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.