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Click for pictures“Conventional good
  looks hide one of
  the smoothest-riding,
  sporty-handling
  four-door luxury
  expresses you can
  buy today. And one
  of the fastest, too”


WHEN JAGUAR LAUNCHED its all-new, all-aluminium bodied XJ range the car that all Jaguar lovers were most eager to sample was the 400bhp super-charged XJR. Fortunately for those who haven't had the chance to personally sample the XJR, we've just tested one and yes — it is seriously fast. Before cutting to the chase, at least so far as performance goes, a word about the Emperor's new clothes. While lauded by the motoring press for the cleverness of its cutting-edge aluminium body and the technological excellence of what lies beneath, it has frequently been reproached for its so-called old-fashioned style of dressing.

Now that it's been around for a while, the Big Cat is having the last laugh. Because, as it turns out, a substantial number of the people who really matter — Jaguar's customers — favour the 'conventional' Saville Row look. They don't want cars that are only fashionable for a season. What they do want to drive are cars with handsome, classic styling and what they also want — and expect — is the sort of satisfying driving experience the XJR provides in spades.

Rolling on massive 20-inch 15-spoke split-rim alloys, the XJR does look low, lean 'n' mean. And what Jaguar also does so well is to imbue their cars with a character that makes them easy to bond with. Yes, it sounds foolish, but that's exactly what happens. Although owners don't necessarily go as far as giving a name to their Jaguar, they do become very strongly attached to them.

Like all of its XJ brethren, the XJR is a large car. It's over five metres from stem to stern, yet it doesn't look it. And like all the lesser XJs, it's a surprisingly roomy car inside — surprisingly, only because the Jaguar is upholstered to look snug and intimate. The hide-covered Sports seats are well-shaped with obvious bolstering that combines with the strongly-defined fascia and centre console to visually fill the luxuriously-appointed captain's quarters up front. The driver's seat adjusts electrically 16 ways, including a four way lumbar support, and you can also adjust the length of the seat cushion. Likewise in the back, where a large, well-padded central armrest and chunky, well-padded headrests also provide impressive comfort.

Of course, Jaguar does the wood 'n' leather interior bit like no other — except, perhaps, Land Rover's latest Range Rover. And nowhere is that more evident than in the XJR's cabin where, surrounded by lashings of top-drawer wood, the driver feels he's an important working part of
the car and not just a body sitting in it. Our test car's distinctive grey stained bird's eye maple and black leather trim combination looked superb.

Three major dials with slim chromed rims and white-on-black graphics tell the driver all he or she needs to know. Chrome highlighting is used to good effect for the gearlever surround, push-button glovebox release, door handle catches and speaker bezels. An especially nice touch is the air vent control 'wheels' that have slim chrome outer rims with a knurled rubber centre band that feels great to use. It's always this kind of extra attention to detail and thoughtful touches that make such a difference and add to its long-term enjoyment. All four windows get one-touch open/close and the steering column adjust electrically for reach and rake as well as having a powered entry and exit tilt-away function.

There are more than enough well-sited storage areas and cubbies to keep everything shipshape and tidy, including rubber-lined sunglasses case and a sliding central front armrest. Even the electronic handbrake is a doddle to use: lightly pull up the chromed lever-switch behind the selector lever to engage and leave it to disengage automatically as
you drive away.

Particularly effective in fine-tuning that elusive ideal driving position are the electrically-adjustable foot pedals that can be moved closer or further away at the touch of a button. A 3-setting memory remembers the driver's settings for mirrors, seat, steering column and foot pedals. There's a superb colour touch-screen that handles just about anything the driver would need to interface with, from navigation to multi-media to comfort settings and the 'phone.

A near-silent electrically-operated rear blind requires only a light push on one of the dash buttons to bring instant privacy from the paparazzi. Or softens the glare from following traffic at night. An auto-dimming rear-view mirror is, of course, standard, as too are auto-dimming power foldback door mirrors. Jaguar's voice-activation can be used for most things although, paradoxically, there's much tactile pleasure in doing it the old-fashioned way because the switchgear is so nicely engineered. Remember fingertips?

Take your chosen seat, front or rear, and you'll be amazed at just how much room-per-head there actually is. Doors, incidentally, are wide
and wide-opening for painless access. While it's a given that front seat occupants are seriously indulged, those in the back aren't exactly hard done by either. They get their own multi-media controls in the wide rear central armrest which has yet another thoughtful touch: the padded top can be opened from either side.

When it comes to allowances the big Jaguar is better than Club Class. The boot swallows 470 litres of luggage without any problems. We had a two-day whistle-stop visit to historic York and managed to 'lose' a number of the large, hard-shelled Samsonite cases in the boot.

Long trips quickly endear you to the XJR. On our trip up to York the M1 was still closed due to the Buncefield oil depot explosion. We took the M11 but hit standstill queues near Cambridge as other, diverted traffic, joined. Why worry? Waiting patiently is very easy in something this good!

Behind the purposeful chrome mesh grille and beneath the long, wide bonnet is Jaguar's supercharged V8 engine. And with 400bhp and 408lb ft of torque to play with, the all-aluminium 4.2-litre powerplant will slingshot the 1,665kg XJR to 60mph from standstill in just 5 seconds dead. Where permitted, keep your foot planted and you'll blaze past 100mph in less than 13 seconds, the blown V8 emitting a vocal but muted howl. A punctilious electronic regulator stops the Jaguar's headlong charge precisely at 155mph. The word is that without the electronic interference, the 'R' wouldn't run out of steam until it hit
the 170mph mark.

