crankandpiston.com goes ambitious and takes the 2014MY Jaguar XFR-S madman for a hoon on the UAE’s Nürburgring. At night.
Jebel Jais: a ribbon of tarmac stretching nearly 7km across Ras Al Khaimah’s mountain range and incorporating hairpin bends, tight chicanes and long sweeping left and right handers. It’s a run guaranteed to put both tyre grip and mental fortitude to the test, and thus represents driving nirvana in the United Arab Emirates. So when Jaguar kindly offered us some time with its 2014MY XFR-S – a fire-spitting sports version of its established XF saloon – Jebel Jais was the perfect location: where better to test Jaguar’s alternative to the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG?
But then a second thought struck: the number of photos and questionable YouTube uploads from Jebel Jais in the thousands, but not once have we come across images of the run at night. Why? Why has seemingly nobody taken on the near-6000ft climb after sun-down? And so a decision was made. crankandpiston.com would take on the UAE’s Nürburgring in a 542bhp Polaris White Jaguar XFR-S. In the dark.
7.30pm. After a suitably ‘relaxing’ day at C&P GHQ, we – that’s crankandpiston photographer Arun and I – begin loading the XFR-S with all manner of lighting equipment, camera bodies, lenses and tripods for what could be the most ambitious photo set we’ve undertaken yet. Whilst this is not our first night shoot – you can check that out HERE – a photographer’s perpetual search for the ‘right light’ is made yet more difficult when there is none at all. In the absence of street lamps and occupied buildings at Jebel Jais, the full moon, our lighting equipment and the Jag’s headlights are all we have to work with. And as we roll out, pondering the complexities as we do, Arun and self are already beginning to wonder whether we’ve been a bit ambitious…
9pm. Having battled our way through a surprising amount of commuter traffic onto the main perimeter road from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah, two points are clear: the angry, menacing looks of the XFR-S have already proven a headturner on the road; and wave after wave of oncoming headlights from the other carriageway mean our eyelids are already beginning to feel the strain. Time to pull over at a service station to top up the car, top up ourselves, and stuff the rear seats with as many Red Bulls and breakfast subs as we can.
10pm. After an uncannily quiet run through the city centre (save iPhone shots of the Jag from passing motorists), self, Arun and the Cat begin our climb into the Ras Al Khaimah mountain range. A decidedly eery experience it proves too. During the day, the vast expanse of rock jutting out of the ground can be seen many kilometres away, but tonight, with only the mountain outline against the skyline, the rockface looms seemingly out of nowhere as we begin to climb, leaving civilisation behind as we do so. A couple of headlights heading in the opposite direction aside, we see nobody. Quite literally. With the headlights on full beam, I still have no idea which direction the road is going to twist next, and tempting as it is to open the taps on that 5.0-litre supercharged V8 growling under the bonnet, I daren’t should a road hump suddenly appear from nowhere (I’ve already been caught off guard by two of them).
11pm. It’s taken a while, but we finally make it to the top of the hill. What little light there is comes from our headlights, the moon directly above us, and…that’s about it. There are no other cars, no signs of life and a stunning view (devoid of haze and cloud) dropping thousands of feet into the valley below. It proves to be both stunning and creepy in equal measure: as we park up and begin to assemble the equipment, sounds coming out of the darkness make both of us a little jumpy.
The menacing look of the Jaguar are an inspiration as we try to regain some of our lost masculinity. Let’s not mess around: the XRF-S is a simply stunning design, elegance and subtlety being firmly dumped off the design easel in favour of ‘phwoar’ and “wha’ you lookin’ at?!” At the front we find two air intakes on the already rippled bonnet plus those angrily carved headlamps and side bumper vents, whilst the rear boasts the cheekiest of taillip spoilers and dual twin exhaust pipes, which go nicely with those whopping 20-inch ‘Varuna’ alloy wheels. It’s a style designed to be stared at, and love it or loathe it, it’s phenomenally effective. The high altitude may been affecting me slightly, but I wonder if this is the best looking saloon we’ve ever had the privilege to drive…
1am. So far so good with several atmospheric static shots nailed, but now it’s time to take a run down the hill to capture the brake light ‘trails’. Again, it’s a tricky shot to pull off, and may take me a couple of efforts to get right. But I don’t mind, since the run down the hill whilst managing 542bhp through my right foot gives me a chance to see what performance lies beneath the fur.
