ITS Electric blue snout poking out of the pitlane garage, the Jaguar XKR-S emerges slowly to a soundtrack of snarls, pops and the most outrageous V8 noise this side of hell. The body is barely less subtle; all air-ducts, wings and swathes of bare carbon-fibre pouring out of gaps in the bodywork. Inside, there’s no suggestion that hundreds of trees have been chopped down to furnish the interior – just sleek black trim (‘dark linear aluminium’, Jaguar calls it), a pair of sports seats with unique carbon leather inserts and the ‘R-S’ logo embossed on the headrest, and a touchscreen navigation console in the centre. Whatever most people expect from a Jaguar these days, the XKR-S is not it.
As we watch the car exit the pitlane before exploding onto Portugal’s stunning Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, the Jaguar engineer next to me pipes up: “We wanted it to sound like a proper V8. Like a Nascar engine.” Mission accomplished.
The XKR-S uses the same 5.0-litre supercharged AJ-V8 found in the XKR, but revised fuel mapping and a brand-new active exhaust system raise power by almost 40bhp to 542bhp and torque to a sledgehammer 502lb ft. Thanks to that trick exhaust, the Jaguar’s a pussycat at low revs; you can pootle around quietly without waking the neighbours and floor it once you’re out of ear-shot, unleashing a noise like the entire contents of a hardware shop being sucked through a giant shredder and spat out into the Albert Hall.
It’s a sound you’ll get used to hearing when driving the XKR-S, because while it does the comfort, refinement and luxury bit as well as you would hope from a Jaguar, it’s also a car that demands to be driven hard and fast. Headline figures are a top speed of 186mph and a 0–60mph time of 4.2secs, but brute force alone doesn’t a fast car make, hence a thorough reworking of the suspension and a 25% reduction in front and rear lift over the standard XKR. Those carbon-fibre splitters, side intakes and bonnet louvres aren’t just there to trap small animals at high speed.
On track, the XKR-S is preposterously good fun, diving and biting into corners with an enthusiasm that belies its 1,753kg kerb weight and firing out the other side with ferocious shove courtesy of that supercharged V8. The track, hidden away in the hills outside the town of Portimão, is a rollercoaster which rises and falls into blind hairpins and high-speed crests. The French racing blue Jag is as unruffled as you would expect a car with its brash, jutting profile to be, digging in or loosening up exactly when you want it to. It has undeniable swagger.
But despite a hardcore appearance that seems to be begging “take me to a track and flog me,” the XKR-S is actually more fun to drive on the road than the racing circuit, particularly if that road happens to be in Portugal. The surface is smooth as silk (probably because so few cars ever drive on it) and the route winds through rolling hills bathed in sun – the antithesis of the pothole-ridden, traffic-packed English road. While the Jaguar’s refinement and everyday driveability aren’t really a consideration on the track, out in the real world they’re the bedrock of sensibility on which the hooligan personality is built.
Acceleration, particularly at overtaking speeds, is brutal (and feels even more so thanks to that wannabe-racer exhaust note) but a forgiving chassis and wonderfully transparent steering means you can apply it on the open road. In the sporty cockpit, Jaguar has avoided the temptation to rip out the radio or swap the back seats for a roll-cage, unlike the even more hardcore Porsche 911 GT3 RS and BMW M3 GTS. The message is clear: the XKR-S is a car designed to go fast, but not at the expense of what really defines it as a Jaguar.
When you’re not banging the six-speed auto ’box’s paddles up and down and pushing the car onto its tippy-toes through tightening turns you can sit in comfort, space and luxury with brilliant Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound and a touchscreen nav-system that actually works. None of this emasculates the car’s hardcore side – it’s what identifies it as a fast Jaguar.
In fact, the XKR-S is both the fastest series production Jaguar ever made (the faster XJ220 and XJR-15 of the early 1990s were produced in limited numbers) and the most powerful; some accolade when you consider this marque has won the Le Mans 24-hour race seven times. There’s a rich seam of history, and most of it has nothing to do with pipes and slippers.
Of course, there will be a handful of Jaguar drivers who won’t find the look-at-me appearance and listen-to-me soundtrack of the XKR-S to their taste, but they’ll be missing out on the most exciting Jaguar in years. It’s a car that does everything you would expect from the fastest and most extreme model in Jaguar’s range, and isn’t afraid to shout about it. It’s a car built for the gentleman hooligan.
For more info: 0800 085 1069; jaguar.com