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

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

February 13, 2012
2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC Front Left View
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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.
The Jaguar undeniably owns the bragging rights in the engine department. Its V-8 is not only larger in displacement but is also supercharged, besting the Maserati's power output by 106 hp. It's also a torque monster, with 502 lb-ft versus the free-spinning Italian's 376 lb-ft. Since the smaller Jaguar also weighs less, it's hardly surprising that it is quicker than the MC. The factory-measured 0-to-60-mph times reflect that difference, with the Jag getting there in 4.2 seconds, whereas the Maserati needs 4.8. Looking at top speeds, though, it's a virtual dead heat, with a claimed 186 mph for the XKR-S and the MC boasting at least 185 mph. (The Maserati's figure is important, if only for those who remember the Joe Walsh song, "Life's Been Good.")
Acceleration in the XKR-S is simply explosive. You actually have to choose your moments carefully to give the XKR-S a full boot. On a drag strip, on a racetrack, or on a lonely desert highway you could use all that power, but our bad luck had us out on damp, wet, and often muddy roads (mercifully, an early-season overnight snowfall burned off quickly under bright sun the following morning). In the real world of lumpy pavement and less-than-ideal traction, the XKR-S's traction control kicked in with nearly any significant throttle opening. This is a car that, in the wet, wants to spin its tires accelerating down an on-ramp at 60 mph.
The Maserati is less frenetic but still thrilling, and its engine's 7500-rpm redline is a joy. More important, its normally aspirated V-8 is more predictable in its responses. The long-travel accelerator is also a factor, making it easy to precisely meter out the power -- which is not something that shows up on 0-to-60-mph runs but is something you appreciate when powering out of low-speed corners.
Both cars have special exhaust systems with a choice of mild or wild exhaust notes. An active valve in the XKR-S is opened when the car is in dynamic mode, and in the Maserati, hitting the sport button on the dashboard opens an exhaust-bypass valve above 3000 rpm; if the transmission is in manual mode, hitting the sport button keeps the bypass valve open at all times. The searing exhaust note from either car is awesome, but it's also good to be able to quiet it down when you want to be a little less conspicuous.
The days when a manual transmission signaled a coupe's sporting character evidently are receding in the rearview mirror, as both of these machines are available exclusively with an automatic -- in any trim, not just these range-toppers. The six-speed ZF gearbox in the Maserati has been modified for MC duty with quicker shift times, throttle blipping on downshifts, and a manual mode that is truly manual -- it won't downshift when you floor it, and it won't upshift when the engine is bouncing off the rev limiter. Those capabilities mirror those of the Jaguar transmission, which is also a ZF six-speed. The biggest difference between the two is their shift paddles: the Maserati's (made of carbon fiber) are huge, but they're affixed to the steering column, not the wheel; the Jag's plastic paddles are much smaller but they're attached to the steering wheel, putting them within easier reach -- provided you've got your hands at 9 and 3. In truth, though, the paddles are almost inconsequential; slip the transmission of either car into sport mode and it can be left to choose the right gears on its own even during the most aggressive driving. You may occasionally want to shift for yourself, but you never feel that you actually need to.
That polished performance from the transmissions is mirrored in both cars by dynamic responses that demand no compromise. These coupes are extremely composed over lumpy back roads, cruise comfortably at highway speeds, and are confident when bending into curves or charging at dips and crests. Body control is impeccable, and yet ride quality is not at all bad. Jaguar's adaptive damping system has always impressed us, so the XKR-S's behavior was really no surprise -- although this XK variant does ride lower on firmer springs than other XKs. We thought we might find a more compromised ride in the Maserati with its fixed-rate dampers (the Skyhook adaptive suspension can be selected as an option), yet skillful tuning keeps the MC from being one-dimensional. We judged the MC to ride a bit more firmly than the XKR-S, but even when we pounded through areas of broken pavement on deep backwoods roads, the Maserati was able to effectively take the edge off the impacts.
The XKR-S has a revised rear suspension geometry that makes for a livelier back end, and it is lively indeed. The Maserati, though, felt more alert on turn-in and a bit more fluid overall. Peek under the hood of the MC, and you get a clue as to why. The Maserati V-8 sits fully behind the front axle, which allows the MC to achieve a 49/51 percent weight distribution. The Maserati's steering also offered more feel, despite the XKR-S having a new steering knuckle that is supposed to increase both precision and feedback.
Both cars are remarkably similar takes on the idea of a grand touring coupe tricked out in extremis. The Jaguar wins on bragging points -- not unimportant given the difficulty of actually using all of the performance either of these cars offers, even in an environment like the one we were in, with traffic-free two-lanes piercing dramatic mountain vistas. It also holds the upper hand in most of the objective categories, being more powerful, lighter, faster, and cheaper -- ceding only rear-seat usability to the Maserati.
However, the horsepower difference between the two cars, so great on paper, begins at these lofty levels to reach the point of diminishing returns. On a track, or even just driven in a straight line, the Jag undoubtedly would be the faster car, but out in the real world, the Maserati was easier to drive fast. Thus, the brutally fast Jag turned out to be not quite as satisfying to drive as the seductively sweet Maserati.
Although the Jag's sport seats can't be beat, the bucks-up XK interior is otherwise less convincing than the Maserati's. And the Jag's turretlike visibility and less special finishes mean that it's not as nice a place to be as the MC. Additionally, the Maserati's credible four-seat capability would for many drivers make it more usable more often than the strictly two-place Jag. Marching further into the field of subjectivity, the Jaguar's exterior modifications strike us as less successful than those of the Maserati, which are more subtle.
Each of these cars is its brand's pinnacle of performance. The XKR-S moves the Jaguar beyond the realm of grand touring coupe and edges it into the premium sports car arena, while the Maserati remains firmly a grand tourer even with the changes brought by the MC. For drivers seeking more of a sports car, the Jaguar's higher performance may nudge the XKR-S ahead. But we did not find its extra measure of performance to be easily accessible, making it not worth the trade-off in livability over the Maserati. Both of these cars provide speed, luxury, comfort, athleticism, and exclusivity in spades, but the Maserati is our choice.
2012 Jaguar XKR-S
Base price: $132,875
Powertrain
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
Chassis
Steering: Hydraulically assisted
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Tires: Pirelli PZero
Tire size f, r: 255/35YR-20, 295/30YR-20
Measurements
L x W x H: 188.7 x 74.5 x 51.6 in
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Track F/R: 61.4/63.3 in
Headroom F/R: 37.4/30.2 in
Legroom F/R: 43.0/27.6 in
Cargo capacity: 11.7 cu ft
Weight: 3968 lb
Performance
0-60 mph: 4.2 sec
top speed: 186 mph
epa mileage: 15/22 mpg
2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC
Base price: $143,400
Powertrain
Engine: 32-valve DOHC V-8
Displacement: 4.7 liters (286 cu in)
Power: 444 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 376 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Chassis
Steering: Hydraulically assisted
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Tires: Pirelli PZero
Tire size f, r: 245/35YR-20, 285/35YR-20
Measurements
L x W x H: 194.2 x 75.4 x 52.9 in
Wheelbase: 115.8 in
Track F/R: 62.4/62.6 in
Headroom F/R: 39.0/35.8 in
Legroom F/R: 41.7/30.1 in
Cargo capacity: 9.2 cu ft
Weight: 4145 lb
Performance
0-60 mph: 4.8 sec
top speed: 185+ mph
epa mileage: 11/19 mpg

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