Big, overpowered sedans are not usually my favorite to drive on public roads, as I can barely tap their performance potential. But the 2014 Jaguar XJR managed to give me a fat, wide grin when I slogged it down a twisty back road.
With the Dynamic mode engaged, adding a red mist to the instrument display, and the transmission's Sport mode keeping the revs high, this big cat's engine broadcast its throaty growl across the surrounding cow pastures, changing pitch at each gear change when I braked then accelerated out of turns. The thick tires held onto the pavement and the suspension controlled the body's load shifts with finesse.
Two things in particular delighted me about the XJR. First, the eight-speed gearbox completely trashes the slushbox reputation of automatic transmissions. When driving with intent, braking and accelerating hard, a glance at the tachometer showed that this transmission was holding the revs up around 5,500rpm in the turns. The Sport program on this transmission was near-telepathic, finding the right gears before I knew I wanted them.
Second, Jaguar incorporates some extremely useful tricks into its LCD instrument display. The virtual gauges on this display look a little flat, but what I like is how Jaguar dynamically highlights the numbers around the ends of the speedometer and tachometer needles. I found it really easy to pick out the car's velocity and the engine speed on the gauges with a quick glance.
Top of the line
The XJR model, new for 2014, sits atop the XJ lineup in power and price. As for cabin amenities, besides some R badges and carbon fiber trim pieces, the XJR and its lesser XJ siblings are the same.
As Jaguar's flagship sedan, the XJR measures close to 17 feet long. The front shows off the classic Jaguar grille, wire mesh painted black for the XJR version. The roofline sweeps back toward the trunk, making a graceful line without hampering rear headroom. In fact, the rear seats are very comfortable and roomy, and would make a fine place to sit if the car weren't so fun to drive.
A curved ridge, what a sailor would call a gunwale, comes lined with carbon fiber and runs around the front of the cabin, undercutting the windshield. Glossy carbon fiber panels line the doors, while the console is topped by the round, metal dial of the drive selector. That's another thing I like about the XJR. Jaguar does away with the fiction of a gear shifter, acknowledging that the transmission's modes are electronically actuated. It's nice to see an automaker think beyond legacy controls.
The cabin design is, to use an appropriate Britishism, quite posh.
However, I wasn't as impressed with the glossy black plastic surrounding the car's touch-screen LCD. It flexed and creaked with the feel of cheap electronics when I poked at it.
The standard cabin electronics in the XJR follow those I've seen recently in the Jaguar F-type, not exactly cutting-edge, but serviceable. The touch screen responds reasonably quickly and the information is well-organized. The graphical design is far from elegant, though, and could use restyling to fit the upscale Jaguar brand.
There is also a voice command system, but it only covers the basics. Sure, I could place a phone call by saying the name of a contact stored in my phone, but I couldn't do more with the stereo other than choose an audio source. Entering addresses for navigation required tediously saying each part -- city, street, and number -- after a prompt.
The navigation system's maps also look a little crude and washed-out compared with what you might expect from a luxury brand, although they do show in plan and perspective views. Jaguar integrates traffic information, which route guidance can use to detour around traffic jams. But this system doesn't show the expanded traffic coverage over more surface streets I've seen in other cars.
Voice prompts for route guidance didn't call out street names, which was disappointing, but I liked the graphics for upcoming turns. And I especially liked that those graphics appeared on the left side of the instrument cluster, another good use of this LCD panel.
Jaguar incorporated all the usual audio sources into the stereo: Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD Radio, and satellite radio. There is no option to rip CDs to the hard drive in the dashboard, not that I missed that feature, and there are no online music apps incorporated into the car. Jaguar has, so far, kind of ignored the whole connected-car idea embraced by other automakers.
Focusing on more traditional luxury technology, Jaguar gave the XJR a superb Meridian audio system. I was previously impressed by the Meridian audio system in the Range Rover Sport, and the XJR's version confirmed this brand's quality. With an 825-watt amp and 17 speakers, this system produced excellent clarity and depth.
Playing The Who's "My Generation," the system broadcast each instrument with incredible distinction. I could hear the complex fluttering of John Entwistle's bass strings and the shrill raucousness of Pete Townshend's guitar. Roger Daltrey's stuttering vocals came though like I had never heard them before. Whatever type of music I fed this system, it consistently gave me a very satisfying listening experience.
