Jaguar jamboree

Jaguar sports cars have always represented a world of affluent motoring, spirited performance and luxury. What better way to put the current models in context than to be driven in a stunning, red 1938 SS100 from the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, with its wide sweeping wings, long bonnet and large head lamps. It’s a cold but dry morning so it’s top down and off past the daffodils in bud.

The reality is a little different to the romantic image of ‘30s motoring. It is cramped, noisy and the scuttle shakes like a mad thing. None of this really matters though when looking down the long vented bonnet, listening to the of the engine and straight-cut gears. Twenty wind-swept minutes later and I have a large grin but look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.

Time to move on to 1970: the E-Type. The last E-Type I drove was around Mallory Park circuit and I remember wondering how anyone had the nerve to hit the magic 150 mph. This time, I’m chauffeured in a pristine 4.2 litre roadster around the Warwickshire lanes and the noise still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This, arguably the most famous of Jaguar sports cars, still forms the blueprint of what is expected emotionally of any new Jag.

So now we come to the XKR-S – the 2012 take on Jaguar’s classic roadster. None of the attractive coupé and cabriolet XK Jaguars is slow but the supercharged XKR range has the performance to back up the looks. Thankfully, for those who like to play Top Trumps, there is the XKR-S version of both body styles. I took out the XKR-S soft top to sample the latest wind-in-the-hair Jaguar motoring.

The XK roadster has an elegant profile; this model sits 10mm lower than the XKR on deep 20 inch wheels. The rear is similar to that of the XKR but with a slightly deeper apron and diffuser. The broad bonnet vents and more severe front spoiler take the edge off the naturally very attractive standard nose. However, it is purposeful and the badges indicate clearly that this isn’t any ordinary XK.

The interior is delightful. Anyone who has enjoyed the XF saloons will spot a few common components but the cockpit is intimate, well designed and extremely comfortable. It’s nothing like its predecessors either; the driver and front seat passenger are cosseted rather than squeezed-in. The rear seats are best suited to carrying a couple of cases of wine rather than people.

Nursing the XKR-S out onto a main road, the wonderful sounds from beneath the bonnet and the twin tail pipes start to hint at what the supercharged five-litre V8 is all about. Progress is rapid, pushing me firmly back in the seat. The road is dry but greasy from recent rain so I’m careful with my right foot; I can’t resist a few opportunities to open it up, though. It’s hard to put the noise into words. It’s better than the part of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ a minute-and-a-half in when the guitar solo starts. It’s better than being in a storm when the lightning and thunder clap happen simultaneously. It’s better than the first cry of your first-born. It’s fabulous.

The XK-R enjoys an additional 125 PS over the standard XK thanks to a supercharger. This S adds a further 40 PS and a host of other tweaks. Described as ‘the pinnacle of Jaguar Sports engineering’, the XKR-S has everything you might conceivably want from a Jaguar including uprated active differential and revised suspension. It’s going to be a challenge to use the power, though; it is so easy to make the tail dance without going anywhere near Sport mode. Even in a straight line and on the flat, the car literally squirms as it tries to transfer horses to tarmac. However, despite the numbers on paper, the car is gentle at low revs and easily manoeuvrable. It is civilised too, with no perceptible body shake; buffeting is minimal, even at motorway speeds.

Use of the paddles drops the car into manual mode. The power and torque available mean that on the public roads there’s little reason to use them other than to treat the driver – and the populations of any nearby towns – to the orchestral sounds emitted from the tail pipes.

Then I’m out onto a stretch of winding A-road, a perfect setting for the Jaguar. There is no way I can explore the upper echelons of the XKR-S rev range without being the wrong side of the law or the wrong side of a hedge. But driving doesn’t get much better than behind the wheel of this Jaguar.

If you want to pay £18,450 above the standard XK-R to shave 0.4 of a second from your 0-60mph time then this is the way to go. And while we should celebrate this extreme cat, Jaguar for me has always been about something other than playing Top Trumps so I’d forego the XKR-S styling for the gentler XKR looks.

Model tested:

Jaguar XKR-S convertible 5.0 supercharged, from £103,000

Power: 550PS (6,000 rpm), torque: 680Nm (2,500 rpm), emissions: 292 g/km CO2 (band M), 0-62 mph: 4.2 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○

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