Peak Performers: 2012 Jaguar XKR-S and 2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC

Daniel Byrne

What becomes of an aging beauty? If that beauty is an automobile -- like, say, a sexy coupe -- after a few years one can expect an injection of performance to counteract the effects of time. That's exactly what these two cars, the Jaguar XK and the Maserati GranTurismo, have both just received. Each now has a new high-sport version that sits atop its respective lineup. How successful have Jaguar and Maserati been in reinvigorating their models, and which of these ultimate grand tourers is, well, the ultimate? We headed to the challenging -- and empty -- roads deep in New York's Catskill Mountains to find out.

he XK is now in its sixth year, and a supercharged XKR version is already offered. So for 2012, Jaguar is taking things even further with the XKR-S, first introduced as a coupe and now offered as a convertible as well. The 5.0-liter V-8, supercharged to 510 hp in the XKR, here reaches 550 hp, and torque output increases from 461 lb-ft to 502. That capability is backed up with upgraded brakes and a stiffer suspension as well as special, twenty-inch wheels fitted with wider rubber.

Styling-wise, the R-S gets a new front fascia flanked by vertical air slots, wider sills, a revised rear fascia, and a rear wing. Carbon fiber accents the wing, the rear diffuser, and the front splitter. Inside, there are more aggressive sport seats with sixteen-way power adjustment, metal pedals, and a leather headliner.

What's the tab for all this specialness? That depends on how you calculate it. The asking price for the XKR-S is $34,500 more than that of an XKR, but that boils down to about $18,000 once you factor in the additional standard equipment.

At Maserati, the five-year-old GranTurismo has received some attention from the company's racing division, Maserati Corse, to create the GranTurismo MC, offered only as a coupe. The European market got the track-focused MC Stradale, but the company's U.S. arm was more interested in a street-oriented halo model. To that end, the U.S. MC keeps its rear seats, and it eschews the Stradale's racing buckets and clunky automated-manual gearbox. It does, however, take most of the other items, starting with a more potent iteration of Maserati's 4.7-liter V-8, which gets a modest bump, from 433 hp to 444 hp, and a rise in torque from 361 to 376 lb-ft. The engine breathes through a sport exhaust system with an active bypass valve and is mated to a racier version of the paddleshift six-speed automatic transmission. For the MC, Maserati replaces its Skyhook adaptive suspension with firmer, fixed-rate dampers and larger antiroll bars. Again, special twenty-inch wheels are wrapped in low-profile Pirelli PZero rubber. A new aluminum hood with hand-formed air extractors and a more aggressive front fascia with a functional splitter turn up the volume visually, as do front fenders that also have air extractors, lower side skirts, a larger deck-lid spoiler, and a restyled rear fascia with exhaust outlets moved toward the center. Like Jaguar, Maserati claims that its aerodynamic enhancements are fully functional and increase downforce. The full-leather interior adds an Alcantara headliner, carbon-fiber trim, and metal pedals. The $16,900 difference in price over a GranTurismo S Automatic works out to a $3515 premium once you factor in the MC's additional standard equipment. Still, the Maserati, at $143,400, is dearer than the $132,875 Jaguar.

Significant weight loss is not part of the program for either car. The MC sheds a couple of pounds thanks to slimmer wheels and a lighter exhaust system. The XKR-S is no more lithe than the XKR, but the aluminum-intensive Jaguar is still almost 200 pounds lighter than the Maserati.

Look at either of the underlying models, and you see two luxurious performance coupes with designs that have aged remarkably well. The undulating lines of the low-slung Jaguar make it appear to be the longer of the two, an effect that's exaggerated by the front and rear spoilers; in fact, it's 5.5 inches shorter. The Maserati features a taller greenhouse and a 7.5-inch greater stretch between the axles, the result of which becomes obvious when you open the door.

Even accounting for the neon-red interior of our MC, there's no denying that the Maserati cabin, with its taller side windows and slim A- and B-pillars, is brighter and airier than the dark confines of the Jaguar. Glance over your shoulder, and it's clear that the XK's rear seats are designed to hold a briefcase, not a person; even children can barely be wedged back there. The MC, however, can actually accommodate adults in back. Up front, the Jag has aggressively bolstered bucket seats with adjustments that include an extendable low-er cushion and adjustable lateral bolsters, ensuring a perfect fit. Smooth leather covers virtually every interior surface including the headliner, but in some areas -- parts of the door panels, the sides of the console -- it's wrapped directly over a hard substrate, undercutting the luxury effect. In contrast, the rich leather that lines the Maserati cabin (save the Alcantara headliner) is impossible to fault. The MC seats, however, are not any different from the standard GranTurismo's.

Neither of these six-figure exotics has an electronics interface that's as modern and well designed as you'd find in, say, a Hyundai Genesis, but the Maserati surprised us by being not at all hopeless. Its system's knobs and buttons are easier to use on the fly than the Jag's slow-motion touch screen, and the resolution of the MC's screen is quite good.

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It is difficult for me to imagine myself picking a car weighing 200 pounds more, with over 125 less ft. lbs of torque, for the same money.  On the right road in the right conditions (which would be relatively common), that power/weight gap would be instantly recognizable, completely undeniable, and quite significant to the driving experience.
Pretty expensive sports cars considering the Maserati can not even keep up with a 550i or E550 in a straight line at twice the price and half the space!
The Jag was to for the tester.In the future you should get a tester that not such a pussy when their is at least one fast car to test.

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