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First drive: New Jaguar XKR-S stuns on track and off

Cat attack: The thunderous XKR-S is razor-sharp on the track, yet silky-smooth on public roads.

Flat out in Jaguar’s fastest ever production car, the XKR-S coupe

Jaguar logo6 Jun 2011

By JAMES STANFORD in PORTUGAL

JAGUAR has launched a stunning dual-purpose coupe with brutal track-day performance in addition to surprising open-road comfort.

The thunderous XKR-S is Jaguar’s fastest-ever series production car and it is now available to Australian customers for a hefty $340,000.

Three have already been ordered by Australian customers, with Jaguar Australia immediately securing another three production spots.

Jaguar insiders say the high-performance XKR-S, which has more of a focus on performance than the regular grand touring XK models, could even be as fast as Jaguar’s iconic limited racing homologation special, the XJ220 supercar introduced in 1992.

Jaguar sources said the XJ220 never came close to its claimed top speed of 350km/h, while the XKR-S can run all the way to an electronically limited top speed of 300km/h.

A track day blast at Portugal’s Autodromo Algarve revealed the ultimate XK is a very sharp tool indeed, combining sharp handling with phenomenal performance from its supercharged 5.0-litre quad-cam V8, which belts out a whopping 405kW and 680Nm thanks to a higher compression ratio (9.5:1) and increased boost pressure.

6 center imageJaguar is making the most of the ageing six-speed ZF torque convertor automatic, saying the work it has done tuning the clutch actuation means shifts almost as fast as the quickest-shifting dual-clutch automatics without any low-speed hassles.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the transmission and it shifts quickly in performance mode and smoothly in regular mode. The only downside is the plastic steering wheel-mounted gear-shift paddles that feel cheap for such an expensive car.

The engine itself is remarkable. This is a strong engine in the XKR, but the extra 30kW and 55Nm in the XKR-S means it has truly phenomenal punch, especially down low in the rev range.

Running in ‘performance’ mode, the driver must feather the accelerator out of a corner or the rear wheels will instantly break traction.

It also sounds magnificent, aided by exhaust flaps that opens to help create a howling V8 soundtrack with plenty of popping and crackling to be heard when the driver backs off the throttle, or closes to transform it into a relatively modest burble.

This would have to be one of the best-sounding cars on the road today - right up there with Ferraris, the Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.

An aggressively tuned electro-mechanical rear diff (in performance mode) allows tail-happy driving.

An extra steering column brace is fitted to make the car feel more rigid and precise.

The aluminium-bodied XK weighs a respectable 1753kg, helped by special 20-inch alloy wheels that are 4.8kg lighter than the regular rims.

Jaguar has differentiated the XKR-S exterior from that of the XKR with an aggressive body kit featuring a wider front bumper with built-in scoops, (non-functioning) bonnet vents, a carbon-fibre front lip and a tall rear spoiler with a carbon-fibre panel.

There are five colour choices, the brightest being a French Racing Blue exclusive to the XKR-S.

The most impressive element of the XRK-S is its re-tuned suspension, which runs 10mm lower. Of course, the slingshot acceleration and crackling exhaust thrills the senses, but it is remarkable the way Jaguar has managed to tune the shocks and springs to provide blade-sharp handling and excellent body control on the track while not sacrificing on-road comfort.

An electronically controlled active variable valving system operates in the firmest damping band when the performance mode is selected, but reverts to a softer setting in regular operation. The damping system also takes into account the road condition, steering input and other data and continuously adjusts the damping rates.

The steering is quite light at lower speeds and never feels heavy at high speeds, but has just enough resistance and feel.

Jaguar says this is the kind of car you can use to happily cruise from England to the south of France and then drive to a track for a flat-out blast. France might be a bit far for Australian drivers, but the XKR-S is certainly a remarkably comfortable car for daily driving and long distances while also possessing a remarkable ability to run super-fast on the track.

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