The 2012 Jaguar XKR-S is likely the last, extremely fast model that retains much of the automaker’s traditional “E-Type” sports car styling.
The sensational race-bred Jaguar E-Type sports car arrived for 1961 with a potent inline six-cylinder engine. It was sold as a coupe or convertible and was known to most Americans as simply the “XK-E.” Many still feel that it’s the most beautiful sports car ever built.
But the E-Type began to lose some of its luster when government regulations forced it to detune its engine and add such items as clumsier bumpers and smoothly faired plastic covers over the headlights in 1967. The E-Type went from 1971 through 1975 as a heavier-looking car with a potent, but often troublesome, V-12 engine until replaced by the Jaguar XJS model in 1975. But the XJS was mainly a posh cruiser, not a sports car, largely because Jaguar felt the sports car era was ending.
Thankfully, the XK sports car returned in more modern form in 1997, looking much like the original 1960s E-Types, and was redesigned for 2007—while keeping much of its traditional 1960s look.
All 2012 XK models get minor exterior and interior trim changes and are nicely equipped with comfort, convenience and safety equipment. Prices start at $84,500. The XK comes with a 5-liter V-8 generating 385 horsepower or a 510 or 550-horsepower supercharged version of that engine with an enormous amount of torque (502 pound-feet).
The top-line XK I tested was the 550-horsepower XKR-S, which is new to the 2012 XK line. It comes as a coupe for $132,000 or as a convertible for $138,000.
The XKR-S is the most powerful Jaguar road car ever built, which is likely a compelling reason for some folks to buy it.
I drove the convertible version of the XKR-S, which has a snug-fitting fabric top that keeps the interior impressively quiet. Most rivals have a folding hard top, but such a top adds weight and complexity. Among the convertible’s safety features is a rollover protection system.
The XKR-S is no lightweight at approximately 3,900-4,100 pounds, but merging or passing can seemingly can be done in a few blinks of an eye. The car does 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and 0-100 mph in 8.6 seconds, with a top speed of approximately 185 m.p.h.
Four huge exhaust pipe outlets should tip anyone that this car means business, which it decidedly does.
However, drivers should keep in mind the car’s extremely low front end can be easily damaged—as can the costly wheels if you rub such objects as curbs with them.
Strategic suspension modifications and high-performance disc brakes are on hand to handle the extra power, and the XKR-S has dynamic stability control and an active differential to maximize rear grip and cornering ability.
Sparkling fuel economy is not to be expected, considering the car’s weight and power. The XKR-S gets an estimated 15 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on highways, and premium fuel is recommended.
However, a smooth, responsive six-speed automatic transmission should help add a few miles per gallon to those figures, especially the highway mileage, if the XKR-S is driven conservatively.
The transmission has steering wheel shift paddles that work efficiently, although I found little or no need to use them in urban driving.
The steering of my test XKR-S was nearly perfect, and the ride was supple in normal “Drive” mode. The brakes are powerful, and their pedal has a soft-but-progressive action.
Things stiffen up a bit, though, if a driver selects “Dynamic” mode, which is activated by pressing a small console diagram of a racing flag. This mode is said to coordinate the car’s control systems to deliver, as the owner’s manual says, “a high-performance driving experience.”
Actually, just leaving the car in “Drive” mode gave me a high-performance driving experience. Leave “Dynamic” mode to empty winding roads.
The XKR-S isn’t one of those high-performance wonders that must be parked in northern snow-belt areas during winter. It has a “Winter” mode designed for use in slippery conditions. It softens the engine’s responsiveness and modifies the gear-change strategy to help ensure that optimum traction is maintained. However, winter tires still would be very helpful on such a potent car.
This Jaguar is a low-slung car in which you must “drop in” and “climb out.” But doors open wide to ease entry. The backlit gauges in the upscale interior can be quickly read in bright sunlight.
But the same can’t be said for the dashboard touch screen that controls five major systems with individual levels of operation and settings. Put in shorthand, they are audio, climate, phone, navigation and “vehicle, which includes a trip computer. I even saw my car’s average speed and miles per gallon readings.
The power front seats are supportive, and the power-assisted adjustable steering wheel helps drivers of various heights get comfortable.
A pushbutton provides a keyless start, and gear selection is made via a small, rotary control that raises slightly from the console.
I could do without some of the high-tech items, although some—such as adaptive cruise control—are excellent safety features.
My test car was painted a gorgeous British Racing Green color that looked as if it belonged on an auto show car. However, the 20-inch gloss black alloy wheels (a $1,500 option) were unattractive, especially considering the car’s sleek styling and paint.
The rear seat area is beautifully finished, but suited only for small children. There are few interior storage areas, unless you want to toss things into the rear seat. For instance, the glove compartment is small and door pockets are virtually useless.
The convertible top’s rear window is small, but the outside mirrors—which fold in when the car is parked—help rear visibility a lot.
My test car’s trunk had a wide, low opening, but wasn’t very big because, after all, the top must go somewhere when lowered. At least there’s space for a moderate number of smaller objects, and there’s also a shallow storage area beneath the easily removable trunk floor covering.
Fluid filler areas are scattered about the engine compartment, covered by a hood that raises smoothly on twin struts, as does the trunk lid.
With stricter upcoming government fuel economy and emissions regulations, the Jaguar XKR-S may well be among Jaguar’s clearest last link to its glorious past.
Pros: Most powerful Jaguar road car ever. Sleek. Comfortable. Posh. Adroit handling. Coupe or convertible. Pricey.
Cons: Tiny rear seat. Marginal fuel economy. Convertible has small trunk.
Bottom Line: For anyone who wants the fasted Jaguar sports car.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.