For a comic, politician or product planner, timing – as they are wont to say – is everything. And to at least one observer of last year’s Geneva Auto Show, the announcement of the new(ish) Jaguar XKR-S at that show was – at best – unfortunate timing. Fifty years earlier Jaguar had used the Geneva stage for the very public launch of the about-to-be-iconic E-Type. To use the 50th anniversary of that debut for something other than an E-Type successor seemed, at best, a missed opportunity. At worst, it was further evidence (if more was needed) of the Empire’s decline.
The notes above, of course, shouldn’t undermine the attractiveness of the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S; it may not be the about-to-be-announced F-Type, but it is (to channel A Chorus Line) one singular sensation. With 550 horsepower under the hood, a 0-60 of just over 4 seconds and top speed of 186 (not verified by us, but entirely credible), this is the fastest production Jaguar EVER, and a spec of which Sir William Lyons – Jaguar’s founder – would approve. Its footprint, relative to the vaunted E-Type, has grown, however. If, in ’61, the new E-Type could be likened to Princess Di, the XKR-S is more like Marianne Faithfull – today. Although sleek in silhouette, its footprint is closer to that of Camaro than cat, and despite its all-alloy construction you’re still moving some two tons.
In Geneva the Jaguar XKR-S was clothed in something akin to French Racing Blue, a shade that seemed to heighten our visual disconnect. The ‘S’ in the drive was, thankfully, less polarizing, a metallic the Jaguar folio describes as ‘Italian Racing Red’. Although having never seen a Ferrari Formula One car similarly coloured, the team at Jaguar would seem to know what they’re doing; we found it very attractive. And the metallic red actually worked to integrate all of the aero adds for which the XKR-S is now known, mods that would have the aforementioned Sir William rolling – or roiling – in his grave.
Behind the Jaguar’s wheel, however, there’s less room for dissent. With proper seating, a well-proportioned wheel and an informed gauge display, you’re fully prepared to launch. And with the aforementioned 550 supercharged horses and 502 lb-ft of torque transmitted to the ground via the XK’s 6-speed automatic, every hour is ‘rush’ hour, with the throttle supplying a ridiculously superb audio accompaniment.
Even more surprising was the coupe’s alacrity. Despite its almost Germanic solidity, the Jaguar XKR-S was oh-so-light on its feet, reacting with amazing grace at both steering and throttle inputs. And while its suspension was certainly firm, it exhibited none of the rudeness often associated with 180-mile-per-hour platforms. In short, when you wanted to be sporting the big Jag was Mad Max, and when you wanted to play it cool the XK played Steve McQueen.
Overlapping with the loan period was the Jaguar Alive Driving Experience, which is roaring into various venues across the country this summer. A chance for well-qualified consumers to enjoy Jags in something other than a showroom, it provided a fairly informative overview of today’s Jaguar lineup. The short loop – at 40 miles per hour – behind the wheel of the full-size XJ might have been more exciting (and informative), but a fairly aggressive autocross proved a completely appropriate outlet for a quick romp with Jaguar’s midsize XFR. Since we showed up in the XKR-S we didn’t need to drive it at the Experience, but a walkaround of its convertible counterpart convinced us that the coupe is the way to go, especially while going 180.
When contemplating the Jaguar’s $130K window sticker there are a lot of other cars to consider, including a well-optioned 911, Aston Vantage V8 and/or Maserati coupe. And while any and all are compelling, the XKR-S makes a convincing argument for the classic Grand Tourer, providing generous comfort for the long drive, reasonable efficiency in the day-to-day commute, and enough performance for an occasional track day. While firmly set in the Old World, today’s Jaguar XKR-S provides a refreshing preview of the new…