FERAL CAT

ITí S JAGí S MOST POWERFUL LIMO EVER, BUT THE XJR575 MARKS A TURNING POINT IN THE XJí S 50-YEAR HISTORY

BY SCOTT NEWMAN +PICS ALASTAIR BROOK

SHEíS THE LAST OF the V8s... itís the duckís guts... 600 horsepower through the wheels.Ē

Forty years ago, the roads west of Melbourne rumbled to the sound of a Cleveland 351ci V8 as George Miller completed filming Mad Max. Its plot examined issues of violence, grief and revenge, but itís best remembered as a celebration of horsepower, primarily thanks to the screaming, supercharged, nitro-fuelled Pursuit Special driven by Mel Gibson in his role as Max Rockatansky.

JAGí S CHIEF ENGINEER IS VERY FAMILIAR WITH OPPOSITE LOCK Ė THE XJR IS THE CONSUMMATE DRIFTER

Melbourneís urban sprawl is expanding rapidly, but the roads and scenery between Little River in the south, Bacchus Marsh in the north and Meredith in the west have changed little since 1978. Ruler-straight B-roads disappear into a heat-hazed horizon, intersecting the vast, straw-coloured fields that gave Mad Max its semi-apocalyptic vibe.

It might seem an odd place to test the Jaguar XJR575, but Coventryís latest supercharged V8 limo is almost certainly its last. Jaguar head of design, Ian Callum, is on record as stating the new XJ, expected to appear in early 2019, will be bigger, roomier, filled with cutting-edge tech and look radically different to the traditional limousine. Itís also expected to be powered purely by electricity, using technology transfer from the i-Pace crossover. The XJR575, then, is the last of the V8s.

The XJís flagship status makes it the sensible choice to, i-Pace aside, lead Jaguarís electrically powered charge. After all, the X350 XJ (2003-2009) was Jaguarís first all-aluminium car and the current X351 a stylistic game changer, taking the Ďnew Jaguarí look debuted by the XF and developing it with a large, square grille and vertical tail-lights, intended to mimic a catís claws. In design terms, it was like replacing the Queen Mary with the Starship Enterprise.

As youíd expect, the bold looks polarised at the time, but the benefit is a design that still looks fresh today, especially in the vibrant 575-exclusive Velocity Blue of our test car. If youíre colour-blind, you can spot an XJR575 via the revised rear spoiler, side sills, bumper, splitter and lower air intakes, which also feature gloss black surrounds. Twenty-inch wheels of the same hue shelter vivid red brake calipers, or you could just look at the badge. The unusual shapes and squinty headlights wonít be to everyoneís taste, but it is distinctive and its size Ė 5.1m long and 1.95m wide Ė lends it plenty of presence.

Inside, there are more badges on the sills, dash and diamondquilted sports seats. The interior of an XJR575 is a quirky place, but I love it. Some details frustrate: the touchscreen isnít the worldís slickest, figuring out the digital dashís sub-menus takes practice, the rotary gear selector is great until the first threepoint turn and why is the steering wheel rim split into two sections? Nonetheless, the materials are lovely, glossy carbon weave, acres of leather and the fluffiest Alcantara known to man, the roof and pillars covered in what feels like shagpile bath towels. Best of all, though, is the enormous crescent that encircles the dash and joins the tops of the doors like the rim of a giant leather-trimmed bathtub.

IT WANTS TO INVOLVE RATHER THAN ISOLATE; IT'S UNAPOLOGETICALLY A DRIVERíS CAR

According to Jaguar, one of the biggest bugbears of current XJ owners is the lack of interior space, particularly those in the far-east who prefer to be driven than drive. To be honest, the XJR575 isnít the ideal chauffeur vehicle. The ride is comfortable enough on smooth roads, but busy on broken tarmac to the point that selecting Dynamic for stiffer dampers almost feels to improve matters Ė itís firmer, but somehow more cohesive. Such is the contradiction of the sporting limousine: the XJ, particularly in R guise, wants to involve rather than isolate in the manner of the equivalently priced Mercedes-Benz S560.

