On a mission to reconnect with its decidedly racing-oriented past, Jaguar has turned away from the soft - but capable - pseudo-boulevardiers that have defined its lineup over the last couple of decades.
Instead, the brand has gone positively mad
, as the XKR-S you see here demonstrates. The blue-hairs who lined up for beige XJ sedans a decade ago would be totally confused by this new, honking convertible, which boasts an outlandish body kit and all sorts of exposed carbon fiber panels.
Is this what Jaguar wants to be when it grows up? We hopped in, dropped the top and roared off to find out.
What is it?
The convertible sibling to Jaguar's XKR-S Coupe, the white four-seat droptop you see here builds on the already remarkably impressive XKR's 510-horsepower V8 by adding more of what we love: Power. Noise. And carbon fiber?
Officially, the XKR-S is rated at 550 horsepower from its 5.0-liter supercharged V8, which Jaguar says should propel it to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Moreover, the special order-only XKR-S' suspension, stability control and "active" rear differential have been specially tuned to deliver an even more high-performance feel that builds on the not-too-shabby driving dynamics of the standard XKR.
In addition, the XKR-S gains the aforementioned carbon fiber accoutrements outside and even a few special touches inside like stainless steel pedals and track-ready heated leather seats.
Our tester added chrome wheels and trim for a staggering $4,000, plus a beautiful carbon fiber engine cover for $2,000 and a $375 heated windshield, bringing the total to an eye-opening $145,250.
All R-badged Jaguars (and the XJ Supersport) qualify owners for a special R Academy Driving School, which is held throughout the year in different locations. The track event - helmets are provided - is put on by a number of seasoned racing veterans, typically including Indy 500 star Roberto Guerrero. The lessons taught at the school are applicable to daily driving situations, not just closed courses, but the cars used in the class belong to Jaguar. Clearly, Jaguar is serious about building sports cars these days.
The R Academy is also available to non-R (and even non-Jaguar) owners for a fee, but the event itself is included with the purchase of any XKR-S.
What's it up against?
High-performance four-seat droptops are tough to come by, but we could see where XKR-S shoppers might look at the Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
or the BMW M6
We'd even through in a Porsche 911 Carrera S just for kicks.
How does it look?
Even in our tester's please-don't-ticket-me white, the XKR-S is an aggressive machine. Big 20-inch chrome alloy wheels and all sorts of scoops and strakes show that it means business.
Though we think the standard XK and XKR's shape is aging with grace not normally seen in this segment, the XKR-S' add-ons feel a little too "boy racer" for us, especially at this lofty price point.
The worst offender was, by far, the tall rear spoiler perched on an otherwise sensually-curved tail end. The spoiler comes with the XKR-S package, but we're willing to bet that Jaguar would be willing to build a car without it.
Carbon fiber can also be found on the front splitter and the rear diffuser, where it seems better integrated with this feline's lines.
And on the inside?
Aside from installing racing-style front seats and acres of - you guessed it - carbon fiber, Jaguar mostly left the XKR-S' interior alone. And that's not a bad thing, since this is older design is, like the rest of the basic XK platform, aging well.
Drivers face a fat three-spoke steering wheel and easy-to-read gauges with none of the showy - but complicated - gizmo screens seen in some rivals. The center stack is similarly easy enough to sort through. When we weren't enjoying the XKR-S' mesmerizing exhaust note, the 525-watt Bowers and Wilkins audio system did a great job of pumping tunes.
Unfortunately, it's too bad that Jaguar's infotainment system remains a step or two behind the best. Heavily menu-intensive and slow to react, the system frustrates unless the steering wheel switches are used. We wish the system would display both musician and song titles simultaneously, something even the most basic economy car does these days.
But those foibles seemed to be of little consequence once we settled back into the firm and highly supportive driver's seat and let 'er rip.
But does it go?
Jaguar's 5.0-liter V8 shows up in a lot of vehicles, but it might be best appreciated in the XKR-S Convertible, where it's shuffling around a modest (by segment standards) 4,079 lbs., and where the thickly-insulated cloth top can be stowed away at the touch of a button.
That last point is especially salient, since XKR-Ss get an especially snorty exhaust. At idle, this cat simply purrs, but a baffle system awakens the beast inside as the tachometer needle stretches for the upper reaches of the rev range. Just the responsible side of "keep it down!," the XKR-S' exhaust note will make even the most meek driver want to play with the skinny pedal all day.
Of course, all that noise would be wasted if there wasn't some serious power being put to the pavement. The 5.0's 550 horsepower is matched by a solid 502 lb-ft. of torque spread from 2,500 to 5,000 rpm, all of which is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
Not surprisingly, the XKR-S is quick from any speed, especially when the quick-shifting six-speed is called upon to move down a cog or two for highway passing. Accompanied by the snarling exhaust, the engine slingshots the XKR-S forward with no shortage of alacrity.
Despite lacking a hard roof, we found the XKR-S to be particularly rigid over undulating terrain and even rough railroad crossings. The 20-inch wheels and tuned suspension provide a firm but entirely livable ride that was only jarring over severely pockmarked surfaces like bricks.
Thrown into a corner, the XKR-S grips and grips... and grips, its tires uttering nary a squeal of protest. Steering feel isn't at the top of the segment compared to, say, the 911, but the XKR-S possesses a nimbleness that leaves it feeling like the entire car rotates around the A-pillars.
A press of a console-mounted checkered flag button puts the car into competition mode; while an XKR-S isn't likely to be entered into a multi-car race any time soon, this lets drivers have a little more fun with less stability control intervention. We thought the system was a little quick to intervene, but then we remembered that we were behind the wheel of a high-performance machine that costs as much as a decent house in much of the country.
At that point, we put the top down and roared down a two-lane byway, soaking up the growls and snarls that make this Jaguar nothing like anything the leaping cat has offered in years.
Why you would buy it:
You remember Jaguar's performance heritage, including cars like the XK120, XKE XJR-S and XJ220, among others.
Why you wouldn't:
In your mind, Jaguar still makes cruisers, not sporting cars. You need a history lesson.
Leftlane's bottom line
Feeling every bit as special as it should for the money, the Jaguar XKR
-S Convertible is a serious sporting car, the kind of vehicle Jaguar used to build in spades.
It might edge just a little too far into ridiculous
territory in terms of its styling add-ons, but the brilliantly-tuned suspension and THX-worthy exhaust note are enough to make a believer out of just about anyone.
2012 Jaguar XKR-S Convertible
base price, $138,000. As tested, $145,250.
Heated windshield, $325; Carbon fiber engine cover, $2,000; Chrome package, $4,000; Destination, $875.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.