Jaguar have engineered the 'R' to handle — but not at the expense of the time-honoured comfortable Jaguar ride. The XJR is fully-specced in the chassis department, getting not only a 'sport' upgrade of the standard air suspension (with its almost flawless ride quality) but also Jaguar's CATS active damping.

And this superb 'double whammy' is precisely what makes the XJR such an pleasurable drive. The CATS suspension is impressive. Enter a bend as hard and fast as you like (for the record, we're definitely not advocating reckless driving here) and you'll be hard pushed to detect anything other than the merest hint of body roll. And all without spoiling its supple and relaxing ride. That unflappable tautness is also instrumental in the XJR's keenness to respond to the four-spoke leather-rimmed multi-function steering wheel. The steering is positive and turn-in splendidly crisp. In fact, driven with verve, it's easy to forget that the XJR is not just a sports saloon but it is also one of the biggest passenger cars you can buy.

Along with the XJR's competent high speed handling, you can also take for granted its high speed stability. At anything other than hard-bore acceleration the cabin is a cultured and soothing place to be — 70mph calls for just 1,750rpm. But in case you should forget that this XJ has an 'R' to its name, Jaguar has ensured that when you do decide to catch up you can hear the entertaining whine from the XJR's super-charger. It is, however, a pleasing and integral part of the driving experience.

Even with the huge 20-inch 255/35 Michelins, road noise is well muted, and the big Jaguar cuts through the air almost soundlessly. All the time, the foolproof dual-zone automatic climate control is working away unnoticed in the background. And just to top it all off nicely, there's an Alpine Premium sound system with a 320watt amplifier, subwoofers and 12 speakers.

While all of this makes a perfect case for inter-city drivers who need
to cover large distances in extreme comfort and who prefer to do their flying six inches above the ground rather than at 6,000 feet, there's also the buzz that comes from getting the supercharged V8 to 'sing for its supper'. And sing it does. Gloriously.

Flick the delightfully stubby chrome-and-leather 'J-gate' selector lever across into manual mode and push the S for Sport button — we drove like this for ninety per cent of our road test and it was great fun.

The five seconds it takes to get from standstill to 60mph is impressive even by Impreza WRX STi standards (5.2 seconds). It is also mere tenths of a second adrift of extremely fast cars such as the Aston Martin DB9 V12 (4.9 seconds) and at 60mph the XJR is just stretching its legs — 0-100mph takes around 12.5 seconds. But what's really good is the terrific 6-speed ZF autobox that makes it all feel so effortless.

It comes as something of a pleasant surprise to discover that all this performance doesn't come at a terrible price at the pumps. Our overall test consumption was 24.7mpg for over 650 miles that included over
an hour stuck in heavy traffic on the M11 and a good variety of driving conditions. Officially the XJR should return 15.2, 23 and 31.4mpg for town, mixed and touring modes respectively. The reasonable fuel consumption, along with the agile handling, are due to the ace up the XJR's sleeve. Its weight — or lack of it. Thanks to the aluminium monocoque and aluminium body panels, the XJR weighs only 1,659kg. Compare that to its rivals, some of which are half a ton heavier. The pay off is quantifiable both at the pumps and in every mile travelled.

But don't think that such a light car might fall short on safety aspects. Not at all — your safety is as thoroughly taken care of as your comfort. Front-seat passengers have two airbags each and all occupants are protected by side curtain airbags. Actively the XJR has a full complement of the latest electronic traction, stability and braking aids. In stop/start traffic the powerful brakes can be a touch 'stabby' but you quickly get used to them. Needless to say — and especially at higher speeds — once the brakes bite retardation is immediate, scrubbing off speed completely without any fuss. Try a full emergency stop from 40mph and the XJR pulls up four-square in what seems an impossibly short distance. An immediate response.

Brilliant Xenon headlights (dip and main) are standard and ensure your progress after dark is just as safe and as swift as it is during the daytime. Other handy safety functions include the automatic central locking that activates the moment you move the selector lever out of Park, the two-stage locking and unlocking — first the driver's door, then all the doors. Automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers are equally useful safety aids, the latter also featuring multi-washer jets incorporated into the blade arms for an instant clean up. The very accurate front and rear parking sensors proved invaluable at our hotel in York, which had an underground garage with very tight parking spaces. Reversing the XJR into a restricted corner space with barely an inch to manoeuvre was accomplished with ease.

Overall the XJR is as sophisticated and smoothly capable as you could wish for. And while it is blatantly a Jaguar, under its subtle aluminium bonnet beats the heart of a lion. In the final analysis, drivers buy cars like the XJR as much for its four-door functionality and ride and refine-ment as they do for the massively usable supercharged performance. Add to that a fine transmission mated to an eager engine and a refreshed reputation for quality and durability and it's easy to see why so many customers continue to choose the Cat from Coventry. With the cream.

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Jaguar XJR 4.2 V8 Supercharged | 61,995
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 24.7mpg | Power: 400bhp | Torque: 408lb ft

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--------------------------------------------------- Jaguar XJR Supercharged