There's no question that Jaguar's XK-E (EType) ranks as one of the most significant automobiles of all time. In fact, even the late, great Enzo Ferrari went so far as to label it the world's most beautiful car.
It's probably not surprising then that the legacy of the XK-E is very much alive and well at Jaguar today. And if you're in doubt, look no further than the 2012 XKR-S, a machine built to celebrate the E-Type's launch, back in 1961. First seen at the Geneva Motor Show last year, the XKR-S builds on the foundation of the already fast, supercharged XKR, resulting in the fastest and meanest 2+2 Coventry Cat ever.
Since the days of the Swallow Sidecar Company, Jaguars have been very much about style. Whether it's the original XK-120, Mark II, E-Type, original XJ6 or XJS, each has been utterly distinctive and timeless in execution.
The same can be said of the current XK, which can trace its roots back to the original model launched in 1996. Styled entirely under the guidance of Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum, the XKR-S combines fluidity and muscle in single package. Twin scoops at the edge of the hood and a massive front airdam with prominent side power vents ahead of the front wheels, make it look ready to pounce. They also serve an important function, especially as this car was designed to reach speeds of 300 km/h (186 mph) and it needs all the intake charge, stability and downforce it can get.
However, unlike some modern day hyper cars (the Nissan GT-R comes to mind), save perhaps for those side power vents, it doesn't go overboard with scoops and spoilers; there's a prominent deck wing (the first on Jag we might add), fender mounted air extractors, rear diffuser and sill extensions, yet in Jaguar fashion, they're tastefully executed and don't detract from the car's slinky shape. In an effort to save weight, carbon fibre is used for the centre section of the rear wing, as well as the front splitter and rear diffuser. All in all, Jaguar says the body enhancements on the XKR-S reduce lift by some 26 per cent.
Inside, the cockpit simply defines what a GT car is all about; the dash, door panels and centre console convey elegance in a way few modern vehicle interiors can. Although the highest performing Jaguar ever (XJ220 fans might disagree), the XKR-S isn't some stripped out barely legal race car; inside you'll find plenty of leather and rich carpeting, plus carbon fiber accents that hint you're in something more than just a regular, run-of-the-mill Jag. The front seats are specific to the XKR-S, with better lateral support and firmer thigh bolstering than the regular Jaguar coupe, yet they also boast 16-way power adjustability and of course heating. As for the rears, they're nicely trimmed, but useful for little more than decoration, since back seat legroom is rather tight. Interior control functionality is very good in this car, the electrically tilting and telescoping steering wheel allows just about any driver to get comfy, while the gauges; both main and auxiliary units are clear and legible. For those not used to it, the XK's circular, rotating shifter knob takes some getting used to but is rather intuitive after a while.
What can we say? This is a Jaguar unlike any other. Hit the push-button start and the all-aluminum supercharged AJ V8 sounds its wake up call with a glorious, authoritative bark. Even at idle, it delivers a sound through those quad exhaust tips you could listen to all day long. Helping that cause is a an active exhaust system, which in conjunction with revised fuel mapping, a higher 9.5: 1 compression ratio and improved air intake harvesting, results in a whopping 550 hp and 502 lb ft of torque.
With all that power and torque on tap, it, not surprisingly, doesn't take long for the XKR-S to get going places. 0-96 km/h (0-60 mph) comes up in a scant 4.2 seconds and the acceleration from punching the throttle at all speeds is tremendous. Yet as fast and thunderous as its, there's a level of polish to the Jag you just wouldn't expect in a car of this performance caliber-the engine still manages to feel super smooth under load-a titanium fist wrapped in a velvet glove if you will.
The six-speed automatic transmission does a wonderful job of harnessing the V8's eager power (especially in Dynamic mode, which firms up the shifts) and thanks to a superb chassis (the structure of the XKR-S is largely hewn from aluminum); the car feels light and agile (despite a still substantial 1,753 kg/3,865 lb curb weight).
Along with the increase in power, Jaguar has made some chassis and suspension improvements over the XKR, including revised suspension geometry with a new aluminum front knuckle, stiffer, shorter springs (which drop ride height by 0.4-inches), re-calibrated active damping, specially tweaked stability control and a reprogrammed active centre differential.
Combined with wide, lightweight wheels (the fronts are 20 x 9-inch, the rears 20 x 10.5), wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero rubber, the result is one seriously capable machine; on twisty roads it's simply magnificent. The steering is silky yet responsive, while cornering is flat and surefooted, making it exceptionally quick to pilot through the turns. Braking is also very strong. However, despite the car's handling prowess, it's still relatively easy to over power the tires, especially on damp surfaces. Although it corners almost like a race car and the chassis delivers fantastic feedback, all this performance doesn't come at the expense of civility. Yes, the XKR-S rides firmer than most Jaguars of recent memory but it's still compliant enough for daily driving.
At $139,00 the XKR-S offers a decent amount of car for the money, especially considering the performance on tap. And besides the improved aerodynamics, more power, upgraded suspension, special wheels and tires, plus the unique performance seats, there's also a number of other exclusives, including a special, leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel and unique interior trim and fixtures.
These include carbon leather accents on the seats with contrasting stitching and piping, plus soft feel paint for the various switches inside the cabin. The centre console also sports a special, gloss black finish for that all-business look. As befitting its performance image, the XKR-S is offered in only six exterior colours, British Racing Green Metallic, French Racing Blue, Italian Racing Red Metallic, Polaris White, Stratus Grey Metallic and Ultimate Black Metallic.
In terms of fuel economy, given its 550 hp supercharged V8, the XKR-S isn't exactly going to win any awards - gas mileage is likely to be one of the lowest priorities for somebody seeking a car like this. Nevertheless, 15.68 l/100 km (15 mpg) city and 10.7 l/100 km (22 mpg) highway isn't actually that bad, all things considered.
Acceleration, handling, nicely appointed interior.
A bit squirrelly at times, tight back seat.
The bottom line
An exclusive Grand Tourer that's equally at home on both the street and racetrack.