Thumbs Up: This cat has claws, not what you expect from Jaguar.
Thumbs down: Good luck finding one, since they’re sold out.
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for the most powerful production Jag ever built.
Jaguars, of late, have not been known for their razor sharp handling. Even so-called sport models have grown soft over the years, and seem to be aimed more at providing a comfortable ride to the country club than at strafing apexes at Sebring. Recent Jags that we’ve driven have been plenty fast in a straight line, but have been saddled with too soft a suspension or too narrow a tire.
If that’s your world view of Jaguar, do whatever you have to to get your hands on a Jaguar XKR-S. It won’t be easy, since both the coupe and convertible models are already sold out, but we assure you it will be worth the effort. If the current XJ sedan is the quintessential Jaguar, perhaps its best to think of the XKR-S as the anti-Jaguar. It’s acceleration is brutal, it’s massive brakes will haul it down from speed like few other cars on the planet and you can carry some seriously impressive speed into corners. If you’re looking for a serious sports car with Growler on the hood, it doesn’t get any better than the XKR-S.
The starting point for the XKR-S is the already-superb Jaguar XKR. Both models (and in fact the entire XK lineup) share some common traits, like the long hood and steeply raked windshield. The overall body shape is classic Jaguar, with strong ties to the classically styled E-Type, down to its oval grille and pontoon front fenders. If anything, the styling of the XKR-S is an homage to the classic, and not just a simple re-interpretation.
Those who equate Jaguar with refined style may not be happy with the XKR-S, since it wears aerodynamic enhancements not typically associated with Jaguar. Up front, a massive carbon fiber lower fascia helps the supercharged V-8 engine keep its cool. The hood sports extractors for the same purpose, and large brake cooling ducts flank the front fascia.
The XKR-S’ sides sport meaty skirts that lower the car’s stance and carry over to the rear bumper and fascia. Combined with the large carbon fiber decklid spoiler and optional 20-inch Vulcan wheels, sprayed gloss black, the effect is dramatic and not at all what you’d expect from the normally conservative Coventry, England, brand.
We say that’s a good thing, since the Jaguar XKR-S takes the automaker in a slightly different direction, offering up a vehicle for those who would otherwise shop outside the Jaguar portfolio for a Porsche 911 Turbo S, or perhaps something Italian in flavor.
Inside, the XKR-S carries on with the same careful attention to detail given to exterior styling. The dash is a near work of art, wrapped in black leather trimmed with contrasting stitching. Piano black and metallic trim is used throughout the interior, accented by subtle use of chrome on the Jaguar Drive Selector knob and surround. A large infotainment screen dominates the center stack, and the XKR-S comes standard with features like voice-controlled navigation, a Bowers and Wilkins audio system and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Oddly, the audio system doesn’t include Sirius/XM satellite radio.
Given the XKR-S’ sports-car mission, the front sport seats are well chosen, with adjustable hip and side bolsters and inflatable lumbar support. Wrapped in high-quality leather, the seats provide all the motorized adjustment imaginable, but skip the XKR’s cooling function. They’re still heated, but they’re not ventilated, meaning that hot summer days in the convertible version are best tackled with the top up and the air conditioning on.
The rear seats get the same supple leather as the front, but leg room is entirely lacking. Unless you’re carrying small children for brief distances, the rear seats are best used for cargo too large to fit in the trunk. We don’t view this as a negative, since no one will buy an XKR-S with the intent of hauling three other passengers on a regular basis.
Under the XKR-S’ reverse-hinged hood lurks the most powerful engine that Jaguar has ever placed in a production car. Rated at 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque, the supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 pulls like a freight train from idle to redline, with all the subtlety of an artillery barrage. If you mat the accelerator, anyone in a one-mile radius will know it, which oddly encourages good behavior behind the wheel. As you’d expect, the XKR-S is impressively quick, ripping off 0 to 60 mph times just north of four seconds. That much power can make the XKRS a thirsty beast, too, if the throttle isn’t used with care. The EPA says to expect 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, and we saw an indicated 17.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.
When you climb behind the wheel, the first thing you’ll likely notice is the pulsing “Start” button, meant to simulate the heartbeat of this electro-mechanical beast. Press it, and the engine comes to life with a surprisingly loud growl, reminiscent of tearing canvas. If the weather’s appropriate, you’ll want to drop the the XKR-S’ convertible top, which takes a mere 20 seconds or so to fully retract. Roof down, you do give up some luggage room, but pack carefully and there’s enough space for a long weekend’s worth of luggage for two.
Jaguar uses its Drive Selector knob in lieu of a conventional shift lever, and your only decision is whether to engage Drive or Sport mode. As you’d expect Sport mode holds gears a bit longer, favoring acceleration over fuel economy. You’ll likely want to engage the Dynamic mode if you’re in a sporting mood, since this further quickens throttle response. Whether shifted manually (via steering-wheel-mounted paddles) or automatically, shifts in the XKR-S are crisp and quick, and much more expeditious than you’d be able to execute with a manual transmission. We still miss having that option in a car like the XKR-S, but we’re sure the take-rate would be almost immeasurably low.
On the road, the XKR-S is by far the most hardcore Jaguar we’ve ever driven. Tires have a surprising amount of grip, easily translating accelerator pedal force into impressive thrust instead of expensive tire smoke. We don’t recommend that you turn off the stability control for street driving, since that much power, combined with a relatively long wheelbase and a stiff suspension, requires very careful throttle input in corners. Even with the stability control on, the Jaguar allows just a hint of tail-out cornering.
Step out of line, though, and the XKR-S quickly steps in to remediate the problem. Like BMW’s stability control system, Jaguar’s is a bit on the intrusive side for our tastes, as it takes a while to release the electro-nannies once the car has regained its composure. Since Jaguar isn’t requiring a racing resume from every prospective buyer, that’s probably a prudent move to account for all driving abilities.
The XKR-S’s brakes are as substantial as its supercharged V-8. Despite the car’s two-ton mass, stopping distances are impressive and there’s no evidence whatsoever of brake fade, at least at speeds that promote license retention. In fact, the limits of the XKR-S are so high that no one with any amount of sanity will ever probe them on public roads.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the XKR-S is the car’s suspension. It’s stiff enough to deliver impressive cornering capability, yet compliant enough that the ride is never punishing, even over rough pavement. Given the stiffness of the XKR-S’ chassis, that’s an especially impressive feat.
At the end of the day, the only bad news to be had about the Jaguar XKR-S is that both coupe and convertible are sold out. Even if they weren’t, starting price of $132,875 (coupe) and $138,875 put the cars beyond the means of most enthusiasts, which means that only affluent Jaguar loyalists will get to enjoy them. That’s a shame, because the XKR-S models could go quite a ways toward luring new buyers into the fold.
Jaguar supplied the XKR-S for our evaluation. Our 2012 XKR-S Convertible carried a base price of $138,875, including an $875 destination fee. Options included the $375 Heated Windshield, the $2,000 Carbon Fiber Engine Cover and the $1,500 Gloss Black Vulcan Wheels, for a total sticker price of $142,750.
For comparison, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG will carry a starting price of $144,675 (including destination charge), while option pricing has yet to be established. A 2012 Audi R8 5.2 quattro Spyder, which is somewhat comparable in horsepower but equipped with all-wheel-drive, carries a sticker price of $177,600.