DEAR Felix Baumgartner: Heartfelt congratulations on completing your crazy capers. Next time you crave a shot of adrenaline, steer your space parachute towards Scotland and join me for a drive. We’ll be taking the Jaguar XKR-S. If it’s a nice day, we’ll give the big cat’s accelerator pedal what for and you’ll experience the same warp factor feelings you enjoyed during your plummet back to earth. If it’s raining, well... you’ll wish you’d stayed in your capsule. Best wishes, Scotsman Motoring.
I don’t expect to hear back. Fearless Felix might be the world’s standard-bearer for stuntmen with a screw loose, but I reckon not even he has the spaceballs to brave a drizzly drive with me at the wheel of the most unhinged Jag of all. I don’t blame him, since it’s terrifying.
The XKR-S is the most powerful production Jaguar ever, built by the sort of people who make stealth bombers from things they find in the spare parts bin. Somehow, they’ve turned up the wick on the “standard” XKR’s supercharged V8 so that it now produces 542bhp and 680Nm of torque. Not even the wild XJ220 of two decades ago could match those figures.
All that power is sent to the back wheels (rather fetching 20-inch affairs), which do their level best to transform it into forward motion. In the dry, it’s magnificent – a comfortable cruise missile with pin-sharp dynamics and one of the best exhaust notes in the business. But this is Scotland in October. We don’t “do” dry. We’ve never done dry.
Tickling the throttle at a moist T-junction results in a lot of wheel-spin and little else while the massive Pirellis wipe their feet. Easing out of a damp roundabout generates spin and squiggle, while accelerating away from roadworks on a rain-lashed M9 induces spin, squiggle and swearing as the back of the car tries repeatedly to overtake the front. That’s terrific if you like more power than grip and have the reflexes to deal with it, terrifying if you have a juggernaut glued to your tail and all you want to do is get home to see the kids.
It’s not as if I was being deliberately thuggish. This all happened with the six-speed automatic transmission in standard mode and all electronic nannying aids switched on. If I had really taken leave of my senses, I’d have selected the sport setting on the gearbox, which lets the engine rev a bit more between shifts. Choosing this in the wet is called “doing a Baumgartner”. Selecting this while at the same time pressing the dynamic driving mode switch to sharpen throttle response is called “doing a Baumgartner without a parachute”. And should my knee accidentally bump the traction control switch at any point, that’s known as “Baumgartner’s balloon just blew up”.
Still, the fear of imminent death works wonders for the XKR-S’s fuel economy figures. Tip-toeing my way around puddles, too terrified to press the throttle more than quarter of the way to the floor, briefly brought my average consumption close to the 23mpg Jaguar claims you should see on the combined cycle. Actually, I averaged 18.5 over the course of a wet week. Compare that to 7.5mpg I’m sure I saw at the Nurburgring (see story on right). That’s the best part of two gallons to the lap. Gulp.
So, my advice is to take it easy out there and wait for the sun to shine, because it will be worth it. Without surface water to spoil the fun, the Jaguar prowls and pounces with the surefooted prowess of… well, a jaguar. The headline figures are 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds and a maximum speed that’s been electronically pegged back to 186mph for some reason.
The XKR-S rides lower than its less potent stablemates and sits on stiffer springs. The steering has been tweaked, too. These changes give the Jaguar an extra shot of composure in sweeping bends, leaving the driver free to concentrate on his or her next move as the speed builds and the scenery begins to blur. Now’s the time to press the Jaguar’s buttons, to flick the auto box into manual mode and to enjoy everything that monstrous engine has to offer.
The cabin, leather-lined to the roof, is flawlessly finished and the supportive front seats adjust more ways than a Rubik’s cube. There are rear seats, but only stunted munchkins will thank you for the offer of a lift. There is also a stereo, and a very powerful one at that, but only a fool would choose to listen to it over the glorious symphony of barks, bangs and gurgles from the four-piece orchestra that is the V8’s exhaust system.
The boot offers room for golf clubs, but this isn’t your typical golf club Jag. The din from the exhaust could turn a bunker to quicksand at 100 paces, and those spoilers, splitters and cooling vents belong on the race track, not in the Royal & Ancient car park.
When shopping for a super-coupe in the £100,000 bracket, there are a lot of reasons to overlook the XKR-S – the dicey wet weather handling, the pitiful rear seats and the space-shuttle-style fuel consumption. But look at it – I implore you, just look at it – then listen to it, and you’ll be drawn to it faster than Felix in freefall.
CAR Jaguar XKR-S Coupe
PERFORMANCE Max speed 186mph; 0-60mph 4.2secs
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 23mpg