Part two: Road Test - Jaguar XKR-S - $340,000 (manufacturer's list price)
Location: Southern Portugal B-roads and Auto-estradas
If you ever get the chance to drive in Europe – that’s Germany, Italy, Spain or Portugal – you will experience ‘real driving pleasure’, the kind of respectful freedom that was once available in Australia, but has sadly been destroyed by gross over-regulation and substandard construction of our roads and motorways.
High speed driving in Europe doesn’t necessarily have to be behind the wheel of a sports car either, any midsize sedan or estate from a car rental company will do just fine; they’re good for at least 200km/h on the autobahn, and even at that speed, the Polizei won’t be the slightest bit interested in you. Don't try that on the M4!
Thankfully, the worldwide launch of Jaguar’s fastest ever production car, the XKR-S, was held in Portugal, and today is our road test of the car in and around the Algarve region on the coast. It’s a brilliant mixture of wonderfully well-maintained twisty back roads and high-speed auto-estradas, which seem surprisingly similar to Germany’s autobahns.
A few days earlier at the Autodromo Algarve, the XKR-S performed like sheer magic on the circuit with supercar levels of speed and grip, as it reeled off lap-after-lap with scalpel-like precision. It’s already a hit with press corps too, as I’ve never heard so many journalists step out of a car and begin discussing finance options.
It might be Jaguar’s most formidable production car ever, but it’s also a high-end luxury coupe that’s just as at home in London traffic as it is down the main straight of the Autodromo at 270km/h.
It’s what Jaguar refers to as the ‘duality’ of its cars, and that doesn’t just mean the ‘R’ performance stable either. It doesn’t matter what Jaguar you choose in the model range, even the Jaguar XF diesel morphs into sports sedan when you decide to give it some ‘hurry-up’.
The Jaguar XKR-S super coupe is no different. Settle in to the beautifully upholstered leather sports seats with electrically adjustable side bolster set wide, and dial up the Bowers & Wilkins audio system, and peak hour traffic won't worry you in the slightest. For the enthusiasts though, there’s always the engine note to listen to. Even at crawl speeds the XKR-S sounds utterly menacing with a tank-like rumble heard through the cabin as the car pulls away from standstill.
Given the XKR-S’s stupendous performance on track, you could be forgiven for thinking that the ride over bumpy surfaces might be a tad harsh due to stiffer suspension settings. Thankfully, it’s not. Even over speed bumps, the ride is ridiculously pliant and thus comfortable. In order to achieve this ‘duality’ without any trade-off in ride comfort and handling, the XKR-S is equipped with Jaguar’s ‘Adaptive Dynamics’ which is essentially a continuously variable damping system that monitors and controls all inputs that might affect the ride and handling of the car at any particular second while on the move.
XKR-S drivers have the option of altering the system’s handling and performance characteristics too, depending on the driving conditions at the time. On track, we were either using 'TracDSC' or turning off the Dynamic Stability Control all together. Around town, it’s fine just using the ‘Drive’ mode.
That said, even when we got off the auto-estradas and on to the fast moving twisty back roads, the shift points were so well calibrated that several times when hammering through the bends and about to shift up via the paddle shifter, the transmission would shift up automatically at close to redline at precisely the right moment. It also remains a smooth shifting unit on the roadway, even when solely relying on the sequential shift mode.
Engage Dynamic Mode, that’s the chequered flag button on the console, and when you’re downshifting into a corner aggressively, the XKR-S will reward you with a perfect double-de-clutch with sound effects, which you’ll want to replay time-and-time again.
While there doesn’t seem to be too many tunnels in southern Portugal, the naturally formed double-sided rock faces provide the perfect natural sound amplifier for the full effect of this supercharged V8 as you drop the right pedal. What a sound!
We’ve kicked up the pace along this particularly narrow and twisty stretch, with my co-driver providing rally style pace notes on the fly and yet, still no body roll. The XKR-S remains bolt upright through corners. That’s the Adaptive Dynamics at work again, this time controlling the vertical body movement, roll and pitch rates. The system even measures the wheel position 500 times a second.
It shouldn’t be that difficult to get right, but there are more than a few high-end sports cars that are let down by over sensitive steering at high speed. Thankfully, the XKR-S isn’t one of them. There’s a new aluminium steering knuckle that increases camber and castor stiffness for more accurate response and less sensitivity through the steering wheel at high speed. It works brilliantly too regardless of whether you’re at a tarmac rally pace through the twisty bits or blasting along the auto-estrada, there’s always plenty of weight in the steering when needed. Behind the wheel in the XKR-S you feel connected - at one with the car.
Chief Engineer, vehicle Integrity, Mike Cross, describes it better:
"This car encompasses everything a performance Jaguar should be; as capable, precise and thrilling on a wet Welsh B-roadas 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."
Stopping power on board the XKR-S is exceptional. After repeated laps at race pace on track, we experienced no brake fade under huge loads. On the road, they’re bullet proof, but you won’t find any fancy braking systems from the likes of Brembo or AP Racing on the XKR-S. Large monoblock calipers provide astonishing stopping ability, although you will need to get used to the light pedal pressure in traffic, as they are rather sensitive at lower speeds.
The XKR-S is a 4.4-second car, which means it will go from standstill to 100km/h in that timeframe. Yes, it’s a very quick bit of kit, but that’s not its forte. Ballistic in-gear acceleration is where the XKR-S shines extra brightest. Try 0-160km/h in 8.6 seconds and the accompanying soundtrack sounds as good as a GT racecar.
They look good too with a 10mm lower ride height than the less manic XKR, along with wider sills and the carbon fibre front splitter and rear wing.
It’s also practical, with small occasional rear seats that can at least accommodate my skinny nine year old if need be. Open the hatch up and there’s enough room for two hard cases or several soft bags or a set of golf clubs.
There are few cars in the world that can deliver the level of on-track and on-road performance that the XKR-S is capable of. Where this high performance Jaguar stands out though is in the impeccable ride and handling comfort it offers regardless of the road surface or driving style adopted at the time. It seems Jaguar has found the automotive equivalent of the Holy Grail: potent on track performance, and a luxury ride to and from the office.
Make no mistake, Jaguar’s XKR-S is the brand’s new halo car, and if you want one, you’ll need to be quick, as this year’s second allocation may already be sold.