Driving Torque

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Jaguar XKR-S Convertible – First Drive

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible in Red

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible

121mm, or 4.73 inches in old money if you prefer. That was the average rainfall in Britain for April 2012, nearly double the expected monthly amount.  The more mathematically minded amongst you will have already calculated that this equates to 4.033mm per day, doesn’t sound like much does it? I can assure you that this insignificant sounding amount felt like a monsoon as it pounded on my windscreen whilst I was wending my merry way southwards on the M6, cursing my luck and fervently glancing skywards, searching for that small shaft of light that might result in some slightly less inclement weather.

The reason for my unrealistic optimism was that on this particular day, I was being given the opportunity to road-test the all new Jaguar XKR-S Convertible, better still; I would be able to perform a back-to-back test with its fixed roof sibling to gain a true insight into what differences exist between the two.

Jaguar XKR-S in blue

Jaguar XKR-S Coupe

Having driven the XKR-S hardtop previously, I deemed it only fair that I give the convertible the first chance to deliver that ‘wow’ factor that rarely fails to be administered when driving cars of this nature and it didn’t disappoint. Aside the obvious lack of a metal roof on one model, the interiors are identical. A blend of traditional high grade leather, huge swathes of carbon fibre and some tastefully designed ultra-modern switchgear  are the order of the day on both cars but the convertible has the privilege of encouraging a large grin to appear across my face first. There are many neat little touches in the cabin that are comprehensively overshadowed by these car’s performance but someone, somewhere will have put a lot of time, energy and money into them so they shouldn’t be overlooked. Not least of these features is the ‘stop/start’ button that senses when the key is nearby and emits an eerie, blood red glow to the rhythm of a heartbeat. What better way to cross the divide between an inanimate lump of machinery and a living, breathing creature than to actually give it a pulse?  Interestingly, the XKR-S differs from much of the Jaguar range by persisting with traditional mechanical dials, I assume that this is either a weight saving measure or a way of reinforcing the very nature of the model, function over form.

Having depressed the irresistible start button, the 5.0 litre, supercharged V8 awakens with a somewhat startled yelp that settles into a deep, mellow thrum. Audibility is a large part of the attraction of a performance car for me and although the XKR-S convertible isn’t exactly quiet, I’m almost disappointed that the high quality fabric roof does such an impressive job of keeping noise intrusion to a minimum. In fact, the majority of engine noise is not entering the cabin from roof level, it seems to be coming from below, giving the definite impression that the active exhaust system is routed through the base of the driver’s seat, not an approach that I’d be averse to if I’m honest.

Driving Torque drives the Jaguar XKR-S Convertible

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible – roof down

Time to get reacquainted with what 550bhp and 501lb ft torque feels like and as I tentatively pull out onto a drenched B road, it all comes rushing back, literally. Even left in ‘relatively sane’ mode, the acceleration is brutal with a claimed 0-60mph time of 4.2s, all being driven by the rear wheels as they competently scrabble for grip on a very unhelpful surface. The 6 speed ‘box is so subtle between gears that when coupled with such oodles of torque, it’s really anyone’s guess what gear you’re actually in but when corners are approaching as quickly as they do in this car, you have very little time to ponder such issues.

Just as I’m giving up all hope of ever getting the roof down, I have a ‘hallelujah’ moment and the rain
eases as I approach a convenient layby. The Jaguar takes 16 seconds to rid itself of its roof but unfortunately, this is a long time in British weather and by the time we’re topless, an annoying drizzle has commenced. I ponder for a while just how much of the £103,000 list price would be obliterated if the leather interior got a little soggy and then decide to throw caution to the wind and go for it. That £6000 price hike over the hard top is instantly forgotten as the engine note escalates into a satisfying bellow with nothing to mute the noise between exhaust and eardrum; it isn’t too long before that pleasure is taken away though. It obviously doesn’t take much time to reach 50mph in this car and as I accelerate on past it, my aural joy is replaced by a very normal buffeting wind noise. Even with the wind deflector deployed, it’s a strain to hear the exhaust and the whole experience becomes paradoxical: More speed = Less pleasure!

As the drizzle intensifies, the sensible side of me takes over and I spot another location up the road to weatherproof the Jag. As the speed decreases and the gearbox follows suit, something magical happens that could easily justify the extra premium of the convertible on its own. In complete contrast to the XK range’s somewhat gentlemanly image, the clever exhaust pops and spits pockets of fuel, resulting in a hugely satisfying cacophony, reminiscent of an old-school American V8. This noise should definitely not be muted by a roof.

