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The Clarkson review: Jaguar XKR-S GT (2013)

Bondage and apex-kissing? This isn’t that sort of club, sir

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IT’S NOT hard to see exactly what’s going on with the vulgar-to-behold and preposterous-sounding Jaguar XKR-S GT. Accountancy. That’s what’s going on. You see, the XK has been around for many years now. It’s so old, in fact, that it appears in many cave paintings.

Nostradamus had one, apparently, as his daily drive. And the engine it uses? Well, that’s so ancient it’s made from bronze. Engineers back then knew of no other material. Except stone, of course, which is used extensively in the chassis. It certainly feels that way on a bumpy road in the sportier models.


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So Jag had a problem. How do you sell a car that’s been around for ages? And then the company made it even worse for itself when it launched the F-type, because here was pretty much the same sort of car, with pretty much the same price tag. Nobody was going to walk into a Jag showroom and say, “Yes. I could have the very pretty new car, which is excellent. But I shall buy the old one, thanks.”

To get round these problems, Jaguar’s accountants will have said to the engineers, “Here’s 30p. Can you use it to spruce the old car up a bit?” That wasn’t enough to do anything to the engine, but it was enough to add a few rather garish winglets and spoilers and so on. And that’s not fooling anyone. Which is a shame, because, oh my God, it’s good. So good that after a couple of laps of the Top Gear test track the Stig climbed out and said, “Shrwarper kosvoicha des sprout.” Which translates as: “That thing is absolutely mega.” I agree.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is the simply staggering amount of front-end grip. You can carry a colossal amount of speed into a corner and there’s hardly any understeer at all. And it’s not like the back is swaying about either. I knew this had nothing to do with the silly wings, so I did some investigating and found that actually the whole of the rear axle is new and bespoke for this car, and that up front only the upper arm is shared with the standard XK. There’s more camber too. And a quicker steering rack. It’s now so quick that you really don’t want to be texting and driving in there, because a small correction has the car lurching about all over the place.

After a couple of laps of the Top Gear test track the Stig climbed out and said, “Shrwarper kosvoicha des sprout.” Which translates as: “That thing is absolutely mega.” I agree.

It seems, then, that the accountants may have handed over rather more than 30p to re-engineer this car. It may have been as much as £1.50. The brakes are way better too, because in this car the discs are not just enormous but made from carbon ceramics, which means they never get hot and fade, no matter how hard you drive. Inside, there is much evidence of these racing underpinnings. You get deep bucket seats, scaffolding instead of rear seats and, weirdly, a choice of seatbelts. You can either use the standard inertia- reel affairs, or, if you like a bit of bondage, you can waste 20 minutes of your life doing up the ridiculous four-point harnesses.

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These harnesses — finished in bright red — the carbon ceramic brakes and the wings suggest, of course, that this is not an everyday car. But actually it is. The ride is firm, for sure, but unlike the F-type it doesn’t crash and bang at low speeds in town. And you get all the equipment you find in the souped-up XKR-S model.

It’s not stripped down in any way. I can’t really understand, therefore, why it’s 40kg lighter than that car. But it is, and that’s a good thing too. I was genuinely bowled over. It’s a bit like Bruce Dern’s performance in the film Nebraska. You walk into the cinema wondering how a 77-year-old man who was only  “quite good” at the best of times could possibly play a lead role now. And you walk out nearly two hours later thinking that you may just have witnessed the greatest acting masterclass of the year.

As a piece of engineering, the Jag is sublime. Especially as you know it’s all been done on a shoestring. And yet I’m troubled by a big question: what exactly is it for? Track days? Hmmm. Not sure about that, because while it does have enough grip to ensure you can kiss the apex, and enough power from the supercharged V8 engine to make sure you are not humiliated by people in hot hatchbacks and Subarus, the gearbox is a slushmatic auto.

And it doesn’t have a limited-slip differential. Which means heroic power slides are always curtailed by one wheel turning all your bravery into clouds of pointless blue smoke. Track-day enthusiasts don’t want compromises such as these. And, to a man, they would choose to buy a Porsche 911 GT3 instead. Rightly so. The GT3 was bred for the track, whereas the Jag, deep down, was bred for the golf club car park.

And that raises another issue. Driving about in a car that looks as though it belongs on a track but actually doesn’t is a bit like going to work in a full Delta Force attack outfit when you are a provincial solicitor. It looks a bit silly. And it costs £135,000. Perhaps that’s why it’s a limited-edition special. Jaguar would argue that it’s actually a brand-building exercise, and that brings me on to the biggest issue of them all. Because why would Jaguar try to build its brand with a car that has scaffolding in the back and winglets on the front? Wouldn’t that be like Church’s shoes trying to build its brand by launching a limited-edition run of trainers?

Track-day enthusiasts would choose to buy a Porsche 911 GT3 instead. Rightly so. The GT3 was bred for the track, whereas the Jag, deep down, was bred for the golf club car park.

 

This is Jaguar’s problem right now. There seems to be an element within the company that believes it should be making hard, sharp, fast sports cars and racy, get-out-of-my-way sports saloons. Which is completely at odds with what the customer base expects. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger endlessly making deep, arthouse films. It may be something he wants to do but we’re all just going to sit there saying, “Oh for God’s sake, man. Just hit someone.”

At present the sports car enthusiast can choose from Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari and to a certain extent high-end BMWs and Audis. Whereas no company is able to offer the more rotund fiftysomething chap a bit of relaxation and comfort. It’s a gap in the market that Jaguar could and should exploit. It’s what we all expect anyway. A range of cars that is good-looking, smooth-riding, slightly caddish and well priced.

That, then, is my suggestion for the company’s next brand-building exercise. The XK Fat Boy. Finished in British racing green and fitted with suspension that was designed jointly with Slumberdown. Grace, pace and space. That has always been the Jaguar way, and it really should stop trying to change this.

The XKR-S GT is a good car. In many ways it’s brilliant. But it simply isn’t a Jag.

 

Verdict ★★★★☆

A glorious white elephant 2013 Jaguar XKR-S GT specification

Release date:
Only 10 made for UK, all sold
Price:
£135,000
Engine:
5000cc, V8, supercharged
Power:
540bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque:
502 lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission:
6-speed automatic
Acceleration:
0-60mph: 3.9sec
Top speed:
186mph
Fuel:
23mpg (combined)
CO2:
292g/km
Road tax band:
M (£1,065 for first year)
Dimensions:
L 4794mm, W 1892mm, H 1322mm

 

 


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