here is stagecraft.

June 05, 2009|DAN NEIL

The players in the super-sedan market have much in common -- gorgeous exteriors, heroic wheels and tires, state-of-the-art-electronics and more cowhide and horseflesh than the back lot of the old Republic Pictures.

These cars -- the BMW M5, the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, the Cadillac CTS-V, the Audi RS6 (not available in the U.S.) -- all cost $80,000 or more, can dash to 60 mph in less than five seconds and pitilessly gnaw the tarmac with more than 500 horsepower.

They are, in other words, pretty much the same.

Indeed, but for their soulful and individualizing details, they are nearly identical, boringly so, at least as far as the typical buyer is concerned. Yes, one car might have a few tenths more of lateral grip (road holding), and another car might have a touch more torque left in the well at, say, 150 mph. But you'd have to drive like a sociopath to coax these differences out. Then you can brag about your car to your cellmate as you're helping him with his needlepoint.

The genius of the 2010 Jaguar XFR lies in its sheer will to be different, its embrace of the singular, even peculiar. This, the mad-with-power version of the mass-market XF, has got extraordinary talent on the road, to be sure. Under the wickedly sculpted hood is a supercharged version of the so-called GEN III 5.0-liter V-8, a direct-injection mill wailing its light-weighted pistons to the tune of 510 hp (125 hp more than the non-supercharged version) and 461 pound-feet of vertebra-impacting torque. Between the feral induction whine under the hood and the infernal crackling from the quad exhausts, the sound of this car is charmingly, endearingly evil.

So then, immense power, channeled through an adaptive six-speed transmission with manual-shift mode, as well an electronically controlled rear differential and 20-inch, 35-series monster tires that grip like a pterodactyl. I rather casually stood on the gas getting onto the 210 Freeway and then, in a moment of pure relativistic theater, it appeared all the other traffic slowed and stopped as I went screaming past. The horsepower and torque feel endless and effortless, a fire hose attached to the Hoover Dam.

At some point I uttered several oaths familiar to the Abrahamic faiths.

Like other cars in this segment, the XFR is equipped with adaptive suspension. It also has a competition mode that sharpens the car's ride and handling and allows you to scrub off a few layers of pricey Italian rubber.

Put the shifter into sport mode and the transmission gets downright feisty, with epic rev-holding at the engine's red line and Ducati-like upshifts.

But perhaps the most useful button in the whole car is the Automatic Speed Limiter, which helpfully resists the inevitable throttle creep these high-powered cars tempt you into on the open road. You may think of it as a Keep Out of Jail Free card.

But as I said, all of the cars in this segment blow minds like Albert Hofmann's special elixir. This is the nature of performance engineering, to set and exceed a given set of benchmarks, then set about to exceed the new numbers. Performance is easy. Charisma is hard.

The XFR has got oodles. Much of it is carried over from the stock XF and, I must say, when I drove that car on a short press event two years ago, I didn't really appreciate the Jag's flair for the dramatic, its heightening of the occasion. When you get in the XFR -- it already senses the key in your pocket -- the start button flashes with a cardiac-like pulse.

At first I thought this was kind of cheesy, but then I got in the car at night, in the dark, and the cheery red rhythm made me feel as if I had a companion. Press the start button and the cylindrical aluminum gearshift knob (mint-green backlighting, no less) rises out of the center console -- that's novel, and really cool. At the same time, the climate vents in the dash rotate open in a synchronized display.

What we have here is theater, or, more precisely, stagecraft. The Jag's curtain-raising effects might at first seem like gimmicks, but the more you live with the car the more you appreciate the subtle momentousness of the cabin electronics. Within a week of driving the XFR, I had bonded with it, as one might with one of those Sony robot dogs.

Good kitty. Nice kitty.

--

GM and me

Considering the momentous events of the last week, I feel obliged to make one more notation on the General Motors Corp. bankruptcy because it might appear to put me in a ticklish position.

My job is to review automobiles without fear or favor. This is an obligation I take seriously, even if I try to do it with a light touch. Journalists are not allowed to own stock in companies that they cover precisely to avoid a conflict of interest. But behold, now that the federal government is the majority owner of GM, I am at least by proxy a stakeholder in GM. And so are you.

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