Not so with the XKR-S. It’s balanced in the corners, stable at high speeds, quiet when cruising and voluble when pushed hard. It’s probably the most well-adjusted bipolar car on the road, capable of switching between goddess and whore at the driver’s whim. It not only satisfies on so many levels—it leaves you wanting more. This is the sign of a great car.
For aggressive drivers, the new front buckets are a welcome addition. Broad enough in the beam to accommodate even the plus-sized, and with substantial bolstering for shoulders and thighs, they also are heated and electronically adjustable 16 ways for a level of comfort rarely found in performance seating. Also exclusive to the S are a new three-spoke, multi-function steering wheel; bespoke trim materials and several combinations of micro-piping stitching in the leather upholstery. Customers can opt for a dark aluminum finish to the interior panels or go for more traditional wood accents.
This is all good stuff, but is it enough to transform a luxurious GT into a capable track car, if only for a gentleman racer’s weekend lark at the motorsports club?
Jaguar was bold, even a bit reckless, in choosing an F1 test circuit, Portugal’s Autodromo Algarve. A new car, an unfamiliar and very technical circuit full of elevation changes, blind crests, off-camber corners and short braking zones seemed a recipe for disappointment, if not disaster. I figured on a few safe, lazy laps before hitting the public roads and a less frantic test environment.
But after just a few laps of recon, with the car’s traction aids fully engaged, I felt entirely comfortable. The XKR-S is big and heavy, but it drives like a smaller car because of the prodigious power and exceptional grip. It was able to both feed my need for speed and still make me hungry for more.
This hunger caused me to switch to the new Trac DSC mode, which provoked an entirely different experience. With the engine’s power almost completely unrestrained, an inattentive right foot in the wrong part of the corner overwhelmed the Pirellis and sent the rear end off on a tangent of its own. Bringing the chassis back in line, was, however, very easy due to the quick, precise steering and the active rear nanny, er, differential. Even so, I’d had enough after one lap of “throw and catch” and reverted to a less aggressive setting. Default track behavior is slight understeer, so the quickest way around is slow in and fast out of the corners, letting the engine’s muscle make up the time lost in the braking zone, the weakest link in the car’s repertoire. A good set of carbon brakes would go a long way to making the XKR-S even more trackworthy.
Even with the compromises to comfort and safety, the XKR-S is a capable track car. In the right hands, the XKR-S is bloody fast. It ran the Nordschleife in under 8 minutes, remarkable for a luxury GT—but it probably won’t take fast lap of the day away from, say, a Porsche 911 Turbo, if for no other reason than the brakes, which are just fine on the street but fade after a few hot laps, and the Jag’s weight. Racing technology begins with adding lightness, but the XKR-S tips the scales at a far-from-lightweight 3,900 pounds, about the same as the normal XKR. It helps that the extra mass of the body panels and rear wing is offset by a reduction in unsprung mass (around 11 pounds) from the larger, lighter Vulcan forged wheels, but there’s no evading the fact of the coupe’s heavy footprint, no matter how “racy” it looks.
If the S was good on the track, it was absolutely brilliant on Portugal’s winding backroads. Despite the stiffer suspension, it still gobbled up the miles with the compliant grace expected from the Jaguar motoring experience. In fact, I felt energized rather than exhausted after hours-long blasts over the narrow roads. Driving some performance cars is like making love to a nymphomaniac: great fun at first. Then, when you need a breather, maybe a cuddle, all you get is an insistent tap on the shoulder and the command to climb back into the saddle.