Location: Autodromo Internacional Do Algarve, Portugal
We’re nudging 260km/h by the end of the main straight before hitting the anchors, and the Jaguar XKR-S feels utterly planted and eager to press on if only there were more track. It’s not just about the pace either. The XKR-S doesn’t sound like a Jag, at least not any road-going version I’ve ever heard.
We knew it was going to be good, but not this good. In the XKR-S, Jaguar has produced such a potent piece of GT machinery that it may as well be classified as a supercar.
It’s not too often that luxury car manufacturers choose to launch a new luxury coupe at a race track, let alone one of the most challenging circuits in the world, as is Autodromo Algarve. The 4.6km track is scary fast, and the blind elevations (that’s plural) require a good measure of religious faith and some serious commitment to conquer at race speeds. You need to make certain that you place the car in precisely the right position before you come over the rise, otherwise you will most likely not make the next corner, and that could easily lead to a catastrophic event.
The XKR-S is the newest member of Jaguar’s svelte XK Coupe model range, but it’s not like any of its other siblings, not even the potent XKR. That’s a car which I have huge respect for after our recent high-speed outing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Think of the XKR-S as a weapons-grade version, thoroughly sinister if you like. All the important electronic and mechanical systems have been upgraded or uprated to semi-race car levels of performance.
It looks different too, more function over form, with lots of go fast bits for high-speed agility and various intakes for engine and brake cooling in all the right places. There will be plenty of traditional Jaguar aficionados out there that won’t like the styling over the extra smooth XK Coupe, and that’s fine too, but performance car enthusiasts will love the edgy look of the XKR-S.
Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum makes absolutely no apologies for the styling of the XKR-S either.
“The styling of this car isn’t about image, it’s about true performance. Like other iconic Jaguars before it, the styling has been driven by geometry and aerodynamics for genuine design purity. The physics required to achieve 300km/h have lead to the aesthetic; if you don’t like the way it looks, you probably won’t like the way it drives either.”
He’s most likely referring to the various carbon fibre (that’s real carbon fibre) structures on the car, including the front splitter, rear spoiler and diffuser, which, apart from looking every bit the business, collectively combine to reduce overall lift on the car by a significant 26 percent.
There’s no argument that these extra add-on bits tend to disrupt the beautifully seductive lines of what is essentially an XKR on a double dose of steroids, but I can assure you that when your low flying along the tarmac at 265km/h and about to tuck into a sweeper without the need to back off, you’ll be very glad the Jaguar engineers clearly did their research and have nailed the aero program on the XKR-S, such is the extraordinary high-speed stability of the car.
Then there are the various cooling bits and pieces, such as the ultra low profile air intakes built into the front end of the bonnet, which serve to remove heat from the engine. The vertical side vents at the extreme ends of the front skirt aren’t brake cooling ducts as they may appear, but rather, they exist to channel air flow down the wider side skirts for better directional stability at high speed. It’s all still very practical though. For example, the splitter is high enough off the ground not to have to worry about taking it out on a nasty driveway, or speed hump, despite the fact that the XKR-S has been lowered by 10mm on the XKR coupe.
The I trust there’ll be no complaints about the ultra-lightweight 20-inch forged Vulcan alloys, which come wrapped in extra-wide Pirelli P Zero rubber for huge grip levels on road or track; standard fitment, of course. They also happen to shave 4.8kg off the unsprung weight of the car, which maxes out at a class-leading 1753kg.
Owners have a choice of five exterior colours, but I implore you to pick from just two of those; French Racing Blue and Italian Racing Red, in that order. If you’re wondering why Jaguar didn’t include British Racing Green in the colour book, well, that’s old school, and that headmaster has long gone.
It might be a hardcore GT on the outside, but inside the XKR-S it’s all high-end Jaguar luxury with acres of richly soft leather with carbon accents and some of the most comfortable sports seats that you’re ever likely to sit it. There’s a complete inventory of the latest Jaguar tech is there, such as the self-rising Jaguar DriveSelector and touch screen navigation system, in addition to a stack of other features that we can talk about later in this review.
The point is, this is a track test, and it’s high time we fired up the supercharged V8 and get out on the circuit to see what the XKR-S is really made of. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’ve had a quick steer in the Portuguese countryside and it’s mind-blowingly good, but this will move things up a few notches and expose any wrinkles, if there are any.
