Road Test: Jaguar XKR-S
I had a strange feeling of déjà vu. Looking out of the window at a grey sky filled with drizzle and a day driving a 500+bhp coupe ahead of me, I got those familiar little butterflies in my stomach that shouted to me “push it that bit too far and you’ll be in a hedge, boy” that I got before driving the Mercedes SLS.
Still, a day driving a supercar in drizzle is still better than a day not driving one at all so off I went to my pickup point at écurie25’s clubhouse in Wakefield, where as I pulled up I saw my ride for the day – the 542bhp Jaguar XKR-S. I’m man enough to admit that as I rounded the corner and saw it sitting there in jet black with black wheels, all spoilers and aggressiveness, I clenched. It’s a mean looking car, make no mistake.
So, the usual handover process was done and I was clear to take in the Jag and get to know it before setting off. To call the XKR-S aggressive is like saying that Charles Bronson had ‘a bit of a temper’. At the front, there’s a low bumper with a jutting carbon fibre splitter sitting below the grille which houses the famous Jaguar’s head and a new R-S badge. At the sides, just ahead of the front wheels are new aerodynamic vertical ‘vanes’ to help direct airflow – I’m not sure if they actually do that, but they look fantastic. At the rear there’s a diffuser housing the four exhaust pipes and a large wing sits atop the bootlid with the centre section in carbon. The only splashes of colour on this XKR-S are the red brake callipers behind the gorgeous 20-inch black alloy wheels.
The body addenda on this Jag have been likened by many to a ram-raid through Halfords, but they do have a purpose – the XK shape was never designed for going as fast as the R-S can travel, so the extra aero aids are needed to keep it on the ground instead of flying off it when it hits the new 186mph top speed.
For what it’s worth, I really like the look – it’s almost cartoonishly aggressive. The interior is another thing altogether – traditional Jag fare with the rising gear selector and clear layout, but add in the deep sports seats, black leather with red stitching and a B&W stereo and this Jag looks every bit the racer, even if it’s a racer wearing a nicely tailored suit. No alcantara or roll bars here.
This is slightly strange, because Jaguar originally touted this XKR-S as a rival to the Porsche 911 GT3, the most racerish of all the hardcore coupés. But the biggest changes are apparently in the way it drives and I’ve already wasted too much time without the engine running.
As you sit in the R-S, key fob in pocket and see the Start button pulsing away you know you’re in for a treat. So foot on the brake, button depressed and to be honest, I wondered if for a minute Thor, the God of Thunder had appeared behind the car. The engine erupts into life with a feral bark from the exhausts, settling into a filthy burble that wouldn’t be out of place coming from the rear of a 60’s Dodge Charger. After letting it warm up a little the child in me takes over and I give the throttle a few blips, which unfortunately may have led to an entire old people’s home perishing 3 roads away due to the noise. It emits such a rude, loud, mechanical growl that there’s a very good chance you could go through an entire tank of fuel just on your driveway (see video below for proof). That is, if you hadn’t heard what it’s like on the move…
I only had a day with this Jag, so it was all systems go from the off. After a while to get used to the balance of the car I was straight into Sport on the gearbox, Dynamic mode enabled, and the DSC set to ‘Track’. The difference was instant – the throttle became much sharper, the suspension tauter and the valves opened in the exhaust all the time. This was going to be fun.
Especially as I had found a road in the Peak District that was not only dry, but rose hundreds of feet with combinations of slow tight corners and long sweeping bends. Best of all it was almost completely deserted, allowing me to indulge in my own little mini-Nürburgring fantasy. But don’t let the fact that this is a comfortable Jaguar on the motorway lull you into a false sense of security – the XKR-S is an animal. It’s very much like the Aston Martin DBS in that it is a very physical car to drive and you have to be on your toes. There is a lot of power going to the rear tyres and they will break traction very easily.
Brake late into a corner using the massive stoppers and use the very direct steering to point you where you want to go, let the car settle and squeeze the throttle hard and the back end with break away with a satisfying blare from the exhausts, an arm full of lock and then the DSC will reign things in and enable you to simply wind off the lock and catapult up the road to the next corner. Traction is broken easily but it really is surprisingly docile when at the limits.
On the straights it will squirm even when in 3rd on a damp road, but when the rear tyres grip the acceleration is incredible – a furious wall of sound from the exhausts, like a Spitfire is directly above you and you’re pushed into the seat until you flick the paddle and grab another gear. This brings me to the downside of this XKR-S – the gearbox. Being a traditional auto ‘box, even in Dynamic mode the shifts just aren’t quick enough for a car like this. On the road you learn to work around it which you shouldn’t really have to do, but I’d imagine on track it would become frustrating. You can shift up on full throttle but there’s a worrying ‘thump’ when you do and there’s still a lag.
What I don’t know is where to position the R-S. On the road it’s seriously impressive, but still not as hardcore or as involving as the 911 GT3 so it must then be a fast GT car. But they have the standard XK for that. It’s also mighty pricey at £97,000. The way it saves itself and distances from the GT3 is that when you switch all the systems back to normal, auto ‘box shifting for you, you could be in any Jag as the ride is great and it’s refined and quiet on the move. The GT3 can’t do that; it’s a one-trick pony. The XKR-S is a car you could have as your daily driver and it would fit into your life perfectly with its huge boot and lovely stereo. But on those days when you’re feeling a bit naughty, it’ll be there for you ready to wake up everything in a 10 mile radius with the glorious sound of a shouting supercharged V8 being thrashed through the hills.
Images by Tim Oldland