Jaguar XFR | The Brave Pill

Jaguar XFR | The Brave Pill

07/09/2021

Big, brawny, brainy – and a bargain

By Mike Duff / Saturday, July 10, 2021 / Loading comments

Create a list of American presidents in order of manliness and Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt will always feature close to the top. After commanding a cavalry regiment in the Spanish-American war he became the youngest ever president aged just 42 when his predecessor was assassinated. After he was voted out of office he opted to lead a two-year expedition to the Amazon rather than enjoy a gentle retirement. In short, he was as buff as a well polished drill instructor painted beige.

But beyond inspiring the creation of the eponymous toy bear and founding the U.S.’s national park movement, Teddy’s greatest contribution to posterity was his most frequently quoted line: “speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far.”

Bringing us, with the crunch of unsynchronized gears, to this week’s Brave Pill – the automotive exemplar of T.R.’s philosophy. Because there are no other cars that talk as gently as the Jaguar XFR while carrying a lead-filled knobkerrie. This is a 507hp super saloon that even petrolheads struggle to distinguish from its diesel sisters at more than ten paces, certainly without the being able to hear its fruity exhaust note.

The understated image was deliberate. There was no shortage of loud, flashy super saloons to choose between in the late noughties, most of which were German and clearly aimed at those who prioritized performance over subtlety. Jaguar took a different approach with the XF, creating a car to appeal to those who didn’t want to shout. First came the SV8, which combined the S-Type R’s a 4.2-litre 400hp supercharged V8 with chassis settings barely changed from the regular XF. It almost vertically laid back and, although fast and effortless, wasn’t really a true rival to a BMW M5 or Audi RS6.

The XFR arrived in 2009 and was a much more serious piece of work. Firstly because it got the brawny new 5.0-litre version of the long-lived supercharged V8, this taking peak output into the 5s and putting it far closer to the Germans on raw performance. Secondly because the chassis had been carefully reworked by a team led by Mike Cross, Jaguar’s handling guru, to create a far more athletic dynamic experience. It got stiffer springs, active shocks and was the first Jag to use a smart electronically controlled rear differential.

But the suit wrapped around the R was still a modestly tailored one. Visual distinction over a higher-spec civilian grade XF was limited to a slightly toothier front bumper, new 20-inch alloys and some very subtle badging: an R on the back and the legend ‘Supercharged’ on both the bonnet’s trim strakes and the alloy rims. Would you really be able to pull this one out of a line-up of well-specced 2.7Ds?

You’d barely see the XFR coming, but you’ll certainly notice the manner of its departure if its driver is keen to get gone. It was properly fast: Jaguar quoted a 4.7-second 0-62mph time, and a top speed that was almost cruelly constrained by a 155mph limiter. During a magazine photoshoot at Bruntingthorpe with a fresh press car I encountered this electronic choke chain earlier and more often than in any of the pack of rivals it was sharing the two-mile runway with. Equally impressive was the driftability and over the limit discipline that the clever new diff had brought with it.

But it was on real roads that the XFR really shone, proving barely less civilized than its softer siblings. The R’s cabin was classy and understated, with Jag-appropriate wood and leather instead of being one of the gloomy carbon and Alcantara crypts that were increasingly common in the segment at the time.

The adaptive dampers also seemed able to cope remarkably well with almost any surface, and were especially well suited to cruising at serious speeds. Beyond the range limitations caused by the combination of low-20s MPG, a smallish petrol tank and an over-cautious fuel light it was close to unbeatable as an inconspicuous country-crosser.

Unfortunately Jaguar’s faith in the untapped desire for taste and discretion in this part of the market proved to be largely misplaced. The XFR’s low key approach didn’t translate to sales success, and the company was soon forced to increase the XF’s visual muscle. The first revision was an optional Speed Pack which came at the same time as the 2011 facelift, increasing the limiter to 174mph and bringing a bigger front splitter and new rear wing. The much more aggressive XF-RS was launched the following year, this trading the R’s understatement for a vast tailgate-hung tray and black trim in place of chrome brightwork.

The R continued as an understudy to the RS all the way to the X250 XF’s retirement in 2015, and although sales slowed towards the end it has always had a loyal following. The fact Jaguar never replaced it directly, with the second-gen X260 XF doing without a V8 option, denied owners the chance to move onto a more modern equivalent.

Our Pill is a pre-facelift 2010 example that appears to have been both well used and well loved. It has covered an unscary 109,000 miles, pretty much bang on 10,000 a year, and is being sold by a dealer who is promising a full Jaguar service history. It is finished in a very stealthy shade of black and seems to also have been given an options workout including the rather excellent Bowers & Wilkins audio upgrade, DAB radio and a reversing camera. The MOT history is mostly green, with the only recent defects being non-functioning rear lights, quickly fixed; the XF’s electronic architecture is known to sometimes throw up issues.

Beyond these, and the need to keep it in 98-RON, a well-chosen XFR should not be crazily expensive to run. The 5.0-litre engine is generally reckoned to be much tougher than the V6 diesels, although Jaguar’s claim that the transmission is sealed for life should be taken with a pinch of snuff, and a generous dose of fresh oil every 60,000 miles. The supercharger is meant to have a belt replacement after 100,000 miles, so worth checking that’s been done.

Given the febrile state of much of the used car market early XFRs are looking like increasingly good value, especially leggy early examples. Prices are still falling, although gently, and our Pill’s £11,895 represents stonking value for so much performance; dealers are still asking more than double for lower mileage facelifted versions. This one has gone reasonably far, but both the big stick and the soft voice look to be very much in order.


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