Helmet on, seatbelt secured (can we please have a four-point harness option chaps), mirrors adjusted and there’s a race car-like starter motor whir before Jaguar’s most powerful series production engine ever barks to life. And bark it does. This thing sounds positively more GT racer than road car. Even at idle, the exhaust note sounds deep enough to blow the subwoofer on this Bowers & Wilkins audio unit. A quick tap on the throttle and the true nature of Jaguar’s XKR-S is revealed. This is one of those angry sounding V8’s, high-end tuner style.
If you’re not sold at this point; then it’s probably not going to happen for you. For the rest of us, thoughts of liquid assets and downsizing the home address, seem to be the main topics of discussion.
I’ve dialled up Trac DSC in ‘Sport’ mode, which allows for more slip by altering the traction, stability and eDiff settings, and naturally I’ll be using the paddle shifters while on track.
There’s a 60km/h speed limit in pit lane here at the Autodromo, and I can’t tell how difficult that is to adhere to in the XKR-S, particularly in the extended pit lane at this circuit.
Even in the straight-ahead position, the steering weight balance is perfection. Right up there with a Lamborghini Gallardo, which has been our benchmark for several years now. Jaguar has got that right, no question. Turn in at speed at corner one and there isn’t a millimetre of unwanted-play through this tiller either side of dead centre. It’s absolutely confidence inspiring given the detailed level of communication through this steering wheel, and the minimal assistance when engaging corners at high speed. You’ll like the thick rimmed construction too, with plenty of tactility for extra sticky grip when quick changes of direction are required.
Throttle response too in the XKR-S is at supercar levels, perhaps even quicker than some we have driven. The slightest tap on the accelerator pedal unleashes huge levels of power and torque through the rear wheels in what seems like milliseconds. This is a blisteringly quick car from any speed, and it gets the power down without any drama, provided you have fresh rubber and a little assistance from the Trac DSC. If you choose to be unshackled from every piece of electronic and mechanical nanny, then you better be able to drift.
Drill the throttle out of pit lane and the race car-style exhaust note is loud and utterly intoxicating. Press on, and the real aural crescendo happens when you’re shifting cogs at 6500rpm, and the thunderous howl bouncing off the grand stand and pit lane sounds like your piloting a GT1 racer at Le Mans. This is what performance motoring is all about, and Jaguar has created what is surely one of the world’s most focused grand tourers, which may as well be classified as a high performance sports car.
It might seem unusual for a track accomplished road car such as the XKR-S not to employ the latest twin- clutch transmission, but Jaguar talks a lot about the duality of their high performance ‘R’ cars and the fact that not only are they capable of hot lapping some of the world’s most challenging race circuits, but at the end of the session, it’s nice to be able to drive home in a luxury car worthy of Jaguar’s long standing reputation for superb ride quality and comfort.
It really doesn’t matter how quick you take some of the faster corners, you won’t ever have to think about body roll, besides the slightest tip on turn-in. The guy in charge of all that is the well-known ‘Ringmaster’ Mike Cross, Chief Engineer, Vehicle Integrity for Jaguar. What he says about the XKR-S is spot on:
“This car encompasses everything a performance Jaguar should be; as capable, precise and thrilling on a wet Welsh B-road as it is at the Nurburgring. Every response delay has been minimised in order to give the car a more connected feel in the manner in which it steers, handles, stops and goes.”
This is a hugely demanding track on brakes and tyres, and while the XKR-S might be the lightest car in its class, 1753 kilograms it still a lot of car to muscle into and out of corners. But thankfully, you won’t have to think about that too often, rather, just position the car at the apex of each corner, and Jaguar’s suspension wizardry they call ‘Adaptive Dynamics’ will mostly sort it for you.
While the XKR-S is certainly quick out of the blocks – 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds says it’s so – it’s more the 680Nm and the resulting explosive in-gear acceleration that makes this Jaguar so much fun to drive on the race track.
While these XKR-S press cars copped sustained and significant hiding at the Autodromo, the reaction from the entire press corps was unanimous: Jaguar has produced one of the most exciting and versatile high performance cars in the world today. The XKR-S is the complete performance package, and it has no obvious weaknesses.