Thursday 17th November 2011


DRIVEN: JAGUAR XKR-S CONVERTIBLE

PH goes round the block ... and round the block again in Jag's XKR-S Convertible Nurburgring mule


The best view you can usually expect of a motor show debut car is, if you're lucky, a glimpse from over the shoulders of fellow hacks scrumming around the car and poor unfortunate lovely who's been plonked beside it. So to find oneself being led down corridors and most definitely behind the scenes of the show floor and into an underground car park to drive the car you've just seen unveiled is something of an honour.

Hardly a show car, but the mule look works
Hardly a show car, but the mule look works
I've been given opportunity for a quick run around the block in the new Jaguar XKR-S Convertible.So new it's only had its official world premiere a couple of hours before. And yet here, in LA, is a matt black development mule complete with the full roll cage and race seats required for 'Ring shakedown sessions. It's a bit of a contrast to the glitzy white example on the showstand but the real deal and I'm being allowed to drive it.

Ah yes, those Nurburgring lap times. One of the biggest shocks of the LA show is the new-found American fixation with that notorious/infamous/legendary (pick the cliché of your choosing) slice of German tarmac out there in the Eifel forests. The Yanks have gone mad for it, to the extent that you almost expect a stars and stripes to be flying from the flagpole of the iconic hilltop castle beside the track.

Even hard-working test mules need a holiday
Even hard-working test mules need a holiday
Jaguar brand manager Adrian Hallmark made a big point about bigging up the XKR-S's Nordschleife credibility in his presentation for the car and he's not the only one. Ford's SVT performance division chief did the same for the Shelby GT500 also debuting here and with Camaro and, of course, the Viper all busy setting 'Ring lap times it's clear this is now as important a performance barometer here as the traditional quarter-mile burn-up.

And it seems chopping the roof off the XKR-S hasn't slowed it down much, the recently recorded 7:51 for the coupe just seven seconds faster than the soft-top. Chatting with Jaguar chassis and development man David Pook it's clear why too - the Convertible only weighs another 42kg and was designed from the outset as a cabrio with the sills already stiff enough for the required structural rigidity with or without a roof. Which is how the Convertible can run the same spring rates and suspension settings as the coupe without shuddering itself to pieces.

Cage and race seats but definitely not stripped
Cage and race seats but definitely not stripped
And this is perhaps more relevant for our strictly time-limited run around the block outside the LA show hall. Affable chaperone Travis agrees that the matt black paintwork lends a certain menace and confirms that this and the roll cage mean few arguments out on the busy LA streets.

A distinct lack of corners and purely urban test route presents few opportunities for really getting under the skin of what the XKR-S is capable of, but a conveniently placed tunnel just half a mile into the route provides a chance to test one important attribute, namely how good it sounds.

It takes some V8 to stand out in the US but, suffice to say, the XKR-S cabrio is Jag enough for the job. Chopping the roof off may have neutered the lines somewhat, but as I drop to first and permit myself a generous flex of my foot as we enter the underpass the reflected sound is, quite simply, gorgeous. It's loud, properly loud, and the crackle on the overrun brings a big grin to my face. Travis, who's probably had to endure this a dozen times already today, is probably rolling his eyes behind his big Cali-spec shades but I don't care.

No corners? A tunnel run it is then...
No corners? A tunnel run it is then...
The only other real test available to us in these surroundings is the compulsory stoplight getaway. Here the XKR-S displays impressive traction with barely a chirrup of tyres and another guttural explosion of V8 goodness. The supercharged V8 has never lacked grunt, the power delivery not unlike that of the old-school supercharged AMG V8 used in the SL55 and others. Several hundred kilos lighter than the old SL and with 550hp and 502lb ft of torque that 4.2-second 0-62mph time feels, from the seat of the pants, entirely believable.

It's fair to say that the test route isn't exactly ideal for exploring much at all about the XKR-S's abilities, but it's nice to get out of the show and Travis and I chat cars as we rumble around the block. He's a man of sophisticated tastes, an Austin Healey 100/6 among his fleet. The tactic works a treat and he suddenly breaks off the conversation, swears under his breath and looks over his shoulder. "Damn, I got distracted, we were meant to turn way back there," he says. "Looks like you're going to get a longer drive than anyone else!"

Hmm, somebody got to play on some corners
Hmm, somebody got to play on some corners
It's a small victory, but any extra time in the car is welcome. One impressive attribute for such a focused car is the ride quality. It shouldn't come as a huge surprise given Jaguar's track record in this field but even on LA's lumpy, pock-marked streets the XKR-S rides comfortably, underlining David Pook's earlier assertion that it's still a proper GT car no matter how lairy the bodykit might be.

A full assessment of the car's talents will have to wait for another time but the hot Jag impresses with its usability. Indeed, if they hadn't made such a fuss about those 'Ring laps you could easily write it off as another pose-y cab built exactly for the kind of straight-line showing off in which we've just been indulging.

A hundred grand is fierce money for a Jaguar XK, but there's a real sense of confidence around Jaguar and, out here, there's no embarrassment in such extravagance. Emotionally the coupe will always be the more purist choice but, by the numbers at least, there's very little in it and for the ability to enjoy a more intimate relationship with the fabulous noise it makes the XKR-S Convertible makes a case for itself. And, yes, we'll have it in matt black with a roll cage please.

 

 

 



Author: Dan Trent
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