Thursday, 7 July 2011

Gandy drives: Jaguar XKR-S

A few years ago, I wrote an article about Jaguar. In it, I said what a sleeping giant I thought the company was - and that even worse than waking a sleeping giant is waking a big, very angry cat. Well, the beast has now awoken, thanks mostly to a huge cash injection by Tata and free reign at last to do what it does best - and that is to take on the best and beat them. The XF has won more awards than both Tiger Woods and Ryan Giggs have (allegedly) had women, the XJ is regarded by most motoring journalists as the best luxury saloon available today and in 2012 comes the beautiful and innovative CX-75 supercar. Expect 0-60mph in less than three seconds, free annual road tax and super-low emissions. However, what I want to talk about here is the Jaguar XK.

The second-generation XK is the oldest of the Jaguar models, having been introduced in 2006. But after many improvements over the last five years and a major revamp in 2011, the XK is to me the best GT sportscar on the road today. What right do I have to hold such an opinion? Well, because the XK has been my choice of everyday car (in various forms) for the last three years. And for a person who gets bored of most things very quickly, and suffers from severe, recurring car envy, it's high praise indeed that the XK has managed to keep me entertained and contented for this long.

With its newfound belief and of course investment, Jaguar has gone out and built the ultimate statement of intent in the shape of the new XKR-S. This is not merely the fastest Jaguar ever built, but also the most agile, responsive and driver-focused Jaguar to date. The exterior has styling unique to the XKR-S (although the whole XK range has now gotten rid of the awkwardly designed front lights) which not only helps to reduce lift and maximise stability, but also gives it such a presence - particularly in dark grey with smoked alloys - that you half expect James Bond to get out of one door and Batman the other. If the XKR is Bruce Banner then the XKR-S would be the Hulk.

Inside, winged performance seating hints at its intention. All the cheap plastics buttons have been replaced with soft touch rubber; in fact, everything now feels very high quality. A vegetarian would certainly not be a big fan of the rest of the interior, given that every surface is either leather or suede. But this is a Jaguar after all, old boy!

The Audi R8 V10 has 518bhp. The Porsche 997 Turbo S has 523bhp. The top Aston Martin DBS has 510bhp. The XKR-S has 542bhp. Yes, 542bhp, which means 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and top speed of 186mph. To get all this power, and keep the driver on the road, the spring rates have been increased, the front suspension revised and all the driver adaptive dynamic aids have been reviewed. This car is astonishing to drive. I'm used to driving the XKR and know the limits of the front turn-in and how liberal I can be with the throttle. The XKR-S rips up those rules. The turn-in is more precise: it feels taut, stable and so confidence-inspiring, I don't think I missed an apex all day even though frankly I'm an awful track driver. I didn't want to get out of this car, ever. Yes, the ride is stiffer, but it's still one of the most beautiful damped sports cars on the road and once you hear the almost ridiculous exhaust note, you won't mind loosening a few fillings or losing a few previously friendly neighbours.

Some motoring reviews are saying that the XKR-S does not warrant the extra £20K over and above the XKR. I beg to differ. In many ways I think Jaguar could have taken the XKR-S even more extreme. Get rid of the back seats (which are pretty useless anyway), lose the luxuries such as heated/electric seats, satnav, even the heated steering wheel (God forbid we get cold pinkies) and make it much rawer, lighter, fanatical in fact. Leave the XKR as the gentlemen's fast GT. In many ways, the XKR-S is trying to be too many things. However this car goes, stops and steers in a manner which is exploitable and thrilling to most. On top of that it's aggressively beautiful, contains every luxury one could ever want and is still tens of thousands of pounds cheaper than its most direct rival. I could die happy knowing that this was my sole transport for the rest of my life.


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