Put through the paces: Jaguar XKR-S

In the country of England, there’s a growing disinterest among young people in getting a license and owning their first car. There are a few theories on why this is: high gas prices, increasing trends in ‘going green’ etc. But the one that sticks out for me is the epic amount new drivers have to pay for insurance over here. New drivers have to shell out thousands in insurance, sometimes adding up to more than the actual car they’re paying to insure. In the U.S we long for the day where we don’t have to take that big yellow eye sore of a bus to school, no matter the cost. I’m glad to say getting my license was one of the greatest and most freeing experiences I ever enjoyed; getting out of the house whenever I wanted, unnecessarily racing my friends home in their cars, going to parties and not getting dropped of or picked up by the ‘rents. Not getting my first car? I can’t even fathom the thought. It actually took all my strength to type that first sentence with out being sick.

It’s because of this and being 23 that I have such a hard time driving worthwhile cars at press events. The first monthly Jaguar press event I went to, I could only drive the 2.0-liter diesel engine cars. Not exactly what I had in mind, especially since the monstrous XKR-S recently came out. No, because I was under 28 they barely trusted I could feed my self and go to the bathroom all on my own let alone drive their super-coupe. I tried to tell them that I’ve worked as a valet and had driven everything from Pontiacs to Porsches to Rolls-Royces (albeit only 300 ft to park them). It took a few more appearances at these monthly press events and some American charm but I eventually swayed the lady in charge of the keys to hand over the rest of Jaguar’s fleet.

After months of being jealous of all the veteran journalists getting a go in it, I finally got my ride in the XKR-S.

I don’t care how old you are or how many discounts you get on your insurance; everyone is 23 when they walk up to it and immediately 12 years old when they sit behind the wheel of an XKR-S. Jaguar built this car with one thing in mind and that was pure performance. A facelift at the front sees aero aids on the sides and a new splitter under a revised front fascia. Around back, a carbon fiber spoiler makes an appearance and quad exhausts hug the rear diffuser as well. All of which hint at Jaguar’s proven racetrack heritage.

I barely got out of the complex and on the main road before I jabbed at the accelerator and unleashed all 543 horses. The sound that came as a result was instantly addictive (epic WW2 fighter planes come to mind). 0-60 takes a mere 4.5 seconds and 100mph in 8.7. Trust me, I tested it and retested it and then my colleague tested it some more. The claimed top speed is 186mph, but I’ll take Jag’s word on that one.

Engineers just didn’t simply add more horsepower though; through the corners the Jag stays flat and planted. Stiffer suspension and retuned adaptive dampeners help keep the front facing forward and the rear tires behind you. I couldn’t even tell the car had any body roll until I saw the cornering shots. A lot of people have complained that the suspension is too stiff. But that’s like ordering apple pie and complaining that it has apple in it. The roads weren’t exactly smooth where I tested it but I just might be used to the track tuned suspension of my Kawasaki ZX-10. Therefore my spine is permanently lodged in the top of my skull and my pelvis had turned to dust long before I sat in the sporty bucket seats of the R-S. The steering wasn’t as confidence inspiring as I would hope in a high horsepower rear drive sports car, there wasn’t much feed back when something went out of line. Luckily the car is easy enough to handle that you can react quick enough and not do doughnuts every time you turn in to a corner.

This is where I question the dedication of the car though. Most sports car companies have sportier versions of their best cars and then track oriented versions on top of that. Porsche’s 911(the main competition) has the GT3 and then the GT3 RS. The problem with the XKR-S is that I don’t think the suspension was stiff enough. The GT3 RS is a much larger step up in the way that there is literally nothing left in the car except the essentials: seats, steering, A/C…and thats pushing it. Things that have been added are along the lines of a roll cage and a fire extinguishing system. The metal Porsche emblem on the hood is even replaced by a sticker just to save weight. Looking at the back seat that should have been the first thing to go in the Jag since it barely exists in the first place. The dedication towards the track is a little half-assed. If the R-S is going to be a top of the range, track oriented car, I wish it would separate its self from the next model down with a little more than tuned suspension and 30 extra horsepower.

