Helicam: Gary Cogis

Whenever we're invited to drive the latest European performance cars, in this case a limited edition 2014 Jaguar XKR-S GT supercar, we're always faced with a dilemma. Do we simply go with the same formula as buff books like Motor Trend, Automobile, etc and conduct the most obvious comparison test, or do we try to give it an EC angle?

As a rule, we prefer to march to our own beat and, before leaving, Alex Bernstein suggested we treat Jaguar's latest $175K exotic as the muscle car it wanted to be. So that's what happened, to the bemusement of the regular attendees at Irwindale Speedway's weekly Thursday night Test 'n Tune session.

It's like an open mic night for local drag racers; most coming out with friends to either race one another, set up their cars or challenge one of the big boys. There's everything from Detroit iron to Euros, imports, drag bikes, '50s classics and even junior rails. The "run what you brung" events are very popular and frequently oversubscribed, but we managed to persuade the track officials to let us run first.

Although only an eighth-mile course - quarter-mile tracks are almost non-existent around LA (*Fontana had not yet reopened at the time of this head-to-head) - it would allow us to have some fun with the Jaguar XKRS-GT while testing its traction and acceleration. But what would we run against?

Opening the discussion to some of the import magazines in our office, they didn't seem to have anything to match the caliber of this very special Jag supercar, so finally we nominated a purpose-built FD Mazda RX-7 (details on next page) racecar as their best opportunity to beat the XKR-S GT...

1 of 25

One look at the carbon fiber splitter and dive planes on the front of this car, its huge carbon brakes and even bigger carbon fiber rear wing tells everybody what they need to know about the Jag: it's a potent supercar weapon, and a poke at the throttle pedal removes any remaining doubt.

Emblazoned across the sill plate as you open the door is the legend "XKR-S GT - 1 of 25". This hints at the rarity of the British sports car, with 25 coming to the US and five going to Canada.

The elongated name is a reference to its parentage, born form the humble Jaguar XK sports coupe that sired the XKR, which gave birth to the formidable XKR-S. The GT version is what Jaguar describes as a "track-ready" version of the XK and we certainly wouldn't contest that claim.

Developed by Jaguar's ETO division (Engineered To Order), they focused on aero and chassis upgrades, deeming the 550hp supercharged V8 from the XKR-S to be sufficient for this application. In fact, it already lights up the tires too easily under most circumstances, proving it didn't need any more grunt under its vented aluminum hood.

While being slightly impractical for daily driving, the new aerodynamic aids were shown to develop 320 lb of downforce at the car's 186mph top speed. With this understood, you can excuse the restricted rear vision from the carbon fiber wing on its machined aluminum support struts, and the incredibly vulnerable front splitter.

The jaguar XKR-S GT front-end received a significant update, with the XKR-S front bumper receiving the carbon fiber splitter that protrudes 2.4" beyond the front of the car, forcing you to park far away from curbs, and to approach every driveway like a crab. It's certainly awkward but nobody likes to hear the sound of carbon fiber cracking!

The splitter is mated to carbon fiber wheel arch extensions ahead of the front and behind the rear wheels. They work in conjunction with dive planes on the front spoiler and an aluminum undertray to increase aero efficiency.

The louvered hood helps evacuate hot air after it has forcefully entered through the nostrils on top of the bumper. The air passes over the intercooling before it's routed over the roof to the double-decker rear spoilers. These include a trunk lip and the elevated wing that work in concert with a carbon fiber diffuser to manage airflow around the rear-end.

Only available in Polaris White with distinctive black graphics and R-S GT badging, the Jaguar supercar cuts an intimidating figure on the road or racetrack. Interestingly, it didn't appear to attract the sort of attention you get while driving an Aston Martin, for example, which we can only assume was because other drivers were possibly deterred by the giant wing.

Chassis modifications were extensive, including new suspension arms, uprights, bearings, bushings and a rear subframe, all based on knowledge gained from the Jaguar F-Type program.

It has a wider front track for stability and re-valved dampers allow ride height adjustment with the race-style twin coil springs. These are 68% stiffer front, 25% rear than the XFR-S, and have been designed for track-focused handling and responsiveness. However, thanks to the Adaptive Dynamics damping system, the ride quality was remarkably good in its Normal Mode. In fact, the car felt like a comfortable grand tourer, but with virtual no body roll. Hit the Dynamic Mode button on the console and everything becomes more intense. The damping is instantly stiffer, finding more imperfections in the road surface while being responsive to direction changes.

In this mode, the electronic differential also allows extra leeway, allowing the rear-end to move around more, although keeping the back wheels in line was always a challenge, regardless of mode. If the steering is so much as 1 degree off center and you apply more than 30% throttle, the rear-end will start to come around. It's quickly caught and the XKR-S GT is easily one of the most entertaining cars we've driven in a very long time. It's communicative and offers great acceleration, stopping and cornering force. Yet it doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, happily allowing the driver to play, whether the traction control is on or off.

We were surprised at how easily the Jaguar could overcome the grip of its incredibly wide Pirelli 305/30 rear tires, mounted on 20x10.5" forged wheels - not something that would help us at the drag strip, but a trait we hoped could be overcome.

The GT was the first production Jaguar fitted with carbon-ceramic brakes, housing massive 15.7" front and 15" rear rotors, clamped by six- and four-piston yellow calipers, respectively. Unlike some other supercar creations, the brakes didn't snatch, were perfectly linear, quiet and strong from cold. This can be partially attributed to the Pre-Fill system that works in conjunction with the DSC to pressurize the brakes every time the driver lifts off the throttle. It ensured they worked perfectly every time, providing phenomenal stopping power, and giving you the confidence to explore the power and handling limits more thoroughly.

The carbon brakes saved 46 lb from the unsprung weight but Jaguar claims an identical 3968 lb curb weight for the three XKR models, although we suspect this might be for homologation, since the GT should be lighter than the rest...

With all that said, we probably wouldn't care if the Jaguar looked and handled like a pig, because its greatest attribute is the exhaust note, making good use of flap technology to be quiet and drone-free under light throttle. Yet it roared like a startled tiger under full load. Unfortunately, our video doesn't do it full justice because it's competing against a barely-silenced Mazda RX-7.

The Jaguar XKR-S GT is possibly the ultimate tunnel car, filling any cavern with an F1 soundtrack that sent tingles down your spine. In Dynamic Mode it would also pop and splutter on lift-off, and blip the throttle on downchanges, adding to the aural excellence. So while we loved the F-Type V8S, the $175000 Jaguar XKR-S GT has taught the youngster how it's done.

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