While driving the XJR fast along backroads, it was almost tough to choose whether to listen to the stereo or the engine. Almost.
In normal driving, crawling through city traffic or buzzing down the freeway, the purr of the XJR's supercharged 5-liter V-8 was inaudible, mostly because the transmission and engine control software kept the engine speed down to around 1,500rpm. Stopped at red lights, the XJR's idle-stop feature turned off the engine entirely.
Idle-stop features are still a bit controversial, as all but hybrid drivers get a little anxious when their engines turn off while stopped in traffic, but I think Jaguar has this system tuned well. The company says that the engine comes back to life more quickly than you can move your foot from brake and accelerator, which proved true during my time with the car. It never delayed my starts, and I appreciated that gas wasn't wasted when I was stuck at a light.
However, this system showed a couple of quirks. First, the engine would kick up again after about 2 minutes if I was still stopped, bumping the cabin and frightening nearby pedestrians. I assume it restarts to power the air conditioning and other cabin electronics. Second, when I put on the parking brake the system would occasionally just turn off the car completely. I couldn't find any consistency to this behavior, although sometimes it suited the situation, as I was going to get out of the car anyway.
A button on the dashboard let me easily turn off the idle-stop feature.
Helped by this idle-stop feature and the eight-speed automatic transmission, the XJR scores fuel economy of 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway on the EPA's tests. I was more impressed that after a tour of fast cornering, tedious city traffic, and speedy jaunts down the freeway, the fuel economy came in at 19.1 mpg.
That real-world fuel economy figure may not sound like much, until you consider the XJR is Jaguar's most powerful car, its V-8 tuned up to 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque. That's 40 more horsepower than the XJ Supersport, the next model down in the lineup. Jaguar says the XJR hits 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, an impressive feat for a 4,200-pound car.
Almost more impressive is how drivable the XJR is in everyday traffic. Not all car companies make it easy to handle cars with this kind of power. Some show uneven acceleration while others have a throttle that wants to tear off the tires at initial tip-in. Not the XJR. Taking off from a stop, it gracefully regulated its power, letting me modulate the accelerator for any traffic situation.
Like just about every other new car, the steering rig uses electric power boost, leading to very even and direct response from lock to lock. Jaguar programmed nominal heft into the steering so that it felt like I was doing something. When I pushed the Dynamic mode button, the steering got a little heavier, but not much.
Even in my fastest cornering, I never had to fight with the wheel.
More technology, in the suspension, adjusts the damper response based on sensor input and the drive mode. I didn't find the suspension settings particularly aggressive, as the active dampers didn't keep the car entirely flat when cornering. Likewise, the ride quality changed little between normal and Dynamic drive modes.
Despite its big, luxurious look, the XJR's ride never felt soft. Outside of Dynamic mode, it was comfortable and competent, although I would definitely feel the bumps in the road.
For the long highway cruises, I would have appreciated the adaptive cruise control option, but this car didn't come so equipped. It did have Jaguar's blind-spot monitoring system, a very useful safety feature, along with a very good backup camera, capable of showing trajectory lines.
I'm a little baffled about the audience for the 2014 Jaguar XJR. Obviously, this car is meant for the well-heeled buyer, considering its around-$116,000 base price, but that buyer must also desire power, or, at least, the ability to brag about owning the most powerful XJ available.
From Jaguar's perspective, the XJR gives it a big performance sedan to put up against the AMG cars from Mercedes-Benz.
There is some pretty remarkable technology in the drivetrain and suspension. I was particularly impressed to note that, despite the car's 550 horsepower, the highway fuel economy sits at 23 mpg. While cruising at freeway speeds, I noticed the trip computer showing high-20s fuel economy.
Then there's the performance story. I found the XJR very satisfying to drive fast on the right roads, mostly due to the excellent transmission and engine note. However, I wouldn't want to get in a pink-slip race with a BMW M5.
Jaguar's cabin electronics remain anchored on an exceptional audio system, but don't push any boundaries in navigation or connected features. In fact, you will find more advanced cabin electronics in a Kia.
However, what Jaguar includes works well, an important factor sometimes overlooked by other automakers.
One of the coolest electronics features is the LCD instrument cluster, with context-sensitive features that make it more useful than any other panel I've seen.
|Model||2014 Jaguar XJR|
|Power train||Supercharged direct-injection 5-liter V-8 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||19.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based navigation system with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD Radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Meridian 825-watt 17-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$121,275|