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Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

The fastest cat yet out of the bag.

Greg N. Brown
Sep 14, 2011

Other cars cloy the appetites they feed, but the XKR-S makes hungry where most it satisfies. —with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare

In less poetic terms, driving the XKR-S left me wanting more, much more, of the most powerful production car ever to wear the Jaguar badge. Honestly, though, this ravenous appetite for more seat time was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.

Epcp 1110 01 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+front Photo 2/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

When Jaguar first showed the XKR-S I was skeptical of the whole street/track hybrid concept. And I didn’t really like how the wind tunnel had reworked the svelte XKR coupe. The busier surfaces struck me as an aerodynamic engineer’s wet (fluid dynamics) dream and not the reflection of a Jaguar owner’s secret inner self. So why screw up a really good car, I thought, to build a poseur?

Regardless of this hack’s opinion, it is a good time for Jaguar to offer a high-priced ($132,000) version of the XKR. Jaguar’s place on quality surveys is higher than it’s been in most car buyers’ memories, and profits are up under Indian company Tata’s ownership, so why not offer a hyperbolized Jaguar, particularly if the outstanding result is quite unlike anything else on the road?

Essential elements of the S program begin with the corporate 5.0-liter supercharged V8. Rated at 503 hp in the XKR, it received rewritten software and a revised exhaust for S duty, increasing output to 542; even better, peak torque rises from 451 to 502 lb-ft. Zero to 60 mph comes up in a quick 4.2 seconds, about half a second quicker than the XKR, and 100 mph flashes by in less than 9. The six-speed paddle-shift transmission is right out of the XKR, and it’s one of the best around. Upshifts are without delay, and it can skip gears for quicker downshifts. Fitment of bespoke ZR-rated Pirellis, the additional power and the slippery shape allowed Jaguar to raise the top speed from 155 to an impressive 186 mph, makes the XKR-S a new member of the rather exclusive 300 km/h club.

Epcp 1110 02 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+grille Photo 3/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

The S sounds impressive, too, emitting a rumbling idle that hasn’t been heard around the Jaguar works since the race shop closed up. Unique to the S model is a new “performance active exhaust,” which uses valves to moderate low-speed decibels and then unleash them with a baritone growl as the revs increase. The system also features a new crossover pipe that eliminates one of the mufflers and reduces backpressure. And to remind the driver why he’s paid around $35,000 more for his S than for a standard XKR, a small duct siphons a delicious measure of that roar into the otherwise well-insulated passenger compartment.

Epcp 1110 03 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+seating Photo 4/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

Additional power is always welcome for track days, but whatever competition cred the XKR-S will earn has to come from below the beltline. Beginning with revisions to the wishbone suspension, Jag’s engineers also stiffened the front uprights, increased spring rates by 28 percent in front and 32 percent at the rear, developed an “active” locking differential, wrote new software for the driver-selectable handling aids and fit lightweight 20-inch forged wheels wrapped by Pirelli P Zeros with staggered sizes of 255/35 front and 295/30 rear.

Epcp 1110 04 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+spoiler Photo 5/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

The most striking element of the makeover, Ian Callum’s design, might suggest the surly visage and bulging muscles of an empty-headed male model stalking a fashion runway, but solid science underlies the aggressive attitude for a reduction of overall lift by 26 percent. The nose is markedly different from previous XKs and sports slimmer LED headlamps, a new front bumper, carbon-fiber splitter, lower spoiler and trick vertical slots at the outer edges of the front fenders to channel air along the lower side sills for greater directional stability. Rear lift is kept in check by a new, S-only wing with carbon center section and a carbon venturi structure under the rear bumper.

Other styling touches unique to the S are gloss-black exterior trim, red or gunmetal brake calipers and a range of five paint colors that includes French Racing Blue and Italian Racing Red. British Racing Green? Nope.

Not so with the XKR-S. It’s balanced in the corners, stable at high speeds, quiet when cruising and voluble when pushed hard. It’s probably the most well-adjusted bipolar car on the road, capable of switching between goddess and whore at the driver’s whim. It not only satisfies on so many levels—it leaves you wanting more. This is the sign of a great car.

