Since its inception in the 1930s, Jaguar has tried to combine grace, space and pace into one superlative package. Models like the SS100, the E-type and the XK were built upon that vision – a vision Jaguar’s current range continues to uphold. However, after driving Jaguar’s fastest production car, the XKR-S coupé, you can’t help but think that the formula has gotten a bit skewed.
A bit hard-edged
From no angle is the XKR-S a subtle car, especially not the front. While it’s based on the XK, the pursuit of pace has lead to extensive modifications. Optimising the aerodynamics meant adding air inlets on the bumper, a new upside-down grille and a carbon-fibre splitter to reroute the air flow under the car, and slots on the bonnet to help cool the engine. Bigger side skirts give the impression that the car is hugging the ground. At the rear are more carbon-fibre bits, like the wing on the boot-lid and the diffuser underneath. The end result is a reduction in aerodynamic lift by 26 percent with no increase in drag. In fact, the XKR-S looks more like a racing car than an elegant grand tourer.
On the inside, though, are all the creature comforts you’d expect from a Jaguar. The sporty, frame-hugging seats are well padded and lined with imitation carbon-fibre, and offer 16-way power adjustment. There is two-zone climate control, a 525W Bowers & Wilkins audio system and a reversing camera. Clearly there have been no Lamborghini Superleggera-style cutbacks to save weight, and the unchanged 1.73-tonne kerb weight proves as much.
The XKR-S was unveiled in 2011 with 542bhp, making it the most powerful production car from Jaguar yet. It trumps the standard XKR by 40bhp and its 300kph top speed is faster by 50kph. The 0-100 time is down by almost half a second to 4.4sec, and that’s despite the weight remaining the same.
But even before you turn a wheel, what sets the mood in the XKR-S is the exhaust note. Exhaust gases from both banks of cylinders intersect via a beautiful X-piece. The deep, throaty rumble this Jag makes is guttural and raw, and it resonates in the cabin, egging you to go faster. Sweetening the experience further are flaps in the exhaust that add more depth to the sound. But it isn’t all about making your hair stand on end – the new exhaust is also responsible for unleashing many of the extra horses on the XKR-S by reducing back-pressure and adding a manic edge to the way the revs build. The remapped ECU also gives sharper responses and quicker gear shifts.
But all such facts and numbers remain meaningless until you get in and drive the car. And once you’ve driven it, the numbers cease to matter. That’s because driving the XKR-S fast is an experience that makes you breathe faster, leaves your hands clammy and your knees shaking just a little. There is an urgency in everything the XKR-S does that just puts you on the edge, especially in Dynamic mode. The power and torque from the perfectly square AJ V8 motor are spread across the rev range, but there is so much of it on tap and such is the connection between the throttle pedal and the engine that no matter what speed you’re at or in which gear, even a light tap on the throttle results in a neat shove in the back. Mash the throttle hard and the engine revs angrily to the 6,500rpm mark. The six-speed gearbox is quick to shift up, adding to the sizzling pace. Downshifts are quick too, although getting the gearbox to shift down requires prior planning and revs to spare.
You can tell that Jaguar expects this machine to be driven hard and fast. Not only is the ‘Trac’ DSC mode especially lenient, it also disengages completely much quicker. And from there on, driving the XKR-S is like trying to tame a wild cat. Whether you are just getting going or coming around a corner, step on the throttle with a bit of enthusiasm and the 69.3kgm of torque on tap from 2,500rpm will overcome the grip available to the rear wheels with little effort.
Using the power responsibly requires measured inputs from your right foot. To ease the work load, you could just set the DSC to ‘Trac’ mode and let the electronics take care of the details while enjoying all the fun the rear-driver offers. But piloting this Jag requires a keen hand to match its sharpened dynamics.
To make the XKR-S lighter on its feet an extensive overhaul of the suspension was carried out, including lowering the ride height, increasing the spring rates, beefing up the uprights and lightening the components.
The XKR-S also uses forged 20-inch wheels which are lighter and wrapped with stickier rubber. Nothing has been overlooked; the electronic rear differential and the DSC have been recalibrated to allow for a sportier driving experience. The lenient ‘Trac’ DSC system allows drivers to indulge in lurid drifts without ESP intervention, and it even has a launch mode. It is immediately apparent that Jaguar’s efforts to make the XKR-S more “pointy” have worked. The light steering commands changes of direction with such quickness and immediacy that if it weren’t for the supportive seats you’d get knocked around like a sack of potatoes. The revised suspension has a firmness that seems very businesslike without being brutal.
The section of the Ascari track we were driving on featured a variety of corners where we were always either climbing up or down. This included a scaled-down version of Eau Rouge, a tight chicane and a long, banked left turn to test the high-speed stability on. Eau Rouge was a crazy roller-coaster ride. The XKR-S barrelled flat-out downhill into the kink. A quick pull at the paddle shifter brought me down a gear. With the engine growling, a quick right-left flick got the XKR-S through the kink. Once through, as I got back on the power, the XKR-S kicked its tail out playfully. It was absolutely divine. A light dab set things right and pointed me in the direction of a crest that veiled the approach to the next set of corners. Off-camber corners, sharp throttle inputs – just about everything provokes the XKR-S’ tail to step out. Driven fast, the XKR-S is quite a handful, and a proper hooligan if you indulge it.
The XKR-S is a bold Jaguar and it reflects the confidence and ability of the company very well. It is the most extroverted and sporting Jaguar to hit showrooms in decades. Sure, the XKR-S applies a twist to the traditional Jaguar formula. It is nowhere near elegant enough and the ride won’t be too graceful over imperfect roads. Its small fuel tank, petrol motor and minimal ground clearance mean you can’t seriously think of using this as a tourer.
However, if it’s on-the-limit, edge-of-the-seat thrills you seek, then the XKR-S is the cat that springs to mind.