I attended the Jaguar driving event at the former El Toro Marine Base earlier in 2009. The event was put together very nicely with large, air-conditioned tent, friendly staff, and small group. Fruits, breakfast bars, coffee, juice and water were served in the main tent. The event was divided into three parts: 30 minutes of video/PowerPoint presentation, 30 minutes of public road driving, one lap driving on a closed course, and one lap driven by a professional instructor (and I do mean “professional”. Read on to find out). Interesting fact that I learned from the PP presentation: J.D. Power ranked Jaguar #1 in their most recent reliability study. Either Jaguar has improved their quality dramatically in recent years or J.D. Power has gotten a big, fat check from Jaguar.
The cars which I drove were the 2010 Jaguar XKR and XFR. The R is the performance division of Jaguar, much like BMW’s M and Mercedes Benz’s AMG. The engine in the R cars are the all-new 5.0L, 510hp/461lb-ft, supercharged V8 which is mated to the ZF-sourced 6-speed automatic transmission with pedals shifter (almost identical with the ones on the Audi’s) perfectly placed behind the steering wheel for easy operation. Active differential is added to help getting the power onto the tarmac, and so is the “competition mode” for the stability control which allows some wheel spin and allows the driver to slide the tail out a bit before yanking it back. The R division has done an admirable job distinguishing the R cars from regular models without having to shout, “Hey, look at me. I’m special!” There are the 20” wheels, stainless steel grille on the more aggressive front bumper, a more aggressive rear diffuser with quad exhaust outlets, sports front seats, thicker steering wheel, and some small “R” badges throughout the car. We were told that there is no optional equipment for the R cars because they only come fully loaded, Nav and radar-based cruise control included, from the factory. The price for the XFR is $80,000 while $96,000 will buy you the Aston Martin-like XKR coupe ($102,000 for the drop top XKR).
Onto the public road driving part of the event, each of us pick a car out of about 12 or so XKs, XKRs, XFs, and XFRs. Some of us had to share car with others, but luckily, I didn’t. We were supposed to follow the lead car to a shopping center about five miles away, switch car/driver, and drive the same route back. My choice of the first leg: the XFR. Though not as aggressive looking as the BMW M5, the XFR’s exterior styling is more fluid, classier, and not as busy. The fit-and-finish is top notch. The interior is modern, yet beautifully appointed with abundance of lush wood and soft leather coving most of the surface where you can see them. However, the level of attention to detail (especially in areas where drivers don’t frequently look at) and precision of fit-and-finish are still not up to the Germens. Once all eight cylinders are ignite, the hockey-puck-like shift knob rises up. The shift pattern is pretty ordinary; P-R-N-D-S, but it employs rotating motion instead of the longitudinal motion like all of us are used to. I don’t see the benefit of switching to this method, but I guess it adds to the “cool” effect. The car has very good throttle response and has awesome (and I do mean awesome) power/torque at any RPM in any gear. The Eaton-sourced supercharger (the same unit from either the Caddy CTS-V or the Corvette ZR-1) does its job without making the usual supercharger whine. Speaking of gear, the automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly. It certainly is one of the best automatic transmissions I’ve encountered. The exhaust note emits subdued rumble that won’t turn your neighbors against you under light engine load, but it make a thundering bawl that you can hear from far away at wide-open-throttle. With Delphi’s magnetic shocks, the ride is taut, but not harsh by any means. At the switching spot of the public road drive, I jumped into a XKR convertible. XKR’s has an even classier design, as it supposed to be, than XFR’s. The convertible’s chassis is rock solid without a hint of rattle when going over uneven road surfaces. Back to the base and onto the main activity of the event: closed course driving.
The layout of our autocross-type course suited the XFR and XKR very well with long straightaway, high, medium and low-speed corners. I chose the XKR and had Roberto Guerrero, a former Formula One and Indy driver, riding shotgun as my instructor. To my surprise, this big cat was a blast to drive on the track! The steering was light but communicative. Turn-in was not lighting quick, but still very good. I was able to point the car to where I want it with little steering correction. Body roll was well controlled. The overall handling was balanced and confidence-inspiring. In a series of low-speed 90 degree turn, esses and increasing-radius hairpin, the car under steered a bit, and I had to be patient getting back on the throttle. Medium to high speed turns were where the XKR came alive with tons of grip, and the acceleration was intoxicating. Brakes were powerful, and the pedal was solid and easy to modulate. After my lap, I swapped seats with Roberto to see what he could do with the car. He was so smooth with his inputs. I felt that the chassis was constantly loading/unloading with tires constantly at their limit of adhesion. That’s the level of smoothness and fluency I strive for. After our laps, Roberto, his son who also worked at the event, and I talked about cars and compared our driving while waiting for the rest of the group to finish up. Then he said “do you want to go for another lap in the XFR?” What was I going to say, no? Of course I took advantage of his offer. The XFR was a little more of a hand full to drive on track than the XKR. The car was a bit nervous at corner entry. The gap between I turned the wheel and when the car took a “set” seemed long. Also, it had a bit more body roll than the XKR. However, it had a lot of grip once the car took a “set”. I just had to be more delicate with my inputs with it than I did with the XKR especially in the high-speed transition.
For an average driver who is in the market for this type of cars, I think the Jaguar XFR is a better choice than the BMW M5 which is too clunky and harsh in everyday driving. Yes, the M5 is an engineering triumph with its awesome V10 and is, without a doubt, faster on the racetrack. However, one will need the Autobahn and racetracks to fully appreciate what it has to offer. XFR suits the real world better in pretty much all aspects while avoiding gas-guzzler tax (15/21 MPG). Try that in a M5!
Likes: Beautiful shape, great engine, intoxicating exhaust note, balanced handling.
Dislikes: Cramped (especially head room) inside, seats don’t offer adequate lateral support.
Verdict: One of the best GT on the market.
Likes: Beautiful shape, great engine, intoxicating exhaust note, good ride/handling compromise.
Dislikes: Nervous at corner entry on the track, interior fit-n-finish could have been better.
Verdict: A legit competitor to the mighty E63 AMG and M5.
Event Rating: 4 out of 5.