Or at least, it is when you’re haring down the straight of a Formula One test track at 150mph with absolutely no idea how you’re going to stop. This might not sound especially fast compared to, say, the 180mph Lewis Hamilton could reach. But Hamilton isn’t driving a four-door saloon with no helmet and a stomach full of smoked salmon sandwiches.
I’m behind the wheel of the new Jaguar XFR. A week before, the very same car was recorded hitting 225mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. That’s quicker than any Porsche, any Ferrari, and, indeed, any Formula One car. Fortunately, the straight at Seville’s Monteblanco circuit is not long enough for me to reach that speed. I say ‘fortunately’ because I shouldn’t be allowed to drive cars at 125mph, let alone 225mph. I came to this conclusion as I was sliding across the pit straight gravel trap, heading towards an increasingly menacing tire barrier
I must point out that the picture I’ve painted is solely representative of my driving ability and not the car’s. The XFR is quite simply one of the most accomplished driving machines on the road. I, on the other hand, am not.
Once I’d been fished out of the gravel trap by a tow rope and a disgruntled Spaniard, the kind folks at Jaguar decided to give me another go. Apparently, all I needed to do was “believe in the car”. That’s what the guy in the passenger seat told me. Given that the guy in question was Rui Chagas, previously a test driver for the Benetton F1 team, I decided to listen to him.
It’s only when you realise just how good the XFR is that you can drive it properly. Throw it into the corners, and it will tidy up for you. The Active Differential Control is staggering: instead of power being taken away from you – an act of forced impotence of which rival Dynamic Stability Control systems are guilty – it is redistributed in a continual stream as torque is transferred from one wheel to an other, sorting out all the conflicting physics for you.
But take it out on to regular roads, and you quickly realise that it is – seriously good, that is. It still drifts along with the air of quiet distinction you’d expect from the marque. Inside, there’s more wood than any Jag since the 1960s. And the heated leather seats are as soft as a marshmallow floating in hot chocolate.
The gurgle of the V8 is always there, though – gently reminding you of the beast that lurks beneath. This 510bhp 5-litre supercharged block has had its power pumped up by 23 percent over the old 4.2-litre V8. This means that the big cat will hit 60mph in 4.7 seconds. To reflect this performance, the Jag technicians have worked hard on getting the sound just right: “It’s technically a growl and a snarl,” explains one of the XFR’s chief technicians, when waxing lyrical over the XFR’s engineered noise. Apparently the ‘growl’ comes from the reinforced exhaust, and the ‘snarl’ comes from the active intake device. All I know is that once you decide your right foot needs a bit of a workout, the ensuing chorus sounds like a choir of angels – very angry ones, with sore-throats and whisky hangovers.
When it comes to the competition, the Germans are the only group that comes close. The BMW M5, Mercedes E63AMG and Audi RS6 are all impressive cars in their own right, but they’re more expensive, they’re less attractive, and worse, they’re German. OK, so Jaguar’s ownership history reads like something from the Jeremy Kyle show, with more mixed blood than the royal family – but there’s no doubting its British heritage or its British craftsmanship.
And that’s why we took it to, er, Spain to test it out. With good reason, though. The roads around Seville are as quiet as a mouse, and as curvaceous as a cat… a jaguar, to be exact. When I asked a Sevillian why no-one seems to obey red lights, he simply shrugged, “Ah… that’s the Spanish green”. And most important of all for a driving destination, the policemen can be easily bribed. This comes in handy particularly when you’re driving a car capable of 225mph. So, it turns out Seville is a spiritual home for testing a British car that is too good for, well, British roads.
On my last night in Spain, I had the pleasure of meeting the car’s designer, Ian Callum. He’s a rare breed – a genuinely charming Scot – and his passion for the car and brand is unrestrained. He’s the sort of man who gets turned on by rear headlamps and shouldn’t be left alone in a room with a rotary gear selector. (This obsessive nature seems to be a common infliction among the Jaguar team – one of the engineers almost had an orgasm when he explained to me that one of GT engine clips was “aircraft grade”.)
Callum was the man responsible for ensuring that the XFR was aesthetically an upgrade to the standard XF, without heading to Halfords for some go-faster stripe paint. The styling changes are subtle (and pragmatic): flared air vents; an extra two exhausts; a discreet rear spoiler; supercharger air intakes gashed into the bonnet. They’re slight enough that the aficionado can give it a nod of approval, but the ordinary layman doesn’t think you’re a spotty teenager on the way to lay some doughnuts in Lidl carpark.
Beyond the intricate details and design flair, Callum understands that a Jaguar should be a driver’s car: “Once you drive one, you’ll find it’s so much fun that it’s difficult not drive it full-out… like a loony!”
Sadly, discipline behind the wheel has never been my strong point. That probably explains why I ended up gravel deep at the end of the pit straight. One thing I can tell you is that it certainly wasn’t the Jaguar’s fault… the XFR is pretty much faultless.
-By Mark Hedley