Jaguar XKR 2011, Jaguar XF 2011

Jaguar XFR, XKR at the R Performance Academy

$209,000 Mrlp
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Models driven:

XFR 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged, ZF six-speed automatic transmission (375kW & 625Nm) - $204,990

XKR 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged, ZF six-speed automatic transmission (375kW & 625Nm) - $255,000

Location: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Nevada.

I’ve got the right pedal flat to the floor in the latest Jaguar XKR and the supercharger is doing its right royal bit as the needle nudges through 210km/h down the main straight, which I might add, isn’t terribly long before you need to jump on the brakes for turn one.

And it’s not just on the straight that this 5.0-litre Jaguar Coupe performs like a veritable GT2 racer either. It’s blisteringly quick around the whole circuit, and the exit speed out of all 13 corners is punishing as all 625 Nm of torque is fed to the rear wheels.

At this very moment in time, it’s hard to think of the Jaguar XKR as a high-end luxury coupe with one of the most beautiful interior fit-outs of any car today. High speed hot laps just aren’t the sort of thing that Jaguar owners of the past would ever dream of doing in such a beautiful bit of kit.

At full tilt, this thing even sounds like a GT2 racer, and I can’t begin to tell you how much grip is available through the corners. It’s absolutely prodigious, and that’s on stock road tyres.

Jaguar has been creating ‘beautiful fast cars’ since 1935. These were evocative saloons that were the envy of the automotive world at the time. Cars like the 1935 SS 3.5-litre and the magnificent MkV were the epitome of style, luxury and performance, and were key in establishing Jaguar as a luxury brand.

They were also fast. The 1937 SS 100 two-door with the 3.5-litre Jaguar-designed engine could accelerate from 0-100km/h in under 10 seconds and broke through the 160km/h barrier. This was supercar territory for those times.

Jaguar continued to build beautiful fast cars with standouts such as the Mk 2 and 420, which continued the tradition of a luxury car that also handled like a sports car. It’s fair to say that Jaguar well and truly created the sports sedan category.

It got even better with the 1968 release of the XJ6 Series 1. Here was a car that made the equivalent offerings from the German carmakers look positively agricultural.

While Jaguar continued to produce updates of the XJ, S-Type and the smaller X-Type, through the proceeding decades, sadly the brand was left behind in the wake of more superior technology and build quality from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and later on, Audi.

That all changed back in 2007 with the launch of the XK8 and XKR. The Cat was well and truly back, and the fans wanted more. They got more too with the Jaguar XF series in 2008 and the all-new Jaguar XJ in 2010.

Jaguar’s design director, Ian Callum, created a winner with the new series Jags and while all models were adequately powered, as always, there is almost always a need for more. That’s where the ‘R’ cars step in.

The XFR is a hugely powerful four-door sedan. Under the bonnet sits a 5.0-litre supercharged V8, which develops a whopping 375kW and an equally serious 625Nm of torque.

Those power and torque outputs are close to that of bona-fide supercars and all the more reason why Jaguar R owners are treated to a complimentary seat at the highly regarded Jaguar R Performance Academy, which is held in the United States just four times annually.

Welcome to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the home of this session of the R Academy, where owners of these luxury Jaguar rockets explore the ultimate capabilities of their cars in a controlled environment under the guidance of some of the best performance driving instructors in the business.

I say highly regarded, as the cast of eight driving instructors is the best I’ve ever encountered and include Adam Andretti (he’s the younger brother of NASCAR's John Andretti, and yes, Mario is his uncle), ex-Formula One driver Roberto Guerrero and 1996 Le Mans winner Davy Jones. That said, each and every one of the R Academy instructors is guaranteed to improve your driver skills – significantly.

There’s a challenging 2.4-mile (3.8km) road circuit ready and waiting for this fleet of XFRs and XKRs, but there’s a lot of car control techniques that we’ll need to master before we get anywhere near full speed laps on the track.

As powerful as Jaguar’s ‘R’ cars are, the course is not all about how to drive fast, in fact, that’s the least of the overall focus. It’s all about car control and most of that is at fairly low speeds, like under 80km/h low.

Meet the Autocross course; it looks a whole lot easier than it is, let me assure you. There’s a bunch of corners to get through in what looks like a snakes and ladders board, and the goal is to attack each and every apex with just the right amount of speed so as to be smooth through each turn.

Thankfully, you start out riding shotgun to an instructor. In my case I got Mark Wolocatiuk; a multiple track championship winner in US, and for the past nine years he was chief instructor at the famed Jim Russell Racing school.

We’re in the XKR Coupe as he gives it a boot-full from a standing start down the only piece of straightaway on the course before the left hand turn, and then another quick left. He’s taking the turn quicker than I would have thought possible, considering how tight this course is, but the glaring thing is, he’s only using one hand to steer with and the turn is velvet smooth!

It’s all about a smooth throttle delivery, not too much power too soon, or the stability control will slow the car down unnecessarily. He’s telling me not to look straight ahead where the car is pointing, but rather, to turn my head and look where I want to go. It’s working too, as I complete the course considerably quicker than previous attempts, and with only one hand only on the wheel at any given time.