Thankfully, itís not all straight roads out here. Towards the town of Meredith a series of sweepers curve steeply downhill, each a little tighter than the previous. A Ford Focus RS would eat it up, but itís a stern test of something weighing two tonnes. The Jagís steering is accurate, responsive and well-geared, but a little mute in its feedback, making caution the better part of valour for initial dynamic explorations. Quickly it becomes clear the XJR575 has much deeper reserves than initially apparent. In fact, it comes alive as the tyres start to squirm, edging onto its tiptoes rather than sinking into an understeering sulk.

Grip levels are very strong. The XJR575 wears plenty of rubber, Pirelli P Zeros measuring 265/35 at the front and 295/30 at the rear, though it leans on them very hard, the pillow-soft tyres showing early signs of wear after even our limited stints of hard driving. Nonetheless, there is tremendous balance; at the limit of grip it feels poised and gives the driver options. Gentle understeer can be quelled with a lift of the accelerator, while a neutral stance can easily become one of slight oversteer with more throttle, antics the TracDSC mode is happy to allow, sitting with its feet up until actually required.

With the electronics deactivated the XJR575 is the consummate drift car. Jaguar Land Roverís chief engineer, Mike Cross, is an extremely accomplished oversteerer and his familiarity with opposite lock is evident in the progressive way the big Jag loses traction. Ultimately, the XJR canít escape its weight. The brakes work hard, though it stops from 100km/h in a very respectable 34.79m, and even in Dynamic the suspension is quite soft, so inputs need to be telegraphed early as thereís the slightest delay before a response occurs. Thereís also the occasional audible clunk from the front end, which isnít ideal in a $300,000 car. A much more frequent noise is the burble from the V8 under the bonnet. Unlike Maxís Interceptor, the XJR doesnít manage 600bhp, but 567bhp isnít far short and it doesnít need nitro to do it, just 5000cc and a supercharger. In Aussie-speak, thatís 423kW backed by a fat 700Nm in the mid-range. There isnít the shove from just above idle typical of the latest turbocharged Germans, but Jagís blown bent-eight counters with a seamless surge of grunt that builds from a torrent to a flood as the needle sweeps across the dial.

As ever with a supercharged engine, the linear nature of the power delivery somewhat disguises the XJRís potency. Itís a very, very fast car, as the 12.45sec quarter mile at 191.79km/h illustrates. Itís fairly easy to launch, too, recording 4.46sec to 100km/h, within fractions of the 4.4sec claim, and it monsters the mid-range overtaking test, blitzing from 80-120km/h in 2.34sec. The smoother power delivery also makes for an easier, more rewarding driving experience than that offered by harderhitting, but more unpredictable turboíd rivals. Equally, the eight-speed auto is the perfect partner, smooth and unobtrusive in daily use yet quick enough in its manual changes for any supposed speed difference compared to a dual-clutch to feel a bit irrelevant.

SPORTING LIMOUSINES ARE BY DEFINITION A CONTRADICTION, BUT THIS JAG IS EASY TO FALL FOR

The biggest disappointment with this otherwise gem of an engine is its noise output never reaches the same intensity as its acceleration. The identically powered Range Rover Sport SVR bellows and snarls and crackles, yet the Jaguar is altogether more polite. Itís a soundtrack that feels entirely appropriate for the more mild-mannered XJ Autobiography, but the ultimate XJR surely deserves more attitude? Those who donít appreciate the racket could always turn the exhaust button off.

Sporting limousines are by definition a contradiction. Most sacrifice outright ability for greater comfort and refinement; the Audi S8, BMW M760Li and even the Mercedes-AMG S63L feel built more for the autobahn than the Alps. Jaguar takes a different tack; the XJR is unapologetically a driverís car. As such, itís objectively flawed: the occasionally terse ride is an everyday annoyance and itís almost hilariously short of traction in the wet. Yet itís also an extremely easy car to fall for Ė a Panamera Turbo is better in virtually every area bar price, yet personally Iíd rather have the Jag. Itís living on borrowed time Ė in fact, in Europe the XJR575 is already dead thanks to the introduction of the new WLTP emission regulations. Itís a shame Jaguar is unlikely to make cars like this anymore; itís very good at it. Ian Callum promises the electric XJ will still be a driverís car, but it wonít be like this one. This oneís the last of the V8s, itís the duckís guts.