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

2012 Jaguar XKR-S

Antuan Goodwin

Antuan Goodwin

Reviews Editor / Cars

Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and performance to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.

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11 min read

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It's a modern muscle car, one of the few vehicles that pulls off the whole "retro styling" trend without looking goofy. It's powered by a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 engine that outputs 550 horsepower and around 500 pound-feet of torque. It's a large rear-wheel-drive coupe that seats two comfortably with a pair of rear seats that are better suited for holding small parcels than small people. It's got big 20-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension, and looks stunning in black. Oh, and it costs a smidge over $130,000! On paper, the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S coupe looks a lot like the world's most expensive Mustang Shelby GT500, but from the driver's seat, it's so much more.

2012 Jaguar XKR-S

2012 Jaguar XKR-S

The Good

The <b>2012 Jaguar XKR-S</b> makes great power with its supercharged V-8 engine and backs it up with fantastic, grippy handling. The Bowers & Wilkins audio system offers balanced sound and nearly unflappable power. Slinky styling and a throaty exhaust make this Jaguar nearly as nice to watch from the outside as it is to drive.

The Bad

The infotainment system seems grossly outdated, featuring odd organization and slow screen transitions. Lack of Bluetooth streaming and an analog audio connection lock non-iPhone users out of listening to digital audio on their smartphones.

The Bottom Line

The irony is that the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S' allure as "the fastest, most powerful production Jaguar model ever sold" is less about powerful performance than it is about making a powerful statement.

Performance: The world's most expensive Mustang
I'm only half-joking by calling the XKR-S an overpriced 2012 Mustang Shelby GT500. The two cars have more in common than you might think. The XK's X150 chassis is largely unchanged since the vehicle was designed back in the days of Ford's ownership of the Jaguar brand, so there's a bit of quasi-shared heritage.

I've already mentioned the similarities in power train configuration (although the Jag's 5-liter supercharged V-8 displaces less than the Ford's 5.4 liters), power (550 horsepower, exactly the same as the 'Stang), and torque (502 pound-feet, only 8 shy of the Ford's 510 pound-feet) output. The Jaguar will hit 60 mph from a stop in about 4.2 seconds, which is just 0.2 shy of the Ford, but while both cars sound fantastic racing away from a traffic light, I'd have to give the aural edge to the XKR-S. The Jag's curb weight is within 150 pounds of the Shelby's, despite its being slightly wider and longer and much, much more luxurious in the cabin. Even the Jaguar XKR-S' EPA estimated 15 city and 22 highway mpg are within a single highway mpg of the Mustang's estimates. Filling the tank up at the end of a week of mostly docile driving for one last day on the still-slippery roads north of San Francisco, I calculated that the XKR-S had managed 18.75 miles per gallon, which wasn't too bad considering the Pavlovian response that the Jag's exhaust note triggered in my pedal foot.

The XKR-S looks and sounds as good going as it does coming thanks to a well-sculpted rump and quad exhaust tips.

Bench racers keeping score are no doubt beginning to question spending $83,000 more on an XKR-S; where does the extra money go? We'll get around to discussing the cabin in a moment, but it should be no surprise that a large chunk of that price difference goes to making the Jaguar more comfortable than most people's houses.

For starters, getting this big ol' Jag down to fighting weight isn't cheap. Jaguar started by revising the front double wishbone suspension, making use of aluminum to lighten and stiffen certain components. The independent, double-wishbone setup on the rear axle receives a similar treatment. The Jaguar's suspension is more complex and, theoretically, more precise at both ends than the Mustang's MacPherson strut and live rear-axle setup.

Looking around the body, it's easy to see that Jaguar has used carbon fiber for many of the XKR-S' aerodynamic tweaks, including the front splitter, rear diffuser, and decklid spoiler. In its wheel wells, XKR-S rolls on 20-inch wheels with slightly wider rubber than those on the GT500. Those wheels house 15.75-inch brakes with double-piston calipers on the front end and 13.8-inch discs out back with single-piston stoppers. Over the standard XK and XKR, the XKR-S also gains revisions to its active suspension and automatic transmission programs.

