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Jaguar XKR-S review (2011 onwards)
What - Jaguar XKR-S
Where - Algarve, Portugal
Date - June 2011
Price - £97,000
Available - September 2011
Key rivals -Porsche 911 GT3, Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Mercedes SL 63 AMG
Summary - The most focused mainstream Jaguar ever is a stand-out, grin-inducing blast, but one more comfortable and composed than the aggressive looks suggest, too.
We like - Menacing styling/noise/performance, focused yet rich-in-class drive, dynamic abilities, the statement it makes
We don't like - Not quite the Porsche 911 GT3 firebreather some may expect, cabin disappointingly similar to standard XKR, price tag
Gallery: Jaguar XKR-S (2011 onwards)
Read more Jaguar reviews
Fact time: the XKR-S is Jaguar's fastest and most driver-focused series production model ever. The XJ220 was faster, sure, but that was low-volume exotica: there's to be no limit on how many XKR-S are built. Confidence is high, products are great - and here's the new good-times halo car.
It is intentionally bold and brash (not least the XKR-S-specific French Racing Blue paint option). Jaguar wants people to sit up and take note, so has created a model that is to the XK range what the GT3 is to the Porsche 911 lineup. Fitting, really, given how the XK is the UK's luxury GT answer to the sporting Porsche.
The styling is extreme because of the 186mph potential. Keeping it stuck to the ground at that speed means a new front bumper with carbonfibre splitter, paired with a large rear wing and carbonfibre diffuser. It is 10mm lower, 20-inch alloys are standard and there's a choice of five colours.
It is not just a styling exercise and power boost. Jaguar has fully revised the suspension, stretching even to expensive new aluminium components at the front and geometry changes at the rear. Stiffer springs and adjusted 'Adaptive Dynamics' dampers are overseen by revised stability control electronics.
This includes a new Trac DSC mode, which eases the electronic safety net for the circuit without removing it entirely. Revised brakes have a 44% bigger pad area too, grabbing impressive-looking 380mm ventilated front discs.
It costs £97,000. This is a very expensive Jaguar XK, then (£18,450 more than the 510hp XKR). By the standards of the class to which it aspires, however, it is not: the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, for example, retails for £135,000. Is this Jaguar XKR-S special enough to justify its near-£100,000 price tag, though?
Because the base 5.0-litre V8 supercharged XKR engine is so potent, Jaguar found it easy to liberate another 40hp and 40lb ft. It is seriously powerful. 550hp is 40hp MORE than an Aston V12 Vantage, 50hp MORE than a Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0!
0-60mph takes 4.2 seconds but it feels even faster still. This is an old-school large capacity engine that oozes pulling power. Other than relative meekness at really low revs, before the supercharger kicks in, hammerblow punch is its forte. Even the 186mph top speed is electronically limited.
The delivery thrills too, particularly in Dynamic mode where the accelerator turns super-sharp (too much so at slow speed). The instant reaction of the supercharger means monster drive is immediate, and you soon learn to be gentle on the accelerator to modulate it.
The exhaust played a key part in releasing the extra power. Broadening the 'Active Exhaust' functionality improved exhaust gas flow - but also, pleasingly, made it noisier. In Dynamic mode, make that MUCH noisier. The XKR-S sounds exceptional.
The rich burble is deep enough to resonate cabin trim at low speeds, and dominates the drive as you'd expect it to in a Corvette. It also pops and bangs like snap-crack fireworks on the overrun, something audible even from inside a car following it. Pure, grin-inducing brilliance.
However, able though the paddleshift six-speed auto gearbox is, the XKR-S would be even better with the latest-eight-speed unit. It would stay in its devastatingly effective mid-range rev band more easily, and add yet more dynamism to the thrilling drivetrain. Perhaps, with time, that will come?
Ride and handling
If you fear a stiff and fearsome white-knuckle ride from the Jaguar XKR-S, you're in for a surprise. Despite its menacing looks, this is not the ragged racetrack escapee the extreme wings suggest, but yet another uncannily wide-ranging Jaguar all-rounder.
Sure, the ride is firm, and taut - even more so in the suspension's Dynamic mode - but there is still compliance and absorbency there. This is the familiar Jaguar glide-along feel, but honed and tightened up for a new sporting role, rather than being lost entirely.
Rough-road ability is particularly impressive. The XKR-S is not deflected off course by undulations or broken surfaces, and does not jump and writhe over bumps in the road. This makes it more relaxing and confident through twisting corners.
Exciting, too. Despite its all-roads composure, the XKR-S handles with meaty satisfaction. It is quick-witted and well balanced, flowing sweetly to economical steering inputs. Elegant and neat, it has purity, despite its high grip levels and very high limits. What it lacks here is the last edge of 911-like reward.
Impressive steering accuracy is a key factor in the XKR-S make-up. The XKR-S turns in precisely and gives firm feedback. It is not over-weighty (even in Dynamic mode) and does not have a Porsche's uncanny feel, but is tight enough to let you place this fast GT with satisfying precision.
On track, the upgraded engineering means it is up to the job. The looser safety net of Trac DSC lets you 'feel' more body movement, so you're more involved in the action. It isn't just about letting you enjoy controlled power-oversteer. Although obviously this is fun, too...
There are fewer changes over the standard XKR here, which itself was revised last year with the Jaguar rotary gearshifter and 'Drive Control' centre (which is where the Dynamic mode 'flag' button is found). It's OK, but rather plain, and too similar to the XKR.
New performance seats are supportive, and the carbonfibre-style fabric is neat. Mindful of that GT role, comfort, space and equipment are good too. You just can't help but feel something's lacking though, particularly after Jaguar went to such extremes with the exterior style.
Economy and safety
Being the only car in its class to emit less than 300g/km CO2 is an impressive claim, even if it doesn't quite make the Jaguar XKR-S into an eco saviour. Combined economy of 23mpg for a 186mph car is pretty impressive, mind.
By upping the parameters of the handling, Jaguar has made the XKR-S more stable and tenacious on the road. More grip and more development of the safety aids mean its full performance can be used with plenty of confidence (even in racier Trac DSC mode).
The MSN Cars Verdict
The Jaguar XKR-S is, visually, OTT: this will be loved or hated (we love it). The real beauty is in the way it drives, for it combines GT cruising ability with devastating back-road pace. Such a blend of tight-road agility and fast-road comfort is intriguingly compelling.
It is expensive, the interior could be more bespoke and enthusiasts may crave more involvement. However, it really is the most involving mainstream Jaguar yet, and extremely fast with it, while the noise it makes is delectable. A 911 beater? No. It's not meant to be. But a compelling 911 alternative for £38k less than an Aston Martin V12 Vantage? It firmly ticks the box.
|Need to know|
|Engine||5,000cc V8 supercharged petrol|
|Torque, lb ft||422@2,500-5,500rpm|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.4|
|Top speed, mph||186|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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