XFR offers super-sedan speed and style at a bargain price.

Some aspects of the Jaguar XFR's character are blindingly obvious. It wears the coveted R-badge, so you know it's a serious high-performance car: its 5.0-litre supercharged V8 makes 375kW/625Nm and it can rocket to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds.

The XFR boasts steering, suspension and braking systems that are different from lesser XFs, not to mention a computer-controlled active differential.

The XF is, of course, Jaguar's rival for the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. With serious hardware on board, that would naturally make this XFR a match for the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG. All have big V8 engines with unnatural aspirations (supercharging in the Jaguar, twin turbos in the BMW and Mercedes) towards extreme performance.

Except it's not that simple. The Jaguar is a different kind of super-sedan. It doesn't have the rorty muscle-car character of the AMG, nor does it demand an engineering degree to set up properly like the M5. In truth, the XFR doesn't feel quite as special (or indeed as specialised) as either of its rivals in terms of dynamic wow factor, but it also isn't tiring like the Mercedes or intimidating like the BMW.


Granted, the XFR is a tad slower to 100km/h, but there's still only 0.7 seconds separating this trio to the open-road speed limit. In terms of ultimate ability on real roads, they're all pretty close. Which is to say they're all staggeringly capable and hugely exciting as the pace picks up.

The price confuses things further. There used to be a school of thought that said you can damage public perception of a product by charging too little. That stopped being relevant for niche luxury-car brands about the time that the market collapsed during the financial crisis; that and some currency advantage is why the XFR costs just $160,000 (Jaguar New Zealand dropped the price by $10k recently).

That's $69,100 less than an M5 and $88,900 under the E 63 AMG.

Don't worry, there's nothing untoward here; there's a similar percentage gap between these cars in Great Britain as well.

But it does make it kind of tempting to compare the XFR with next-size-down extreme machines such as the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG. They are pretty close on price, but don't make that mistake. The XFR belongs with the grown-ups, in which case you can think of it as an absolute bargain.

The gaping front intakes are the best clue that there's an XFR behind you. The car wears an 'R' exterior body kit and 20-inch wheels, while the restrained interior features superb sports seats, soft-grain leather and a Bowers and Wilkins sound system.

I'm a bit over some of the XF's novelty features: the "handshake" of gear lever and dashboard vent that automatically rise/rotate to meet you when you turn the car on, the interior lights that activate with a wave of the hand. At least the touch-sensitive glovebox release has been replaced by a proper button in the latest range: the old one didn't work for ladies with moisturiser on their hands. But that's all detail stuff: overall, the gorgeous cabin ambience means the XFR feels like a very sophisticated way to travel at blinding speed.

Speaking of which: the Jaguar's supercharger might seem a bit old-school, when turbocharging is the favoured method of extracting maximum performance these days. It might not be the last word in efficiency, but a supercharger does provide instant power (because it's driven directly by the engine) and a fantastic soundtrack under load: a characterful whine compared with the distant whistle of an exhaust-driven turbo.

The XFR's 5.0-litre V8 is astonishingly good at any speed. The soundtrack is obvious but never intrusive - it plays luxury car as well as super-sedan, and the supercharger only really makes its presence felt under full throttle.

On paper, the XFR is one step behind the four and six-cylinder XFs because it does not yet have the eight-speed automatic fitted to those models. No doubt it will come, but for now the six-speeder does not seem to hold the R back in terms of performance or responsiveness.

If the XFR is still too civilised for you, you'll be pleased to know that an uprated XFR-S is being tested by Jaguar. I'm not sure it will be a better car, but it will probably be loud, leery and expensive enough to get the attention of M5 and E 63 owners.