On the road: More than a numbers game?
I know what you're thinking: how dare I sit here and compare this great British racing machine and 2011 Sports Car of the Year winner to a lowly Ford Mustang? (You probably even thought it in a weird faux-British accent. I know that I did.)

The truth is that while you technically can compare the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S with a 2012 Ford Shelby GT500 by the numbers, doing so is sort of missing the point. Sure, both cars will hustle away from a stoplight with similar zeal, but if you're drag racing kids in Mustangs and 370Zs with your XKR-S, you're doing it wrong. The Jaguar has nothing to prove; it's already done that with its price tag. We get it, you win.

No, about half of driving the XKR-S is about the touchy-feely "experience" that we automotive journalists love to rave about. It's the effortless way that the coupe mashes your eyeballs into the back of their sockets as it rockets away from a stop, its throaty exhaust roaring more out of joy than exertion. The Jag's single-option, six-speed automatic gearbox is less than ideal for racing -- this is a torque-converter automatic and as good as it is, it will never be as quick or direct as a BMW M6's dual-clutch gearbox -- but it does its job smoothly and consistently. You can select your own ratios via the paddle shifters located on the back of the largish steering wheel, but you'd probably be just as happy letting the gearbox's Sport and Competition programs handle it for you.

When your gear selector looks like this, just let the computer do the shifting for you.

But power and acceleration are easy with enough displacement and forced induction -- anyone can do that. What surprised me the most was just how nimble this big cat is.

Let's get back to that last day of wet roads that I mentioned earlier. From the driver's seat of the XKR-S, I followed Senior Editor Wayne Cunningham in the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S -- not exactly a competitor for the Jaguar, but an interesting benchmark. The slippery conditions pretty much mitigated the Jaguar's approximately 100-horsepower advantage over the German coupe, but even with a light foot and more than a few extra pounds to carry around every bend, the big Jaguar was able to hang fairly close to the rear bumper of the car that is easily the gold standard for vehicle handling. I was able to easily yaw the XKR-S around bends with the accelerator thanks to the Active Differential Control and the Sport mode's more liberal levels of acceptable wheelspin.

The Jaguar XKR-S simply hugged each of the rain-soaked corners, only slipping when we asked it to.

This is a car that's capable of long, "Top Gear"-esque power slides in the hands of a skilled driver; abrupt throttle inputs by a moronic one can generate snap oversteer on damp asphalt. But it doesn't really feel like either of those behaviors is what the XKR-S wants to do. Save for a slight waggle of the tail when powering into a long, clear straight, the Jag was remarkably hesitant to do anything but grip and grip and grip. You wouldn't know it by simply driving it, but the XKR-S is fitted with Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS, how clever). There are no obvious ways for the driver to interact with this system, though; it simply does what it does with remarkable transparency.

Switching seats with Cunningham and taking a turn in the Porsche, I was unsurprised to find that it was much more involved than the Jaguar. When the turns got twisty and the speedo began to climb, I found the 911's steering to be much more direct, the suspension much more communicative, and the throttle and PDK gearbox to be darn near telepathic. On a dry day, the XKR-S would definitely have a hard time keeping up with the 911 S on those twisty roads, for sure. That said, most cars short of a Nissan GT-R would lose a handling contest to the 911, so the fact that the Jaguar XKR-S (a car that I just finished comparing with a Mustang) can be mentioned with a straight face is telling.

What's more, the Jag does all of this while surrounding the driver in opulence. Nearly every surface is covered in leather upholstery (including the headliner), and the 16-way adjustable seats do a great job of holding the driver's tush in place as the big black cat claws its way around a corner.

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
Model2012 Jaguar XKR-S coupe
Power train5-liter supercharged V-8, 6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy15 city, 22 highway mpg
Observed fuel economy18.75
NavigationYes, with traffic
Bluetooth phone supportYes
Disc player6-disc, single-slot CD changer
MP3 player supportStandard USB connection with iPod compatibility
Other digital audioSatellite radio
Audio system525-watt Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system (standard)
Driver aidsRearview camera, audible proximity alert
Base price$130,000
Price as tested$130,875
2012 Jaguar XKR-S

2012 Jaguar XKR-S

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 5Performance tech 8Design 8


See full specs Trim levels XKR-SAvailable Engine GasBody style Coupe