As opposed to its tamer XF base, the R-S badge brings with it stiffened chassis and reconfigured suspension, those bigger wheels and grippier tyres, as well as some sizeable grunt, all of which naturally equates to some pretty impressive handling. Even though I’m not hooning the wheel nuts off the XFR-S (must obide by those speed limits after all), there’s still plenty of lairiness in the back wheels to make me feel like the rear could snap at any moment. Given the close proximity of the cliff-face and the distinct lack of XFR-S cash in my wallet, I decide against disabling the traction control until I’ve got a bit of space to work with. Which is just as well, for on Jebel Jais’ dusty surfaces, the front wheels are beginning to slide on the dust. Having said that, the grip they are providing is extraordinary, the front end never far from the apex I’m aiming for, solid weight steering allowing me to keep the nose pegged to the road whilst I concentrate on keeping the rears in line.
The handling though is just part of the showcase, the other being that superb lump of power under the bonnet. Hit the loud pedal with vim and the front just leaps away in acceptance, sharp acceleration not letting up even as we approach the redline. Short sharp gear changes via the eight-speed ‘Quickshift’ automatic box allow me to keep up momentum on the straights (even if I can’t really see where I’m going) whilst those enormous brake discs allow me to wrestle the Big Cat back under some semblance of control into the corners. It’s all very composed and yet, at the same time, lethal. Even on the creepy Jebel Jais road in the pitch black, it’s an absolute hoot, albeit a heart-pumper.
What does rattle the enthusiasm though is the engine noise, or I should say lack of it. On start-up, and as the nifty rotary gear shifter rises out of the centre console, the XFR-S emits a low menacing growl that is surprisingly tame, a note that rises in ferocity the further up the rev range we go. But so good are the acoustics that only a muted tone can be heard in the cabin. And then there’s those plastic paddle shifters. Why Jaguar? WHY?!
3am. Having made our way further down the mountain (in my absence, Arun was convinced someone – something – was staring at him through the darkness) fatigue has started to kick in, and with only one Red Bull left each, we have to start pacing ourselves. In it’s own way, bizarrely, the XFR-S hasn’t made life easier for our weary noggins. The supportive seats for instance are ridiculously comfortable, and when our shoot finally wraps, it doesn’t take Arun long to fall asleep in the passenger cell. There’s also plenty of head and legroom, allowing us to stretch our weary limbs and once again encourage Mr Sandman to take a swing. If we’d tried a similar exercise in our former CTS long termer, whose seats were about as comfortable as falling down the stairs, the temptation to sit in the cabin ‘just to rest our eyes’ wouldn’t have been as great. We figure we’d better get a move on and get these final shots done.
4.30am. At last, the final image is loaded onto the memory card, and we call it a night…er, morning. Far off in the distance, calls to prayer have started sounding, reminding us that for some the day is just beginning. We’re both completely knackered, fatigue only slightly alleviated by a breakfast Subway each and some (mercifully) cold bottles of water as we start our journey back to Dubai.
This hasn’t knocked my enthusiasm for the Jaguar XFR-S though. With the R-S nomenclature, Jaguar has introduced a slice of lunacy into its normally elegant and sophisticated ensemble. It’s a pattern that the boys in Coventry do very well, and it’s clear to see why. There are no apologies with the XFR-S. Sure, on the inside it’s refined and comfortable, but on the outside it’s all business, a hot-blooded saloon designed to be thrown by the collar and – more importantly – to keep you on your toes.
Fortunately for me, it’s also helped keep me awake. Perhaps next time though, we’ll stick to Jebel Jais during the day.
|Engine:||V8 / supercharged / 5000cc|
|Power:||542bhp @ 6500rpm|
|Torque:||502lb ft @ 2500-5500rpm|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed 'Quickshift' automatic / rear-wheel drive|
|Front suspension:||Fully independent design assembled on a non-isolated subframe / continuously variable adaptive damper / hydra bushes|
|Rear suspension:||Double wishbone type on a fabricated high-grade steel subframe / continuously variable adaptive damper / voided rubber bushes|
|Brakes:||Ventilated brake discs with dual piston sliding calipers 380mm x 36mm (front) / ventilated brake discs and aluminium single piston sliding calipers 326mm x 20mm (rear)|
|Wheels:||20-inch front and rear|
|Tyres:||265/35 R20 (front) / 295/30 R20 (rear) / Pirelli P Zero|