Just how sporty can a Jaguar be? That question’s been rattling around Jaguar HQ for years. It’s the radical aero delivering 145kg of downforce that draws the bystanders at the kerbside for the R-S GT model. But just look inside: there are bucket seats, a rollcage and race harnesses. And yet you press a button and the Alcantara steering wheel toasts your hands. The XKR-S GT is a little bit schizophrenic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t very good.This car initially comes off the line as the already special XKR-S, and from there makes its way to Jaguar’s Engineered To Order division. Sensibly, ETO has chosen to stick with the ample 404kW/680Nm from the XKR-S’s and F-type R Coupe’s 5.0-litre supercharged V8, because anyone who’s ever tried to put all that power down in the wet will know that an extra helping would not help. So it still pulls like a train with torque ladelled all over the rev range, and it still feels almost unusable in the wet.
Sounds amazing though, with Molotov cocktails of noise exploding from the four exhausts. Shame the auto gearbox remains the same, because while the F-type gets Jag’s Quickshift eight-speeder, the XKR-S GT sticks with just six ratios, and the shifts are noticeably slushier.But what really counts here is the chassis: the XKR-S GT has carbon-ceramic brakes, there are 20-inch alloys with sticky Pirelli P-Zero Corsas, and the F-type donates its clever rear axle. Up front, only the upper suspension control arms are carry-over components, there’s also the F-type’s faster steering rack, the camber is increased, the track is 52mm wider and the two-stage adaptive dampers are heavily re-worked. In fact, in Dynamic mode they aren’t even adaptive, locking into passive mode so there’s no time wasted as computer chips fathom a response.You sense these radical changes as soon as you climb behind the wheel. The lower seats make you feel noticeably more connected, and you nudge at the steering wheel and instantly sense how tight the body control is and how responsive the rack is and that your thumbs are tingling with the unmistakeable electricity of steering feel. There’s very good steering precision too, although it can’t compare with the new F-type Coupe’s accuracy.Next page>
At low speeds in urban areas and at higher speeds on particularly niggly roads the ramped-up suspension can feel a little OTT. To really click with the XKR-S GT, you need to drive it on a dry racetrack. There you’ll notice the absolute togetherness of the front end, the way you can brake hard and late and demand all you can of the front tyres as you turn in. Even very good road cars tend to require more tip-toeing around those understeer moments than you might expect, but the XKR-S GT immediately matches your expectations, sticking hard and fast, and when you really push it, it either settles into a neutral four-wheel drift that’s yours to exploit or back out off, or especially in the slower stuff it’ll rotate into oversteer. And when it does that, you need to be on your game.I’m going to make an educated guess that it’s down to the increased camber producing a more exaggerated self-centring effect. Because when it does oversteer, the XKR-S GT wants to go straight again, giving it more racecar-like ruthlessness and a slightly snappier attitude than usual. Drive it with all guns blazing and you’ll be fine, but it’ll punish apprehension.Nearly a decade after the XK came to life and the XKR-S GT is a fabulous bolt from the blue, but there’s a snag. Only tens of R-S GTs have been built and if they do come onto the second-hand market you’ll need to be committed in both senses of the word to spend the type of money they’ll be going for on a car that’s so old, with such a dated interior and infotainment system, when the F-type R Coupe is out there.