I am sure they heard me well before I even saw them. Politely, I make way for the cyclists huffing and puffing up the mountain roads, giving them an extra-wide berth. I have never understood it; it is sunny, the roads are mind-blowing, traffic is sparse as it is the weekend, and these guys are pedalling their respective posteriors away. What’s with the needless physical effort, I wonder. Considering I have added ten kilos over the last couple of years, I can keep wondering. But these guys are cool. In the midst of their exertions, a couple of them give me the thumbs-up, while the stragglers at the rear make a rotating motion with their hands: go for it! I oblige by depressing the loud pedal and the Jaguar XKR-S shoots off into the distance, taking along with it a sublime roar emerging from the quad tailpipes that echoes around the hills. What a car and what a place to drive it.
I am here in the Algarve region, in the south of Portugal, an incredibly beautiful place where the sun, the sea and the mountains meet to mesmerise tourists from all over. The roads are awesome, especially the sections which criss-cross the mountainside and pass through small, picturesque villages. Traffic is also generally light. So it is indeed the perfect setting to sample a fast, beautiful car. And the XKR-S is indeed quick and fast. As Jaguar says, it’s their most powerful and fastest production car. With a top speed of 300 kph, and a nought to 100 kph timing of 4.4 seconds, it is certainly blazing. Beautiful? Most certainly it is. It is a Jaguar after all.
You could say that the aerodynamic bits look like an aftermarket job, but the fundamental lines of the XK are untouched and are every bit as powerful and aggressive as they were when first seen at Frankfurt in 2005. The XKR-S was not the only Jaguar I drove. In this programme, I got a chance to drive the XKR with its top down, the XJ Supersport and the XFR. The XKR and the XFR have received a few updates, while we had the unique opportunity to take the Supersport to a proper racing track. Yep. But the highlight of the whole trip was of course this car and we drove it at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve too.
By coincidence or not, the XKR-S has the same output as the legendary 1990s XJ220. Yes, the same car that was dethroned by the McLaren F1 in 1994. Today, the XKR-S takes on the mantle left by the XJ220 by becoming the most potent road-going Jaguar around. At the heart of the XKR-S is the third-generation AJ-V8 5000cc motor that is massaged by a supercharger with two intercoolers. The all-aluminium quad-cam engine features spray-guided direct injection and dual independent variable cam timing. By simply remapping the ECU and by increasing the exhaust flow in the active exhaust system, the XKR-S makes about 39 bhp and 5.6 kgm over the XKR. The net result is a car that develops 542 bhp at 6000 rpm and 69.4 kgm of turning force at 2500 rpm. And one that takes Jaguar into the 300 kph club, while taking just 7.6 seconds from 100 to 180 kph.
Those are just numbers; they don’t do justice to the drama and sheer spectacle that the XKR-S is. It is indeed a showpiece for Jaguar, to tell the world that it has the firepower to thrill performance seekers who would otherwise gravitate towards German machines. The XK fundamentally is a comfortable, high-performance grand tourer and to give it this sharp, raw edge, the XKR-S has been through some heavy engineering over and above the boost in power. For instance, the additional aero kit that distinguishes its appearance from the other XK variants is not there only to make it look snarly and evil. It is the result of computational fluid dynamics and a lot of time spent at the wind tunnel to ensure that lift is reduced and it has more stability. It also rides 10 mm lower than the XKR. Jaguar engineers also worked on the front and rear suspension while offering stiffer springs and dampers and a recalibrated steering setup. Lightweight forged alloys plus specially developed Pirelli rubber to reduce unsprung mass are exclusive to the XKR-S. I thought that all that effort plus the liberal use of carbon fibre would have made the XKR-S lighter. That’s not the case. It is still as heavy as an XKR. I suspect we are going to hear more from the XKR range – I won’t be surprised if Jaguar comes up with a more hardcore, evil version of the XKR-S, one that will shed its weight to offer a better power-to-weight ratio than this one’s 309 bhp per tonne.
Not that I am complaining. Because the car I am sitting in has made no compromise to creature comforts and luxury. At heart, it is still a well-padded grand tourer that will take you from one country to another in great comfort.
But with the XKR-S, there is a blistering edge to that performance. The V8 has this prodigious delivery of torque that never fails to put a smile on your face every time you floor the throttle. Despite the insulation inside, you can hear the supercharged motor aggressively sucking in the air and drama caused by the mind-blowing exhaust note makes you wonder if there is a little war taking place inside the boot. A six-speed automatic gearbox transfers the power to the rear wheels and the rotary knob was always set in sport mode so that I could enjoy the evil side of the car better. Dynamic mode takes things a notch up, especially at the track, where it holds each gear when you redline it, changes torque delivery, stiffens the dampers and makes full use of the electronic differential. The Algarve track is slightly mental because it has these elevations and dips that makes an uninitiated person like me pause every time. The XKR-S’s ability is that it is forgiving towards an inexperienced track driver like me; there were moments when I felt that I would head straight for the kitty litter, but this cat had other ideas. Despite the huge changes in weight transfer and lateral changes, there was no sign of discomfort driving the car. The special seats which had these wings to hold your sides in place really helped. Otherwise I would have been swaying inside like a Thai dancer.
Out in the open, even for a high-performance car like this, the suspension is cosseting. You don’t emerge exhausted despite pushing the car around the bends whenever possible.
In the quest for this objective, the steering setup of the car is also tuned more for comfort. It is not as hard as you’d expect it to be; most of the time it is pliant. Maybe some more feedback would have been better, but this is a minor quibble. Because every time I rush headlong towards a corner, shed speed, enter it and exit with a blast of raw power, such things don’t matter. Like the cyclists, even if you are just a witness to this car in motion, you won’t be unmoved.