Jaguar XKR-S Cabriolet review (2012 onwards)
What - Jaguar XKR-S Cabriolet
Where - Welshpool, Wales
Date - February 2012
Price - £103,000
Available - Now
Key rivals - Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Mercedes SL 63 AMG, Bentley Continental GTC
Summary: Open-top version of Jaguar's mighty XKR-S loses little over the coupe in terms of ability - and adds the drama of that mighty exhaust bellow to the pleasure of roof-down motoring.
We like: Noise, barely any less rigid and able than the coupe, kudos of being Jaguar's fastest-ever open-top car
We don't like: Price, plain interior, it's actually quieter inside than the coupe with the roof up...
The cabriolet version of Jaguar's mighty XKR-S is the one muscle car fans have been relishing. All the potency and power of the XKR-S coupe - including its bellowing quad exhausts - but with no barrier between them and the driver's ears.
Just in time for spring, here it is: and it really is as seemingly straightforward as the above suggests. It's an XKR-S coupe, with the roof taken off. There have been no great chassis revisions to reflect the lack of hard-top, no softening of the engine or suspension to compensate for the lack of rigidity.
That's because the Jaguar XK range was designed from the start with a cabriolet version in mind. All the strengthening necessary is thus built in - so there's no need for Jaguar to turn down the wick on the fastest open-top car it's ever built, the 186mph XKR-S cabriolet.
Sure enough, it gets the full 550hp from a supercharged 5.0-litre V8, the same 'XKR-plus' chassis tune and a similarly brash bodykit. If anything roof down, that real carbonfibre wing looks even more racecar-like than the coupe, sticking up so prominently.
Other XKR-S fundamentals include front bumper with carbon fibre splitter and air intakes to channel air down the side of the car, a rear carbonfibre diffuser and a 10mm lower ride height. There are bespoke suspension and steering components plus a more sporting tune for the DSC stability control.
Chief engineer Jeff Mitchell told MSN Cars that the conversion from coupe to cabriolet was so straightforward, even the engineers were surprised at how closely-matched the two cars are. This means the XKR-S Cabriolet is potentially explosive. What's the reality on the road?
This is a real muscle car that's dominated by torquey pulling power. The silky-smooth 5.0-litre V8 is punchy enough - add on a supercharger to provide an extra surge even from low revs, and you've something that responds to the accelerator with tremendous alacrity.
You'll only need the lightest throttle inputs on switchback roads, such is its immediacy. Good job Jaguar's tuned the accelerator pedal beautifully, meaning this great swathe of power can be deployed with Teutonic accuracy (and to startling effect: 0-100mph takes just 8.7 seconds).
The six-speed gearbox is fine (but would be better with eight speeds) and the paddleshifters work snappily. Drivers can 'stack' gearshifts too: blip the downshift paddle three times and they'll be engaged automatically as your speed drops, a bit like in F1. It's a fantastic feature.
And the noise? Well, you need to lower the roof to reveal its full thunder, with the bellowing exhaust even popping on the overrun to ensure your grin will be beaming. Oddly though, roof up, it's actually quieter than the coupe - such are the acoustics of the fabric roof, and the effectiveness of its multiple sound-deadening layers.
Ride and handling
What is a Jaguar R-S? As the XKR-S demonstrates, a more focused version of the regular R, without becoming too extreme. It's agile, boasts remarkable front-end turn-in, rides beautifully despite a firm underlay and, overall, feels firmly focused without turning aggressive.
It's the ideal car for British backroads, where its confidence and sublime body control come into their own. The steering is a particular joy, with immediacy from the first nudge and a real fingertip-input accuracy without feeling edgy or nervous. It feels like it's directly wired up.
This is just what you need on the UK's unpredictable roads, and the 'active' Adaptive Dynamics suspension does this without being Germanically over-firm or too aggressive when you're really pressing on. Like the ride and handling balance, it's subtle and athletic - but is it too subtle for those expecting something as hard-edged as the bodykit suggests?
Also noteworthy is an impressive lack of scuttle shake or structural shudders, despite this being an open-top car. You quickly forget it's a soft-top (the roof lowers in 16 seconds), simply because it feels so much like a hard-top coupe. We fully believe Jaguar's claim that it's the stiffest car in its class.
Jaguar's R-S vibes have yet to be successfully portrayed inside. The XKR-S looks distinctive, has a powerful engine and a fine chassis setup, but the R-S interior is little different to the regular R. This is disappointing, given the eyewatering £103k list price (and the smaller window openings mean it's darker in there too).
OK, the seats are excellent, and the steering wheel feels good (and it's relatively bluster-free with the roof down). But it's all just too plain and lacking in special-touch details to make it feel like the bespoke car it is. Even just a new set of dials and some R-S green and red stitching for the steering wheel would have been a start.
Of course it's not fuel efficient, despite the car's aluminium construction. Supercharging a 5.0-litre V8, and not fitting features such as stop-start, results in 23mpg. This is no worse than the coupe though - because the cabriolet itself is only 42kg heavier.
Cabriolets, of course, are potentially less safe than coupes because of their open cabin. Reinforced windscreen pillars mitigate this, although cars built in low volumes such as the XK generally don't get Euro NCAP tested to confirm this.
Sounds a lot like the XKR-S coupe review? That's because it is. Jaguar had to make minimal changes to create the open-top version, which means the apparent differences for the driver are minimal too. You'll prefer this because you can take the roof down and listen to those fantastic exhausts roar without barrier. It's an incredible noise.
Pity they're quieter with the roof up, meaning you focus on the plain cabin. It's this, and perhaps the subtlety of its beautiful chassis, that may make you baulk at the £103k list price. It's many strengths are spot-on, but the price goes too far without the interior going far enough: this is what makes it very good but not quite great.
|Need to know|
|Engines||5.0-litre supercharged V8|
|Top speed, mph||186|
|Ratings out of five|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|