It's a modern muscle car, one of the few vehicles that pulls off the whole "retro styling" trend without looking goofy. It's powered by a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 engine that outputs 550 horsepower and around 500 pound-feet of torque. It's a large rear-wheel-drive coupe that seats two comfortably with a pair of rear seats that are better suited for holding small parcels than small people. It's got big 20-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension, and looks stunning in black. Oh, and it costs a smidge over $130,000! On paper, the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S coupe looks a lot like the world's most expensive Mustang Shelby GT500, but from the driver's seat, it's so much more.
Performance: The world's most expensive Mustang
I'm only half-joking by calling the XKR-S an overpriced 2012 Mustang Shelby GT500. The two cars have more in common than you might think. The XK's X150 chassis is largely unchanged since the vehicle was designed back in the days of Ford's ownership of the Jaguar brand, so there's a bit of quasi-shared heritage.
I've already mentioned the similarities in power train configuration (although the Jag's 5-liter supercharged V-8 displaces less than the Ford's 5.4 liters), power (550 horsepower, exactly the same as the 'Stang), and torque (502 pound-feet, only 8 shy of the Ford's 510 pound-feet) output. The Jaguar will hit 60 mph from a stop in about 4.2 seconds, which is just 0.2 shy of the Ford, but while both cars sound fantastic racing away from a traffic light, I'd have to give the aural edge to the XKR-S. The Jag's curb weight is within 150 pounds of the Shelby's, despite its being slightly wider and longer and much, much more luxurious in the cabin. Even the Jaguar XKR-S' EPA estimated 15 city and 22 highway mpg are within a single highway mpg of the Mustang's estimates. Filling the tank up at the end of a week of mostly docile driving for one last day on the still-slippery roads north of San Francisco, I calculated that the XKR-S had managed 18.75 miles per gallon, which wasn't too bad considering the Pavlovian response that the Jag's exhaust note triggered in my pedal foot.
Bench racers keeping score are no doubt beginning to question spending $83,000 more on an XKR-S; where does the extra money go? We'll get around to discussing the cabin in a moment, but it should be no surprise that a large chunk of that price difference goes to making the Jaguar more comfortable than most people's houses.
For starters, getting this big ol' Jag down to fighting weight isn't cheap. Jaguar started by revising the front double wishbone suspension, making use of aluminum to lighten and stiffen certain components. The independent, double-wishbone setup on the rear axle receives a similar treatment. The Jaguar's suspension is more complex and, theoretically, more precise at both ends than the Mustang's MacPherson strut and live rear-axle setup.
Looking around the body, it's easy to see that Jaguar has used carbon fiber for many of the XKR-S' aerodynamic tweaks, including the front splitter, rear diffuser, and decklid spoiler. In its wheel wells, XKR-S rolls on 20-inch wheels with slightly wider rubber than those on the GT500. Those wheels house 15.75-inch brakes with double-piston calipers on the front end and 13.8-inch discs out back with single-piston stoppers. Over the standard XK and XKR, the XKR-S also gains revisions to its active suspension and automatic transmission programs.
On the road: More than a numbers game?
I know what you're thinking: how dare I sit here and compare this great British racing machine and 2011 Sports Car of the Year winner to a lowly Ford Mustang? (You probably even thought it in a weird faux-British accent. I know that I did.)
The truth is that while you technically can compare the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S with a 2012 Ford Shelby GT500 by the numbers, doing so is sort of missing the point. Sure, both cars will hustle away from a stoplight with similar zeal, but if you're drag racing kids in Mustangs and 370Zs with your XKR-S, you're doing it wrong. The Jaguar has nothing to prove; it's already done that with its price tag. We get it, you win.
No, about half of driving the XKR-S is about the touchy-feely "experience" that we automotive journalists love to rave about. It's the effortless way that the coupe mashes your eyeballs into the back of their sockets as it rockets away from a stop, its throaty exhaust roaring more out of joy than exertion. The Jag's single-option, six-speed automatic gearbox is less than ideal for racing -- this is a torque-converter automatic and as good as it is, it will never be as quick or direct as a BMW M6's dual-clutch gearbox -- but it does its job smoothly and consistently. You can select your own ratios via the paddle shifters located on the back of the largish steering wheel, but you'd probably be just as happy letting the gearbox's Sport and Competition programs handle it for you.
But power and acceleration are easy with enough displacement and forced induction -- anyone can do that. What surprised me the most was just how nimble this big cat is.
Let's get back to that last day of wet roads that I mentioned earlier. From the driver's seat of the XKR-S, I followed Senior Editor Wayne Cunningham in the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S -- not exactly a competitor for the Jaguar, but an interesting benchmark. The slippery conditions pretty much mitigated the Jaguar's approximately 100-horsepower advantage over the German coupe, but even with a light foot and more than a few extra pounds to carry around every bend, the big Jaguar was able to hang fairly close to the rear bumper of the car that is easily the gold standard for vehicle handling. I was able to easily yaw the XKR-S around bends with the accelerator thanks to the Active Differential Control and the Sport mode's more liberal levels of acceptable wheelspin.
This is a car that's capable of long, "Top Gear"-esque power slides in the hands of a skilled driver; abrupt throttle inputs by a moronic one can generate snap oversteer on damp asphalt. But it doesn't really feel like either of those behaviors is what the XKR-S wants to do. Save for a slight waggle of the tail when powering into a long, clear straight, the Jag was remarkably hesitant to do anything but grip and grip and grip. You wouldn't know it by simply driving it, but the XKR-S is fitted with Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS, how clever). There are no obvious ways for the driver to interact with this system, though; it simply does what it does with remarkable transparency.
Switching seats with Cunningham and taking a turn in the Porsche, I was unsurprised to find that it was much more involved than the Jaguar. When the turns got twisty and the speedo began to climb, I found the 911's steering to be much more direct, the suspension much more communicative, and the throttle and PDK gearbox to be darn near telepathic. On a dry day, the XKR-S would definitely have a hard time keeping up with the 911 S on those twisty roads, for sure. That said, most cars short of a Nissan GT-R would lose a handling contest to the 911, so the fact that the Jaguar XKR-S (a car that I just finished comparing with a Mustang) can be mentioned with a straight face is telling.