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Auto blogWed, 17 Apr 2013 11:57:00 EST
Stepping Into The Lion's Den With A Big-Hearted Cat
If you're like me - and our demographics suggests you are - you've probably never seen a new Jaguar sportscar at your local showroom. I'm 36, and it hasn't happened in my lifetime... and not by a little bit. Oh, there have been a string of XK coupes and convertibles, and as of late, there have even been some genuine high-performance specials - namely the R, R-S and R-S GT models - but their basis has always been the 2+2 grand tourer shell, not a lighter and smaller footprint with more intrinsic sporting intent. The truth is that it's been a half-century since Jaguar introduced a proper new sportscar. Today, most people know the brand strictly as a purveyor of wood- and hide-lined luxury sedans.
In fact, if you're not an enthusiast with some appreciation for the marque's history, it's a bit odd to hear Jaguar executives proclaim that they are a sportscar company and always have been. By their reckoning, the 2014 F-Type seen here is in fact a return to form, a Rip Van Winkled brand pillar reanimated and reimagined to take center stage. It's a sentiment that must be particularly odd for car shoppers in developing markets like China, where Jaguar hasn't even been selling cars for very long. Yet because the original 1961 E-Type is perhaps the most gorgeous car ever to lay ply on the world's roads, we're prepared to cut them some slack.
In the market for an amped-up Jaguar? Look for the letter R, adorning such performance models as the XFR and XJR sedans, the XKR coupe and convertible and the new F-Type R. But if it's bonkers performance you're after, you'll want to add the letter S into the mix as well. Jaguar uses the letters to connote its most hard-core performance variants like the two-door XKR-S and four-door XFR-S. And now it's applied them to the XF wagon as well, skipping the R treatment and going straight for the new XFR-S Sportbrake.
Leaked just the other day and headed for the Geneva Motor Show, Jaguar has now revealed its new power wagon in full. The XFR-S Sportbrake packs Coventry's ubiquitous 5.0-liter supercharged V8 engine boasting 542 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque. That's the same version that powers the XKR-S and XFR-S sedan (not to mention the F-Type R and XJR), and drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic to rocket the estate to 60 in 4.6 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 186 miles per hour.
That may be pretty quick, but doesn't quite stack up to the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S-Model 4Matic Estate whose 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 offers up 577 hp and 590 lb-ft for a 3.6-second 0-60 time, or to the Audi RS6 Avant whose 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 churns out 552 hp and 516 lb-ft for a 3.9-second 0-62 sprint. Though the Jaguar is only a little behind in output, it's a good second slower where it's measured. Granted that the Benz and the Audi are both all-wheel-drive where the Jaguar powers the rear only, but if four-wheel traction is how you get the power to the road, we wonder why Jaguar wouldn't fall in line. Particularly when the Jag's starting price in the UK (don't expect to see it imported here) is quoted at £82,495 - several grand more than the £76,985 RS6 but just shy of the £85,880 Mercedes gets for the E63 S-Model wagon in the UK (where the less potent 'base' version is also available as the cheapest in the bunch at £75,885).
After enviously watching its competitors rake in piles of crossover-shaped dollars for years, Jaguar is poised to get into the game with a production model based on this C-X17 concept. While the British brand hasn't officially confirmed it will sell a utility vehicle - indeed, brand fans and industry watchers have wondered whether the Leaping Cat even need to get into the game considering its corporate cousins at Land Rover - we would be dumbfounded if it didn't happen in short order.
We've always been concerned that Jaguar's styling language wouldn't translate well to a high-riding shape, but here at its Frankfurt Motor Show debut, the C-X17 comes off as quite handsome (if predictable) in the metal. The same couldn't always be said of Jag's styling DNA, but newer models beginning with the XF and the XJ have introduced design elements like a larger, more vertical grille that suit the C-X17's form factor exceedingly well. Even the rear end successfully borrows its taillamp design from the glorious new F-Type Roadster.
Underneath the concept's two-box shape is a new aluminum unibody that Jag says it is poised to employ on its next-generation models, including the long-expected midsize sedan coming to North America in 2016. Jaguar has long been a leader in aluminum chassis development even as it has struggled to take weight out of some of its vehicles (the F-Type, for instance, isn't exactly lightweight). Thus far, Jaguar isn't talking powertrains other than to say it will employ a new generation of gas and diesel engines.