Epcp 1110 05 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+engine Photo 6/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

For aggressive drivers, the new front buckets are a welcome addition. Broad enough in the beam to accommodate even the plus-sized, and with substantial bolstering for shoulders and thighs, they also are heated and electronically adjustable 16 ways for a level of comfort rarely found in performance seating. Also exclusive to the S are a new three-spoke, multi-function steering wheel; bespoke trim materials and several combinations of micro-piping stitching in the leather upholstery. Customers can opt for a dark aluminum finish to the interior panels or go for more traditional wood accents.

This is all good stuff, but is it enough to transform a luxurious GT into a capable track car, if only for a gentleman racer’s weekend lark at the motorsports club?

Epcp 1110 06 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+rear Photo 7/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

Jaguar was bold, even a bit reckless, in choosing an F1 test circuit, Portugal’s Autodromo Algarve. A new car, an unfamiliar and very technical circuit full of elevation changes, blind crests, off-camber corners and short braking zones seemed a recipe for disappointment, if not disaster. I figured on a few safe, lazy laps before hitting the public roads and a less frantic test environment.

But after just a few laps of recon, with the car’s traction aids fully engaged, I felt entirely comfortable. The XKR-S is big and heavy, but it drives like a smaller car because of the prodigious power and exceptional grip. It was able to both feed my need for speed and still make me hungry for more.

This hunger caused me to switch to the new Trac DSC mode, which provoked an entirely different experience. With the engine’s power almost completely unrestrained, an inattentive right foot in the wrong part of the corner overwhelmed the Pirellis and sent the rear end off on a tangent of its own. Bringing the chassis back in line, was, however, very easy due to the quick, precise steering and the active rear nanny, er, differential. Even so, I’d had enough after one lap of “throw and catch” and reverted to a less aggressive setting. Default track behavior is slight understeer, so the quickest way around is slow in and fast out of the corners, letting the engine’s muscle make up the time lost in the braking zone, the weakest link in the car’s repertoire. A good set of carbon brakes would go a long way to making the XKR-S even more trackworthy.

Epcp 1110 07 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+badge Photo 8/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

Even with the compromises to comfort and safety, the XKR-S is a capable track car. In the right hands, the XKR-S is bloody fast. It ran the Nordschleife in under 8 minutes, remarkable for a luxury GT—but it probably won’t take fast lap of the day away from, say, a Porsche 911 Turbo, if for no other reason than the brakes, which are just fine on the street but fade after a few hot laps, and the Jag’s weight. Racing technology begins with adding lightness, but the XKR-S tips the scales at a far-from-lightweight 3,900 pounds, about the same as the normal XKR. It helps that the extra mass of the body panels and rear wing is offset by a reduction in unsprung mass (around 11 pounds) from the larger, lighter Vulcan forged wheels, but there’s no evading the fact of the coupe’s heavy footprint, no matter how “racy” it looks.

Epcp 1110 09 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+wheels Photo 9/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

If the S was good on the track, it was absolutely brilliant on Portugal’s winding backroads. Despite the stiffer suspension, it still gobbled up the miles with the compliant grace expected from the Jaguar motoring experience. In fact, I felt energized rather than exhausted after hours-long blasts over the narrow roads. Driving some performance cars is like making love to a nymphomaniac: great fun at first. Then, when you need a breather, maybe a cuddle, all you get is an insistent tap on the shoulder and the command to climb back into the saddle.

Epcp 1110 08 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+controls Photo 10/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

2012 Jaguar XKR-S

Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

Epcp 1110 10 o+2012 jaguar xkr s+rs Photo 11/11   |   Jaguar XKR-S - First Drive

5.0-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, supercharged

Six-speed automated manual

Front and rear independent double wishbone, coil springs, electronically damped shocks

Single-piston swing calipers,
compound discs

Length/Width/Height (in.): 188.7/74.5/51.6
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Curb Weight: 3,857 lb.

Peak Power: 542 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 502 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.2 sec.
Top Speed: 186 mph (limited)
MSRP: $132,875

By Greg N. Brown
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