Test Driven: Jaguar XKR-S, Al’s Take

It wants to kill you. This is no ordinary Jag.

Jaguar has been known for building luxurious cars with plenty of grunt and scads of English class for decades, but the XKR-S represents somewhat uncharted territory for them at this point.  The XKR is already a very good luxury sports car, but the boys at Coventry spared no expense in making this hardcore version a delightful, yet still very scary, piece of machinery.  If the XJ I drove before I left for Pebble Beach was similar to Dr. Jekyll, this new XKR-S was Mr. Hyde–wide, scary, and aching to cause me personal injury.  So, I gladly grabbed the keys and hopped in.

Photo courtesy of honestjohn.co.uk

The new XKR-S is Jaguar’s attempt to put the XKR in a new class of sports car.  At a cost of over 130 large, it’s now battling for attention alongside the Porsche 911 Turbo and Mercedes SL63, two established models in this range.  For Jaguar, who haven’t had a part in this piece of the segment before, they need to make a serious amount of noise on launch.  The XKR-S, at a glance, isn’t a flash in the pan.  The styling changes between the XKR and its new big brother are clear, with a more aggressive hood, huge front air dam, aggressive scoops all over the place, and low, evil stance.  Despite all the changes, the big R-S still looks breathtaking, with the XK’s lines coming through beautifully.  In the red color shown here, the new XK flagship grabbed my attention, and refused to let go.  Inside, it felt much more focused than the normal XKR, with thicker side bolsters, clear dials, and a space-age shifter familiar to anyone who’s driven a Jag or Land Rover recently.  The suspension and traction control settings sat nearby, with the radio front and center (but still not necessary).

Upon pressing the starter button on the console, I expected a muted growl from the big V8 up front, but was greeted with a rambunctious, unrestrained rumble from under the hood. Clearly, this was no ordinary Jag, and my suspicions were confirmed minutes later after putting it in Drive and cruising up to the Stop sign up ahead.  It rides overtly firmly, and has little suspension travel, a sign of a hardcore design, not a slightly-warmed-over 2+2.  That’s when it was clear–Jaguar wants attention, and they’re getting it.  I stepped on the pedal and the exhaust note turned into a supercharged yell over the V8’s rumbling soundtrack.  I still was shocked by how hard the ride was, though, considering how much Jaguar touts their comfort models so much–but, as this is a hardcore enthusiast model and not the normal XKR, this fits the personality well.  But, if this was any other Jaguar, I would have been unimpressed; in Comfort, it isn’t soft enough, but in firmer settings, the ride is absolutely up to code.

This cat goes feral. Without any provoking.

On the move, the 542hp V8 is simply amazing.  It sounds every bit as potent and scary as it is, and reacts to your right foot with an uncanny amount of response, almost as if it’s predicting everything going on inside.  The steering is surprisingly quick and very accurate, matching its lack of body roll and well-controlled suspension.  As GT cars go, the XKR-S is one for those who prefer “sport” heavily over “comfort”.  It doesn’t compromise, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Interior quality and visibility are above average, despite the high hood line and massive width (which on narrow roads becomes a big scare).  I’m not sure I would buy one myself for the price, but the XKR-S offers a blend of excellent performance, drop-dead-gorgeous styling, and scads of exclusivity for a well-heeled buyer.

-Al

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