DRIVEN: JAGUAR XKR-S CONVERTIBLE
Highway to the danger zone (sorry...) in Jaguar's fastest and most expensive convertible
pottering through downtown LA and the second time only the other week, sideways on snow in Finland.
Neither occasion offered opportunity to get beyond third gear. This one will. Maybe it's the fact I've completely missed a night's sleep and might, just possibly, be a bit strung out. But I'm barely a third of the way up the runway of the El Centro Naval Air Facility 100 miles east of San Diego and consider this might well be The Most Exciting Thing I've Ever Done.
Normally the idea of straight line speed, especially on a 60-metre wide stretch of concrete, doesn't sound too thrilling. And not, it's fair to say, worthy of a transatlantic flight.
Scene of the crime
This off the back of a briefing in the self-same hangar used for the scene in Top Gun where a cocky Tom Cruise mocks Kelly McGillis's lack of knowledge of the fictional MIG-28. Yes, as if access to an active military airfield wasn't enough, El Centro's role in everyone's favourite homoerotic homage to fighter jocks and bad karaoke is being celebrated with a recreation of the film set, complete with complimentary aviators and a briefing from station ops chief Karl Garcia.
I'm almost hoping we get the chance have our request to the control tower for a fly-by denied on grounds that the pattern is full too but, sadly, we're denied that thrill and waved straight out. Loud though it is I'm not sure a high-speed pass in a Jaguar is enough to result in spilled coffee in these parts anyway.
"This is Ghostrider..."
Expecting little sense of speed from such a featureless location, it's a shock how fast it actually feels. 100mph passes in a blink, the acceleration ferocious and only levelling off north of 150mph.
Thankfully the drive to El Centro has offered a taste of how the XKR-S copes with terrain more challenging than a wide, flat runway. You're not long out of San Diego's sprawl before the topography takes a turn for the seriously spectacular, twisting, fiercely cambered tarmac fighting its way over a 1,200-metre mountain range amid spectacular Martian scenery where whole hillsides are formed of cascades of car-sized boulders.
A mindful eye for California Highway Patrol aside the main focus is enjoying the XKR-S's easy-going agility. Protestations that the Convertible boasts comparable stiffness to the coupe (it runs the same spring and damper rates, impressively) don't quite bear out and there is a little shimmy now and then. But generally the Jag startles with its quick-witted agility.
in the Jag mould. But it's fast and faithful and any vagaries about what the front end is up to can simply be dialled out with a bit more throttle.
The clever Active Differential introduced on 2010 XKR and XFRs can switch from fully open to 100 per cent locked in just 200 milliseconds, Jaguar's belief that maximising fun stems from minimising DSC intervention meaning there's an aggressive rear-axle bias to the handling. No complaints there and TracDSC loosens the electronic reins a little, should you wish to exploit this trait to the full.
Wonderfully fast and responsive two-way switchable Adaptive Dampers do a good job of hiding the 1,795kg kerbweight, the droptop weighing just 42kg more than the coupe. The Jaguar ethos seems to be about letting the car move with the terrain and interact with the road's undulations and camber changes rather than just steamroller it into submission. 10mm lower and running spring rates nearly a third stiffer than the standard XKR it can chatter over bumps but the body control is beautifully judged.
Chassis and powertrain are neatly harmonised too. The supercharged 5.0-litre V8 has huge lungs but doesn't crash in with the diesel-like whump you get from the twin-turbo V8s from AMG or BMW M. Frankly you soon forget the fact it's got forced induction at all, the wide power band and aggressively cackling exhausts wonderfully charismatic and about as restrained as the aero mods and wilder paint schemes offered on the XKR-S.
And though the Jag's six-speed auto might sound old-tech compared with the dual-clutch transmissions in the shifts are quick and decisive in the manual mode and intelligently timed in auto.
Playing at Top Gun has been a fun demonstration of the XKR-S's firepower and the roads on the way a convincing display of its dynamic prowess too. But against a brand new SL and 911, not to mention the new M6, the XKR-S will face sterner tests than this.
JAGUAR XKR-S CONVERTIBLE
Engine: 5,000cc V8 supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 502@2,500rpm
Top speed: 186mph (limited)
MPG: 23mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £103,000 (list price)
Dan attempts to max the Jaguar out - note tragic attempt to look a bit 'Top Gun' with blagged Aviators...
A rather slicker edit from Jaguar showing the car in action along the El Centro runway