In full sport mode, coupled with dynamic settings on and manual gear-changes selected, this car initially feels as fast and direct as anything I’ve driven, including its hard top sibling. It’s only after a few minutes that I wonder whether it’s just my imagination or has something been lost in the translation from fixed-head to drop-head? On such a precise piece of machinery it’s hard to detect any slightly rounded edges at all but thankfully I’m in the coupe next to draw a true comparison.

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible in red

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible – roof back up!

According to the facts and figures, this XKR-S coupe that I now find myself in should present exactly the same driving feel as the convertible I’ve just exited. They somehow both weigh the same and, according to Jaguar, the performance doesn’t alter even a smidgen from one car to the other. The way a car actually feels bears little relation to its facts and figures however so the only answer is to get hands on in the coupe.

That glorious V8 howl is still very noticeable with a solid roof, whether this is done on purpose or is simply a by-product of removing sound deadening in order to lose weight, I don’t know. Either way, it encapsulates the cabin and unlike the convertible, it shows no signs of abating at higher speeds due to wind noise.

Out on the open roads the XKR-S coupe initially feels absolutely identical to the convertible which truly is testament to the engineers at Jaguar as they battle with the laws of physics to eliminate the flex that naturally occurs when a car loses its roof. It’s only when the coupe’s settings are turned up to the max that physics begins to win. The car is so beautifully balanced and just seems to respond immediately and exactly to the driver’s every whim, inspiring previously unknown confidence as you  point that long bonnet in the direction you want to travel and the rest of the car follows – very, very quickly. It’s barely noticeable at first but after a few quick corners, it becomes more apparent that this car was designed from day one with a roof in mind and unfortunately, some changes in weight distribution must occur if this vital piece of bodywork is dispensed with.
It’s obviously no slouch but when faced with this competition, the convertible’s miniscule flaws become apparent. But let’s be straight here, when I say miniscule, that’s exactly what I mean. Unless you actually owned both cars and planned on driving them back to back, the experience of driving the convertible would satisfy even the most enthusiastic of drivers, day in, day out, come rain or shine.

By Ben Harrington

XKR-S Specifications                                       XKR-S Convertible Specifications

Cost – £97,000                                                        Cost – £103,000

Engine – 5.0L V8 Supercharged                      Engine – 5.0L V8 Supercharged

Power – 550bhp                                                      Power – 550bhp

Torque – 502 LB FT                                               Torque – 502 LB FT

Economy – 23.0mpg                                             Economy – 23.0mpg

Emissions – 292g/km                                            Emissions – 292g/km

Acceleration – 0-60mph 4.2s                            Acceleration – 0-60mph 4.2s

Top Speed – 186mph                                              Top Speed – 186mph

Weight – 1753kg                                                       Weight – 1753kg

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Jaguar Land Rover Experience Day

Friday the 27th of January saw The Heritage Motor Museum in Gaydon host the first Jaguar Land Rover Experience Day and I went along to have a look. Designed to be a very ‘hands on’ occasion, they’re scheduled to be held monthly with a different central theme. This being the inaugural event, the theme was ‘Speed and Sustainability’ with the former being represented by the stunning Jaguar XJ220 and the latter being ably demonstrated by the Range_e Concept.

There were various models from the Jaguar and Land Rover ranges to be sampled, ranging from the Jaguar XF 2.2 Diesel all the way to the captivating Range Rover Evoque with plenty in between to satisfy all appetites. Couple this with not one, but two Jaguar XJ220s available for rides around the Gaydon proving ground at breathtaking speed and as I’m sure you can imagine, boredom was never an option.

Driving Torque drives Range Rover Autobiography

Driving Torque test drives the Range Rover Autobiography

Having booked in for my XJ220 experience, I took full advantage of the cars available for test drives. What is startlingly apparent in all modern Jaguars is that, whichever way you look at it, they’ve regained they’re USP, they’re mojo, they’re certain je ne sais quoi, if you know what I mean? Jaguar’s reputation was built on creating cars that were not only well built and luxurious but that offered a level of excitement that’s difficult to quantify. What’s very clever is the way in which each car in the Jaguar range seems to approach translating this ‘Jaguarness’ into a slightly different yet equally special driving experience.

