2012 Jaguar XKR-S review: 2012 Jaguar XKR-S

Cabin technology: Falling behind the curve
I mentioned earlier that the Jaguar XK and XKR-S' X150 chassis has gone largely unchanged for more than six years at this point, and although the cabin technology suite isn't nearly as old, the dashboard infotainment system is starting to show its age. The touch-screen interface looks a lot like something that I built during my first year of art school in Web Design 1101 and really has no place in the dashboard of a car.

Visually, there's not really much wrong with the Jaguar infotainment interface: it's brightly colored with high contrast, features large virtual buttons that are easy to hit, and is more or less consistent in its placement of elements. However, the whole thing falls apart when you begin to navigate through its menus. For starters, the whole system is based around a hub "Home" screen, which is a bad idea in a car. Because the system lacks physical buttons that take you directly to an area of the interface (climate, audio, or navigation, for example) you have to backtrack to this hub screen and back out to the area of control you seek. So if you're on the map screen and want to change audio sources, you have to first go Home and then back out to Audio before you can make that change.

The touch-screen interface is cluttered but usable. However, slow transitions and unstoppable animations almost ruin the experience.

The lack of physical shortcuts to each menu area is just part of the problem. Jaguar seems to place other odd functions within the touch-screen interface where honest-to-goodness physical buttons would be better. For example, the seat and steering-wheel heater controls are located on the home screen; a pair of knobs on the center console and a small button on the back of the steering wheel would be much more ergonomic.

This organizational issue is compounded by the fact that Jaguar's interface isn't the most responsive and features slow, unskippable transition animations between each menu screen. You could easily do a 0-60 run in the time it takes to handle the navigation-to-audio transition I mentioned above, and I'm sure that you'd be done with a quarter-mile by the time you're done adjusting the EQ.

However, the Jaguar's cabin tech situation isn't all doom and gloom. The 525-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system is simply sublime, its Kevlar-coned speakers working in perfect harmony with the Jag's coffin-quiet cabin to create fantastically balanced sound, reproducing the subtle piano and slightly off-key vocals of Esperanza Spalding's "Fall In" with remarkable delicacy. This system was also interesting in that it was nearly impossible to get out of sorts. I was able to crank the bass all of the way up to emphasize the low-end kick of the Roots' "How I Got Over" without any noticeable rattle and with reasonably low levels of audible distortion even at high volumes.

The Bowers & Wilkins audio system easily handled everything we threw at it, from hip-hop to classical.

Available audio sources include a six-disc in-dash CD changer, AM/FM/satellite radio, and a USB/iPod connection. The XKR-S also features Bluetooth hands-free calling with voice command, but no audio streaming. The coupe also lacked an analog auxiliary input, despite the fact that Jaguar's materials claim this connection is standard. Without Bluetooth or analog audio inputs most non-iPhone smartphones can't connect to the audio system for music, so I hope you haven't thrown out that collection of CDs just yet.

Also standard is Jaguar's GPS navigation system with traffic and a rearview camera that takes over the 7-inch dashboard display when reversing. Both systems are rather rudimentary by CNET standards. The rearview camera lacks moving trajectory lines, but makes up for it with an audible proximity alert. The navigation system is as slow to transition between screens as the rest of the interface and is nowhere near as pretty as the systems offered by BMW, Audi, or even Infiniti. There are no connected services, Facebook or Twitter updates, or app integration. None of that strikes me as odd; this is an old system. What does strike me as odd is that, despite offering fewer features than the Germans, Jaguar's interface -- through its laggy response and odd organizational structure -- manages to be more of a distraction while moving.

In sum: '60 percent of the time, it works every time'
In the 2004 film "Anchorman," Brian Fantana presents to Ron Burgundy a particularly pungent cologne called Sex Panther by Odion, making the preposterous claim that "60 percent of the time, it works every time" when it comes to wooing women. That bizarre claim is what kept popping into my head as my week with the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S progressed. Most of the time, the driver's seat of Jaguar's sexy panther was an enviable place to be, but every now and then I'd be left scratching my head by some disappointing behavior or design decision. For example, while the uberpremium stereo system sounded fantastic, I was constantly questioning why a 21st-century car stereo doesn't offer A2DP Bluetooth streaming or an auxiliary input. The acceleration and power were exhilarating, but to equip the "race-ready" XKR-S with that goofy drive select knob seemed like an odd decision on Jag's part. And whose idea was it to equip the fastest Jaguar ever with the slowest navigation system on earth? Thankfully, the XKR-S' ratio of what works to what doesn't is much more generous than the fictitious cologne's 60/40 success rate. Consider me sufficiently wooed.

There may be better-performing cars below the XKR-S' price point, but that doesn't diminish this big cat's allure.

However, the thing about Jaguars is that you don't generally find yourself at a Jaguar dealership because you're looking for the absolute best-performing vehicle for the money. The irony here is that owning "the fastest, most powerful production Jaguar model ever sold" is less about performance than it is about making a statement. Sure, the Porsche 911 Carrera S that we had in for testing in the same week is more fun to drive, more fuel-efficient, and much less expensive -- and, in the hands of the right driver, it could probably run circles around the Jaguar despite its power deficit. And, sure, a 2012 Mustang Shelby GT500 makes much more sense on paper, but if you've fallen under the spell of Jaguar's sex panther XKR-S, none of that really matters.

You find yourself fingering your checkbook because you want a Jag. In sinister Ultimate Black Metallic paint, the XKR-S is a rolling fashion statement, a $132,875 (including $875 destination charge) expression of wealth, style, and 1-percenter success that stands out in a way that a sea of silver Benzes and Bimmers and all of the Mustangs in the world never could.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Jaguar XKR-S coupe
Trim R-S
Power train 5-liter supercharged V-8, 6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy 15 city, 22 highway mpg
Observed fuel economy 18.75
Navigation Yes, with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Yes
Disc player 6-disc, single-slot CD changer
MP3 player support Standard USB connection with iPod compatibility
Other digital audio Satellite radio
Audio system 525-watt Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system (standard)
Driver aids Rearview camera, audible proximity alert
Base price $130,000
Price as tested $130,875

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