New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2012 Jaguar XKR-S

There’s no shortage of performance in the Jaguar lineup. With the XFR sedan, the XKR two-door, and the XJ Super Sport sedan, the British automaker has a trio of 510-hp supercharged brutes that are plenty competent around a track. But what Jaguar doesn’t have is performance with cachet. The R subbrand carries little emotional weight compared with BMW M, Mercedes-Benz AMG, and Audi RS badges.

Enter the XKR-S. It’s Jaguar’s fastest production car ever and churns out 550 hp for a price of $132,875. If that doesn’t grab your attention, take just one look at the sleek sports car slathered in scintillating French racing blue paint.

Tuned for the track
Extracting additional performance from the XKR to create the XKR-S was largely an exercise in calibration rather than swapping hardware. The familiar supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 now makes 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque, up 40 hp and 41 lb-ft from the XKR’s output. Engineers have stiffened the front suspension uprights, tweaked the rear suspension geometry, increased spring rates 28 percent up front and 32 percent in back, and dropped the ride height 0.4 inch. The XKR’s adaptive dampers and active rear differential have also been tuned to act more aggressively. The most significant hardware changes come in the form of an active exhaust, a reworked aero package that reduces lift by 26 percent, and Pirelli PZero tires wrapped around new 20-inch aluminum wheels finished in a sinister graphite color.

To enrich the interior, there’s supple stitched leather covering the seats, the dash, and a new steering wheel, and the cabin is trimmed with leather carbon-fiber-like accents and optional dark aluminum inserts. The XKR-S-exclusive sport seats are exceptionally comfortable and feature 16-way adjustability including inflatable side bolsters.

The only obvious omission from the XKR-S’s pedigree is a weight-loss program. The front splitter, rear diffuser, and rear wing are made of carbon fiber, but that decision was driven by aesthetics, not function. Weight remains unchanged from the XKR, at 3968 pounds. For now, the XKR-S is only available as a coupe.

Powerful, punchy, and playful
We already knew that the XKR is a torque monster, so it’s no surprise that the XKR-S produces silly thrust before the pedal is depressed even halfway. The gas pedal’s satisfying responsiveness means a short sprint to triple-digit speeds is always waiting for your command. Jaguar claims 60 mph comes in 4.2 seconds and that a top speed of 186 mph makes the XKR-S the fastest production car in the brand’s history.

A six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered, but it is a very, very good one. With Jaguar’s rotary gear selector twisted all the way to the right to the sport setting, the transmission will crack off shifts with a hammer-like punch. Initiating Dynamic mode sharpens the throttle response, tightens up the dampers, and opens a set of valves in the exhaust. At full wood, the XKR-S emits a raw, guttural snarl of blats and grunts and the sharp bark at lift-off is chased by intermittent aftershocks of snaps and crackles as the engine revs fall. It’s hardly the seductive symphony of an Italian engine, but this Jag has a presence and aural individuality that makes the heart flutter.

What really gets our pulse pounding, though, is the devilish active differential, which uses an electric motor to progressively lock the rear wheels together. As we hustle through the turns of the Algarve race circuit in Portugal, the diff makes its existence known by dialing in the perfect amount of lockup to keep the car neutral and balanced. Thanks to the rigidity of the chassis, the natural tuning of the throttle pedal, and the supportive seats, you can perfectly read and anticipate the differential’s actions, inviting explorations into controlled oversteer without threatening a smoky spin.

Comfortable on the road, composed on the track
Even with this most hardened XK, the Jag brand keepers are crowing about “duality,” or the car’s ability to offer both credible performance and refined luxury. That persona is certainly apparent throughout the Jaguar range, but we wonder how many times that formula can be photocopied before at least one of those attributes begins to lose some fidelity. Impressively, the XKR-S largely lives up to the claims in that it’s comfortable on the road and poised on the track. On the perfect tarmac of the racetrack, the XKR-S is flat in corners and planted over elevation changes. Keeping things civil on the road requires staying out of Dynamic mode, but even then the R-S is light on its feet. Our only complaint is that occasionally — sometimes even in Dynamic mode — the rear-end damping is soft in mid-speed impacts.

Jaguar’s Adaptive Dynamics dampers use sensors to measure each wheel’s velocity relative to the body 500 times per second while the computer can order valving adjustments as often as 100 times per second. Activating the XKR-S’s Dynamic mode prioritizes a firmer ride, yet the car retains an autonomous authority over the precise damping character based on the driver’s aggression with the steering wheel, throttle, and shift paddles. It all works exceptionally well, transparently reflecting the driver’s attitude in the car’s responses. It’s a transition that we experience over and over again on the roads surrounding the Algarve circuit as we slow our pace for narrow, desolate villages and then tear up another phenomenal two-lane hill-climb. However, we’re also control freaks and would love the ability to override the artificial intelligence and lock the dampers, the differential, and the transmission into their most belligerent settings. We’d call it Race mode.

The XKR-S’s chief shortcoming is a large, nasty dead spot in the center of the steering. While we’re quite fond of the steering in the XF and XJ sedans, the flat on-center response of the R-S is a problem that’s found across the entire XK range. We suspect that the variable-ratio steering rack is the cause of the ambiguity, plaguing the first few degrees of steering. It’s also the most significant reason that the XKR-S isn’t quite as confidence-inspiring as a Porsche 911 or BMW M3 on a foreign twisty mountain road. Swapping the variable-ratio hardware for a fixed-ratio rack that’s quicker than what you currently get just off-center would likely deliver the immediacy that we crave.

A name to remember
Jaguar’s XKR-S boasts a brilliant powertrain backed by a versatile suspension. It doesn’t carry the same hardened performance edge of a 911or M3, but it sits at the pleasant intersection of legitimate track credibility and Jaguar brand character. As a worthy addition to the great European performance subbrands, here’s to hoping that the R-S tag makes its way to more Jaguars.

2012 Jaguar XKR-S

Base price (with dest.): $132,875
Price as tested: $133,250

Body Style: 2-door coupe
Accommodation: 4-passenger
Construction: Aluminum unibody

Engine: 32-valve DOHC supercharged V-8
Displacement: 5.0 liters (305 cu in)
Power: 550 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 502 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Fuel economy: 15/22 (city/hwy)

Steering: Hydraulically assisted
Turning circle: 35.8 ft
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Ventilated discs, ABS
Wheels: 20-in aluminum-alloy
Tires: Pirelli PZero
Tire size, front: 255/35YR-20
Tire size, rear: 295/30YR-20

Headroom F/R: 37.4/30.2 in
Legroom F/R: 43.0/37.6 in
Shoulder room F/R: 56.6/42.4 in
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Track F/R: 61.4/63.3 in
L x W x H: 188.7 x 74.5 x 51.6 in
Cargo capacity: 11.7 cu ft
Weight: 3968 lb
Fuel capacity: 16.0 gal
Fuel grade: 91 octane

Buying Guide
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16 City / 24 Hwy

Horse Power:

385 @ 6500


380 @ 3500