x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

2012 Jaguar XKR-S Convertible is music to the driver's ears

Road Test This Jaguar destroys the competition when it comes to the delightful sound of raucous exhaust.

The XKR-S Convertible can make its way around the famous Nürburgring in a Porsche 911-like seven minutes and 50 seconds. Courtesy of Jaguar
The XKR-S Convertible can make its way around the famous Nürburgring in a Porsche 911-like seven minutes and 50 seconds. Courtesy of Jaguar

I wouldn't last a minute in a UAE summer. I grew up in northern Canada where a hot summer day hit 21°C (hey, I'm old school). A heatwave was the thermometer hitting 26°C and, if by some miracle, the mercury reached 32°C, schools closed and everyone retreated to their basements. Too much sun makes me grumpy and I quite literally wilt in the heat. Freon is my friend and my idea of hell is Dubai in July.

But purgatory is definitely El Centro, California, where, as one local put it, "in the winter it's a comfortable 100 degrees [38°C] and we can all cut our lawns; summer gets up to 130 and nobody does much of anything."

So trapped in a Jaguar convertible with its top down should have me just about ready to blow a gasket. And, indeed, I have succumbed to the stereotype of pasty white Canadians the world over: I'm slathered in axle grease, oops, sunscreen, a baseball hat protects my ever-so-bald head and I am swaddled in enough clothing that only my ears are open to those mean UV rays. Did I mention that I don't like the heat?

And yet, I am not in a foul mood. No pedestrians have been sacrificed, no slow-riding Buick drivers have been cursed and there have been no run-ins with the local constabulary. I haven't even threatened my co-driver, even though he resists all my entreaties to "please, please" put up the damned roof. Indeed, something resembling a smile is plastered to my face, occasionally threatening to turn into a grin.

That those bouts of borderline happiness happen to coincide with my pressing firmly on the Jaguar XKR-S's loud pedal is hardly a surprise since, with 550hp underfoot, the big Jaguar spirits forward like the Starship Enterprise in warp drive. That's a given, since the coupé version pulls the same disappearing act.

But the smile is somehow wider in the convertible. The second best thing about high-performance engines - besides the speeds they create - is their aural attitude. The XKR-S is second to none (OK, well no V8s) when it comes to raucous exhaust tones and the fact that there's no roof - cloth or otherwise - between my ears and the exhaust outlets is reason for celebration.

Jaguar's tuned the S version of the XKR's supercharged V8 mainly by reducing the back pressure in the exhaust system. That means there's one less resonator - that's silencer to me and you - in the system, there's a whopping great crossover pipe about midway up the tubing and there's also a computer-controlled cut-out that bypasses even more silencers. If you're looking for the reason that the S makes 40 horses more than the garden-variety XKR, look no further than all that stainless steel tubing underneath the frame.

Of course, it's also why this particular big second generation AJ V8 sounds like it just escaped from the high banking at Daytona. There's a sharp-edged crispness that somehow sounds more serious than anything from Mercedes-Benz or BMW. If the bright pastel paint jobs don't convince you that times they are a'changin' at Jaguar then the in-your-face cacophony emanating from those four exhaust pipes surely will.

What's really neat about the new XKR-S, however, is that all this new-found seriousness has not really had an adverse affect on its ability to gobble miles like few other grand touring automobiles. Yes, the XKR-S sounds like an only partially muffled Top Fuelie and, yes, it can circumnavigate the famed Nürburgring in a 911-like seven minutes and 50 seconds, but when it's not playing hooligan, it's pretty much the same old comfortable two-seater it's always been, a fact made all the more remarkable since the XKR-S wears performance-oriented 35-profile Pirelli P-Zeros (30 at the rear) and 30 per cent stiffer shock springing than the XKR.

That means that, while the adaptive dynamics suspension system can be GT3 firm, it can also be almost XJ supple. The steering remains both communicative at high speed yet light enough for granny trolling the supermarket for just the right parking spot. And some of the XKR's handling technology - like the computer-controlled active rear differential - has no deleterious effect on comfort at all. Indeed, the XKR-S's biggest chassis faux pas is that its traction control system - Jaguar's drive control system - is not nearly as track-oriented as Jaguar claims. When the DSC's computer determines that you're just being too silly, its intervention is too abrupt. Without it, the power is virtually unmanageable, but despite having a "track" setting, it's still a little too nannyish.

It's hard to find fault with the powertrain though. The supercharged 5.0L V8 is a model of decorum despite its 550hp and 680Nm of torque. Since the convertible weighs only 43kg more than the coupé, performance remains unaffected, with Jaguar claiming a 4.4 second zero to 100kph acceleration time (identical to the coupé) and top speed of 300kph. Jaguar even says that the third-generation AJ V8 is relatively fuel-efficient.

One could denigrate the XKR's six-speed automatic as retro-techish, but the truth is it performs superbly. Yes, two more gears à la BMW and Audi would improve efficiency even more but it shifts smoothly and incredibly quickly. The trannie is a fairly common ZF autobox so Jaguar is to be commended for its calibration.

The XKR's interior survives pretty much intact in the transition to S. The seats have more bolstering (they're also adjustable) and there are carbon leather trim bits, but otherwise it's identical. That means there's an excellent sound system, comfortable seats and excellent gearstick. Unfortunately, it also means the cabin is a little cramped, the XKR-S's major drawback.

But it matters little. All but a few of 2012's convertible XKR-Ss have been sold and, by 2014, this limited edition will be no longer, Jaguar keeping a tight rein on its exclusivity. Of course, if you get desperate, I suppose you could always commandeer one of those Fancy Dan exhaust systems for your own XKR and then you'll at least have the aural, if not quite the handling, equivalent of this wonderful machine.

Base price Dh619,000

Engine 5.0L supercharged V8

Gearbox Six-speed automatic

Power 550hp @ 6,000 to 6,500rpm

Torque 680Nm @ 2,500 to 5,500rpm

Fuel economy, combined 12.3L/100km