2012 Jaguar XKR-S Convertible – First Drive Review

Every car in America can find its way to 75 mph on a road. (Well, almost.) But 175 mph? Outside of being strapped to a rocket, a car must have sufficient power, optimized aerodynamics, and at least a mile of straightaway free of heaves, dips, potholes, and wavering Winnebagos. While finding such a stretch in America may be tough (but not impossible—more on that later), the list of cars able to hit 175 just got longer with the arrival of the stunning 2012 Jaguar XKR-S convertible.

It will be rare, however: Only 200 of the $138,875 convertibles will come to America between 2012 and 2014. All 25 of the 2012 XKR-S convertibles are spoken for, says Jaguar, as is most of the U.S.’s 2012 allotment of 100 XKR-S coupes. Both the coupe and this convertible are powered by a 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 pumping out 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque mated to a specially tuned ZF six-speed automatic. With 40 more horsepower and an extra 41 lb-ft of twist compared to the $104,375 XKR convertible, the 2012 XKR-S droptop is the most powerful and expensive Jaguar since the 1992–1994 XJ220 supercar, and the priciest Jaguar ragtop ever.

Looks the Part

In both body styles, the XKR-S eschews the XK/XKR’s design purity in favor of aerodynamic devices intended to keep the car stable as it approaches its 186-mph governed top speed. They also deliver extreme visuals. The XK’s conical nose is transformed into a menacing face fitted with outrigger “nacelles” intended to streamline airflow along the wheel faces. The car also is fitted with an extra-deep chin spoiler, widened rocker panels, a restyled rear fascia, and a tall rear spoiler. Lower by 0.4 inch compared with regular XKRs, this car appears cinched down on its 255/35 front and 295/30 rear Pirelli P Zero tires. Stir in the gorgeous, smoke-colored 20-inch forged wheels; the incredibly comfortable and aggressive-looking sport seats; the textured aluminum interior trim; and we’re comfortable saying that a manlier Jaguar convertible has never roamed the streets.

Still Light, Still Nimble. Only Quicker. And Louder

We sampled the XKR-S convertible over San Diego County’s mountain roads, and there the chassis shined. The front and rear springs rates are 28 percent stiffer than the XKR’s, but a set of active dampers keep harshness from killing the ride quality, even in the car’s “Trac DSC” setting, which puts the throttle, transmission, and suspension settings into full attack mode. The steering feels even more alive than the precise steering of the XKR.

Thanks in part to an electronic active rear differential, the rear-drive XKR-S is able to transfer a good amount of the V-8’s formidable power to the ground even when accelerating hard out of corners. Straighter sections of road can be shortened with a firm stab of the go pedal, at which point any sag-prone skin on one’s face will get a temporary reprieve from gravity. Buckets of feedback emanate from just about every nut and bolt in the XKR-S, and cruising speeds as high as 120 mph feel entirely manageable. And there are no words to describe the meticulously tuned exhaust system at full scream—the outboard exhaust pipes have active flaps that open under increased load. If there is a bone to pick, it is with the high level of cabin noise during top-up cruising.

We Feel the Need, the Need for . . .

Jaguar says that the XK convertible’s body is stiff enough to handle all of the XKR-S coupe’s numerous powertrain and suspension upgrades with no structural enhancements. And, well, we will admit to a feeling of déjà vu that recalled our first drive of the XKR-S coupe last year. Built into this particular event, however, was a full-tilt acceleration run down the 9500-foot-long Runway 8A at El Centro Naval Air Station (the winter home of the Blue Angels), with the intent to see just how close we could get to the car’s 186-mph top speed.

We knew before fastening our seatbelt that 186 would be unachievable in the 5000 feet provided for acceleration before entering the specified braking zone. But we figured 170 or 175 would be doable. Here was our process:

1) Get into position at end of runway. 2) Select “S” on the transmission dial. 3) Ensure the aggressive “Trac DSC” mode is engaged by pressing a button on the center console. 4) While on the brake with your left foot, get on the throttle with your right to the tune of about 3000 rpm. 5) Release brake and mat throttle. 6) Hold the hell on.

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