A THROBBING engine, suggestive curves and an accelerator pedal that threatens to lead you astray: supercars ooze passion, and that’s before you even start on their badges. There’s nothing subtle about Ferrari’s virile prancing horse, Lamborghini’s raging bull and, er, McLaren’s bendy banana.
At the centre of this hedonism sit the owners, inhaling that fervour day after day. Naturally it starts to rub off so that before they even get their car’s first four-figure service bill, they find themselves with a new family to transport.
That presents a problem. Ferrari and Lamborghini may have begun fitting some of their cars with Isofix mountings for child seats but if you want to bring your buggy, you’ll have to saw it in half. And that jumbo tub of Sudocrem is going to wreak havoc with the car’s perfect 50:50 weight distribution. No, the arrival of a baby means trading in the supercar for something more practical, though heaven forbid, not sensible.
Enter the super-estate. At a distance such a vehicle could be mistaken for a standard family load-lugger, littered with biscuit crumbs, sweet wrappers and those old bits of plastic that you haven’t taken to the dump yet. Look closer, though, and you’ll discover the engine is little different from a supercar’s, and that the sports suspension and high-tech electronics mean you can play at being Lewis Hamilton on the way to the nursery.
The kingpin of this rare breed is Audi’s RS6. It has four-wheel drive and a 552bhp V8 engine that can fire it from 0-62mph in 3.9sec, a time identical to the firm’s V10-powered manual R8 supercar. Only slightly slower is the Mercedes E63 AMG estate. It’s large enough to swallow a Silver Cross pram without dislodging the au pair, while simultaneously blasting from 0-62mph in 4.3sec.
Now Jaguar has turned its XF Sportbrake into a super-estate by shoehorning a 5-litre supercharged V8 engine under its bonnet and calling it the XFR-S. It went on sale this month. Forget the understated Brit; this car looks mean. It has bonnet vents, chunky side skirts and an aggressive rear diffuser with teeth. If all that’s not enough, the brochures show it painted in “I’m mad, me” electric blue.
The growl the XF’s engine makes will silence any howling child in the back. Nudge the accelerator and the thrust should make sure of it, even though the car’s 0-62mph time of 4.8sec lags behind rivals.
Tuned on the Nürburgring, and an 8-mile high-speed bowl in Italy, the estate didn’t feel especially at home on the short urban test route laid out by Jaguar for the first press drives. But it was enough to indicate how much owners are likely to spend on tyres. Maximum torque arrives at just 2,500rpm. In plain English, that means that a slight prod of the accelerator is all it takes for the rear wheels to start spinning; especially so if Sport mode, which takes the traction control off its “strict nanny” setting, is selected.
As with the existing XFR-S saloon, the estate’s suspension has been stiffened but also tuned for the car’s extra rear-end weight. During Driving’s brief test drive, the model’s ride proved to be firm but not bone-shakingly so. The 20in wheels gripped well in tight corners. Under hard acceleration, however, the rears scrabbled for grip and the back of the car squirmed. Fortunately, things quickly settled down and the car zoomed off.
Imagine a big dog struggling to launch itself at a moving target, its paws frantically whirring then finding grip before you’ve had a chance to grab its collar. That’s the XFR-S under hard acceleration.
Compared with Audi’s RS6, which distributes its power smoothly between all four wheels with Germanic precision, the XFR-S feels more primitive but, crucially, enormous fun. The German car might be considerably faster and offer gecko levels of grip, but it gives the impression that its powerful supercomputer is doing all the hard work. In contrast, you feel like you’re really driving the Jag thanks to its more direct steering, those lairy rear wheels and a good old-fashioned growl when you hit the power.
It’s still all computer-controlled, of course. For example, only so much wheelspin is permitted before the traction control cuts the power and lights up the dashboard.
In our brief test there wasn’t much opportunity to try the other electronic aids but then, when they’re designed to shave tenths of a second from track lap times, it’s hard to imagine many owners will either.
That said, buyers will be reassured to note that when they’re not using the steering wheel gearchange paddles in manual mode (and who would in town?) the automatic gearbox sensor is watching their steering movements carefully, and sensing the car’s lateral G-forces.
If the system thinks you’re cornering, it holds onto the current gear instead of changing up, giving you maximum power at the exit. Of course, that means more wheelspin and, a few seconds later, the arrival of traction control to spoil the party. An electronic differential provides additional cornering grip. On our drive, a crocodile of children lined up on the outside of one corner, meant we never put it to the test.
The XFR-S is never going to match the pace of the RS6 or, indeed, the Mercedes. Its list price of £82,495, over £5,000 more than both German rivals, is a lot to ask for its particular blend of charm, as well. Both German cars are markedly more modern inside, especially in terms of their screen-based entertainment and sat-nav systems.
For what it’s worth, the XFR-S Sportbrake’s fuel economy is poor, too. However, the car is practical and very roomy, with 1,675 litres of boot space when the rear seats are folded flat. Such space is on a par with the RS6.
Jaguar admits that the car is not going to sell in huge numbers and that it’s not about boosting profits but completing the image transformation of the brand. After losing its way with the lacklustre X-type and stuffy S-type, the big cat is positioning itself as a company that produces luxury cars that are powerful and fun to drive. That’s a good omen for a car that more people are likely to be able to afford: Jaguar’s forthcoming small XE saloon.
For the family that loves to powerslide its way to a summer holiday.
2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake specifications
Engine: 5,000cc V8 supercharged petrol
Power: 542bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque: 502 lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Acceleration: 0-60mph: 4.6 sec
Top speed: 186mph (limited)
Fuel: 24.4mpg (combined)
Road tax band: M
Release date: On sale now
Audi RS6 Avant , £77,005
- For Luxurious interior; brutally exciting performance Against So accomplished, it can feel as if the car’s driving you
Mercedes E 63 AMG, £75,905
- For An aircraft hangar with supercar performance Against Don’t ask about fuel economy