For what it’s worth I’ve never had nearly as much fun in any other car, being a valet or journalist. I want make the exhaust note my ring tone and call myself over and over just to hear it on a regular basis. That’s what Jag did get right with this car, the whole sensory experience; the exhaust bark, your head getting pinned back when you hit the gas and the seats hugging you when you get side ways. Just making you feel like a kid and enjoying the ride. In an era where planned obsolescence is all too common I’m afraid the XKR-S may have fell victim to it, hinting Jaguar could have done more. But as a 12 year old, the XKR-S is one of those cars that would have me longing for my license and an empty stretch of road.

 
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Put through the paces: Jaguar XK and XK-R

Joining the infamous Jaguar two-door sports car family is the 2012 XK and XK-R. Starting at a base price of around $85k with the XK and rising to just above $100k with the R badge.

The base model XK, though the normally aspirated of the two, is no slouch. The free breathing V8 brings a healthy 385 Bhp in at 6500rpm and supplies 380lbs of torque at a lowly 3500rpm. All that power is put to the rear wheels via crisp six speed electronic paddle shifters. Keeping it shiny side up is Jaguar’s own adaptable traction and stability control systems.

When you’re taking it easy in automatic it’s easy to sit back and appreciate the luxury of the roomy and finely crafted interior. Neither the driver nor front passenger will ever complain about getting cramped. Only plan on bringing along one friend though. The back seats are a joke even if those two extra friends are double leg amputees.

When you finally do put the power down and hit those country roads this cat comes alive. If at all possible go for the soft top, on a nice day regrets are impossible. The suspension is soft enough to hit bumps and potholes without a second thought but firm enough to handle the corners like a pro.

The XK-R takes the range to the next level. Combining the same snappy transmission as the XK, stiffer suspension and the added supercharger you can tell where Jag is heading with this one. The R model gets a massive 510 horses blown into it and a tire melting 461lbs of torque to up the ante. These figures make for an exciting ride through the corners as well as add to the auditory experience. Select ‘R’ on the shifter knob and the exhaust opens up to a symphony of a baritone V8 and the soprano supercharger. Driver be warned though, while lateral grip of the XK-R is impressive mid-corner, exiting a corner can be hair-raising. The rear tires spin under power all too easy and you may be hard pressed to tell when they do let go.

Stiff suspension or not the convertible is the way to go on either model based on vocals alone. With the top down on a nice day you wont care how may bumps you hit. And when stringing a few switchbacks together you’ll be glad you only have one friend because the legless guys in the back would’ve only upset your weight distribution…

Put through the paces : Jaguar XF-R

Priced just shy of the 100k mark, the Jaguar XF-R enters serious territory. The XF-R is Britain’s answer to Germany’s beefed up GT cars: Audi RS6, BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG.

When you first step into the XF-R it feels like an executive GT sedan should. There is plenty of room both for driver and passenger, even 6+ footers like me. The options and accommodations help drive home the luxury car feel as well. Heated and ventilated seats along with a simply laid out console makes any long drive more than enjoyable.

As you start to explore more of the car’s options you notice where the sporting feel creeps in. Alcantara roof lining and bits of carbon fiber catch your eye and you wonder why racing materials are in your GT sedan. As you customize the seat adjustments to your liking you notice you can bring the side supports in for a real bucket seat hugging feel. Next you see the setting marked ‘R’ on the gear selector and you’re not NOT going to put it into Race mode… then you hit the accelerator and it all makes sense.

A 5.0-liter super charged V-8 burbles back at you, the burble turns to a grunt and then a roar with the unmistakable whine of a super charger. Before you know it you’re above highway speeds and you realize you weren’t even close to half throttle. Give it the full weight of your right foot and the big cat will do 60 mph from a stand still in 4.7 seconds.

Taking the materials and the acceleration time away from a compromised track car, the XF-R could easily be mistaken for one… on paper. After driving around English backcountry roads all afternoon you’ll learn it is the furthest thing from it. Even with the larger wheels, low profile tires and stiffer spec’d suspension than the base model it rides incredibly smooth. Despite the 1 ton weight, the executive 4 door can handle country corners with ease and still absorb the ancient Roman road work.

In the fight against the Germans the Brits have brought a serious contender. The simplicity and user-friendly capability definitely swings in the Jag’s favor. The power and everyday drivability makes this beast the healthy alternative to the Bavarian big 3.