Driving Torque drives Jaguar XKR-S

Jaguar XKR-S

Firstly, I took the 5.0 litre XK Coupe out and initial impressions were actually quite deceptive. With sister models the XKR and XKR-S offering awesome levels of performance, one could be forgiven for assuming that this ‘base model’ is quite sedate, maybe a little bit placid. Where this model excels is that as you sink into the sumptuous seats, start the barely audible engine and select drive on the automatic six speed gearbox, it can be as calm and peaceful as you like, allowing you to arrive at your destination in complete relaxation and comfort. If you’re feeling like having a little more fun however, there’s a couple of ways the XK can help out. One of them is an option on the gearbox simply marked ‘S’, another is a little button displaying a picture of a chequered flag that’s just asking to be pressed. In full sports mode, the XK is a different beast altogether. Everything seems to gain a certain taught quality that it didn’t previously have. Quite appropriately, like a cat that’s just spied its prey, senses heightened, waiting to pounce. The car just feels ready for a more enthusiastic style of driving and it doesn’t disappoint, yet reverse the procedure and you’re back behind the wheel of the cruising GT you originally sat down in.

Over the course of the day I noticed that every Jaguar I drove featured an ‘S’ option on the transmission and that little chequered flag button I mentioned earlier, even the colossal Range Rover Autobiography could be driven in sports mode if so desired. This got me thinking again about that certainly intangible quality, that ‘Jaguarness’ and how it could be best described. You see, sitting in a Jaguar is always an occasion, it’s warm and inviting without being kitsch. In normal, every day mode a Jaguar is the perfect gentleman, assisting you on your way with nothing being too much trouble. Hit full blown sport mode however and that perfect gentleman is a party animal, taking you wherever you please, at whichever speed you please yet still being able to take you quietly home when you’ve had enough. Even the massive XJL Supersport somehow manages to belie its substantial mass and seems to shrinks itself when the urge takes you to have some fun.

The one model that fails spectacularly at covering up its more wayward intentions is undoubtedly the XKR-S but then, I don’t think it’s actually trying to. When you can boast 550bhp, 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 186mph, any disguise would surely be thinly veiled so, why bother? Having said that, there is a noticeable difference between normal and sports mode, it’s just that in the XKR-S, one starts off with a party animal and ends up with an absolute lunatic! I dared to drive this car in a slightly enthusiastic manner and it seemed to be offended if I even momentarily lifted off the power, it looked down at me and laughed at what a pathetic specimen I was. One things for sure with this car, you’d run out of nerve before it ran out of horsepower!

jag-cx

Jaguar F-Type

One hugely impressive aspect of modern Jaguars is their interiors; this undoubtedly contributes towards a large percentage of their USP. With their neat features, cleverly sculpted vents and use of high quality materials, there’s always a little reminder that you’re in something special. I know that in this category we’ve come to expect a certain standard and the likes of Mercedes and BMW aren’t exactly slums but no other car manufacturer can compete with Jaguar’s interiors across their entire range. They’re modern and fresh and yet offer a warmth and familiarity that lifts them above the competition. The XJ’s interior really should be classified more as art than car; I doubt you’d ever stop noticing previously unseen features that simply made you smile.

The progression that Jaguar have made since being under Ford’s control is nothing short of staggering in what is actually a relatively short period of time. From the XF to the XK, right up to the XJ they’re not just contenders but what the competition aspires to beat and when the eagerly awaited C-X16 sports car is launched in the near future, the Jaguar brand will be thrust right back into the limelight – where it belongs.

Driving Torque gets ride in Jaguar XJ220

Fulfilling a lifelong dream in an XJ220

XJ220 This year marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Jaguar XJ220 and the highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly the two examples of this iconic car on show, one being no.004 – one of the development mules and the other being a lightweight ‘S’ model. As a young boy, a poster of one of these beautiful machines stared down at me from my bedroom wall, right next to my bed so it was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep and the first thing I saw when I woke up. The opportunity to be driven round the Gaydon Proving Ground in one of the actual development cars that hit the (then world record for a production car) 217mph, by none other than Le Mans winner and XJ220 test driver Andy Wallace seemed almost to good to be true and yet, here I was, trying desperately to maintain an air of composure and professionalism whilst creeping past 180mph on a slightly damp track.

I did manage to ask Mr Wallace a few of the many questions I had planned, in between the involuntary squeals emerging from my throat – some induced by fear, many induced by pure, unadulterated pleasure. I quizzed him on his personal reaction when the XJ220’s initial concept of a thunderous V12 and 4WD were shelved in favour of a turbocharged V6 and 2WD, did the turbo lag not irritate slightly? His reply – ‘Not really, you see I’m a racing driver and I always favour lightness’. This said whilst demonstrating what a whacking great turbo plus lightness can achieve by flooring the throttle in second gear. The results were, shall we say, shattering!

Huge thanks to all at Jaguar Land Rover for the day, thanks to Don Law of Don Law Racing for supplying the XJ220s and finally, thanks to Andy Wallace for helping me fulfil a life long dream.

By Ben Harrington

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