There’s a tendency to want to get on the throttle early but with 625Nm going to the rear wheels between 2500-5500rpm, it works a whole lot better if you follow the instructor’s lead.

The other thing you learn quickly enough is only to brake in a straight line, in other words, one thing at a time, or no braking while turning.

Several of the Russian contingent are providing a good deal of entertainment, as the theory of applying throttle progressively while unwinding the wheel, seems to have been grossly overlooked. They prefer the practice of the more throttle the better, regardless of where the car might be on the course.

The XKR is a big coupe, but its lightweight aluminium construction means it weighs a staggering 200kg less than the XFR, despite its larger dimensions. You’d never know it on this Autocross circuit, however, as by the end of the exercise the big cat is doing pirouettes around the apexes, with negligible body roll.

Interestingly, the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) has been left on for most of this exercise, as it teaches drivers to be smooth, otherwise system will intervene and potentially slow the car down mid-corner.

Next up and infinitely more entertaining, is what they call the ‘handling oval’ and gas masks should be mandatory, especially if Adam Andretti is behind the wheel.

This is all about the correct line and throttle input through each of the two corners on what is a very tight little oval circuit with enough keenly placed witches hats to make it even more interesting.

Again we buddy up with one of the instructors best equipped for this kind of driving – that would be Adam Andretti. After a couple of laps of perfectly smooth driving and instruction in the XFR, Adam lapses into one of the best displays of controlled oversteer I have seen since the last installment of the Fast and Furious franchise. Why this guy isn’t 'drifting' for a living is a complete mystery to me.

The Jag's 625Nm is a shed-load of torque to be dealing with in what is first and foremost a luxury four-door sedan. If you’re not delicate enough with the throttle, oversteer is a situation drivers of these ‘R’ cars could easily find themselves having to deal with.

The instruction from Adam is simple and effective, and within a few laps, each of us (except the Russians – still too much throttle) are controlling self-induced oversteer out of each corner exit like a pro – well, not quite, but almost.

The final exercise before being let loose on the racetrack is a lesson in pure driving control – that’s throttle and steering, only this time, the DSC is completely off.

Welcome to Figure 8. My instructor for this exercise is Wes Hill – a former sports car racer who has been professionally coaching for 14 years. If you don’t double your skill level after an hour with this guy, then you’re not listening to him.

Again with Jaguar’s ‘R’ cars developing so much power and torque to the rear wheels, the idea is to be gentle on the throttle through the apex of the corners and then apply throttle as you exit the corner and unwind the steering wheel, simultaneously. Trust me, it’s easier said than done.

Once drivers have mastered multiple figure 8 turns, you get to do it without any driver aids whatsoever – that’s DSC off. That’s when things can go a little bit wrong.

Within milliseconds of giving the car a good old dose of throttle, I’ve lost it, and all I can smell is burning rubber. I’m also not sure which way is up. The problem is, I’m not unwinding the wheel quick enough when the car goes into oversteer.

It gets better – after a few well timed instructions from Wes, I’m not only controlling the oversteer out of each corner, but I’m also well on the way to doing my first Scandinavian flick, if only I could just work out my left from right, quickly enough.

The succession of tight car control exercises has all been a build up to the full-blown high-speed road course – a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) road circuit, which is a challenging mix of technical turns and straights.

Although the XFR felt more planted in several of day’s programs, I’ve gone for the lighter XKR due to several decent length straights on the course, and the advantage of 200kg less metal to carry around.

It’s a progressive drive program on the track with five cars following an instructor in convoy, but you’re on your own in the car. After several laps immediately behind the instructor mirroring the correct lines, you pull to the right and allow the next car to assume that position, and the laps get faster if the lead instructor likes your work.

Then it’s onto hot laps with an instructor, and again, I’ve got Wes Hill showing me the ropes before I hop in the driver’s seat. He’s got me heading down the main straight flat out and he’s telling me not to brake – not yet, at least. I’ve got to tell you, it’s a little worrying when you’re doing close to 210km/h down straight and my brain is telling me to brake for the right hander, but instead I’m still nailing the throttle.

He’s right though, hard on the brakes, a couple of downshifts on the paddle shifters and we’re blasting out of turn one, quicker than I would have thought possible.

It’s the same again on the back straight. I’m traveling a lot faster through this sweeping right-hander and I’m in a higher gear than I’ve been used to all afternoon.

The XKR’s grip level is huge through what is a 160km/h sweeping corner. It highlights just how competent this road-going GT car really is, and again, these are standard road tyres the cars are shod with.

It doesn’t matter how good you think you are behind the wheel, the right kind of instruction is invaluable and frankly, Jaguar’s ‘R’ Performance Academy should be mandatory for anyone who purchases a high performance XFR or XKR. That would be even more so when the stunning and more powerful XKR-S is released later this year, with a chassis twisting torque output of 680Nm.

At the moment, the Academy operates only in the United States, but Jaguar Australia is looking at the possibility of setting up a similar program here in Australia.

Our thanks to all the instructors: Adam Andretti, Morgan Cavanaugh, Chris Monroe, Davey Jones, Mike Finch (NZ), Mark Wolocatiuk, Wes Hill and Roberto Guerrero for providing the best driver skills program I have yet to attend.