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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Driving the Jaguar XJR, the plus-sized sprinter


Very few automakers pull off a large luxury sedan that zigs like a sports car—nimble dynamics in a hulking case with a muscular engine is a seeming contradiction, like a linebacker trying to do ballet.
While there are some notable exceptions in the ultra-high end of the spectrum, namely, the Aston Martin Rapide S and Porsche Panamera, it’s why BMW has shied away from making an M7 for decades, although that’s rumored to change.
And the 2014 Jaguar XJR shows why it's so difficult; it has the brawn of an all-star running back, but without the quick cuts that’d make it a champ on the track.

Most won't complain because of the savage power under the hood. The 5-liter, supercharged V-8 makes 550 hp, and it makes the sedan seem capable of flight despite a two-ton curb weight.
Thanks to the smoothness and orchestration of the motor and chassis, 100 mph can feel like you’re cruising at the speed limit. The exhaust doesn’t have that menacing, jackhammer snarl of the F-Type’s V-8, but it sounds aggressive without ever getting obnoxious.
The shifts of the dual-clutch automatic are soft yet resolute, the rush of power seemingly without end even as you’re into triple-digit speeds.

It's when the road curves that the Jaguar begins to lose a few steps to the German competition. In corners it feels a bit tall with moderate body roll, and lacks the focused dynamics of an Alpina B7.

 The suspension isn’t tuned to perfection like the Porsche Panamera, and you’d feel the high-frequency bumps when pushing it. That said, it’s still a satisfying drive—the rear breaks away gently and predictably, and no matter what road you’re on the XJR maintains its sumptuous composure.

As the badging suggests, it doesn’t attempt the hard-edged performance of an S trim, and those that want a racier experience would look to an XFR-S.

Even with its dark-grey alloy wheels, the XJR doesn’t flaunt its performance with audacious aero bits, and—if you don’t opt for the crimson red that our press car came in—it’s a sleeper.

What isn’t subtle, however, is its zeal to impress the Google Glass crowd, pasting bits of tech over its old-world Coventry charm.
Whether it’s the digital dash gauges that paradoxically mimic analog gauges, or the shifter that sinks into the center console, the electronic doodads look more like frivolous technical liabilities down the line, but without adding any tangible benefits.
 Plus, the demographic of those who can drop six figures on a sedan are likely old enough to remember the nightmare of Lucas electronics, and the appeal of British cars have never been about futuristic controls.

As dashing as the XJ is, the styling is starting to look a little old — I’m still not sold on that blacked-out C-pillar, the five-spoke wheels befitting for a Camaro detract from its sleeper status, and the cabin execution in the
E-Class looks more regal.
 Nonetheless, the XJR stands out from the rest of the portly flagship saloon crowd with its curb weight of 4,123 lbs and that endless surge of power, it’s just begging for a cat with more attitude. So Jaguar, how about an XJR-S?