Jaguar XKR-S Review from the Nurburgring
Phil Talboys and our contributing editor puts the "Monster Cat" through its paces at the Ring By Karl Peskett - Teamspeed contributing Editor
The supercharged Jaguar V8 is roaring at 6000rpm when Phil Talboys, Jaguar’s European Test Operations team leader, turns to me and asks if I’m alright.
“Yep.” A simple reply. My helmet is hitting the roll-cage, and Talboys isn’t convinced.
“You sure?” he asks.
He knows I’m not letting him in on something. Perhaps the green colour is giving something away. The fact is, if I say any more, I can’t keep my stomach compressed, and after several laps that’s something I need to do.
Teamspeed has been invited to the Nurburgring, the track that resets the bar for any piece of tarmac you’ll have ever been on. But what you don’t realize, until you get here (GT5 doesn’t give you the same sensation, obviously), is the extreme change in elevation throughout the length of the Nordschleife. Lateral movement on any track is expected, and won’t set off motion sickness in most people, but the 600ft height difference from one end of the track to the other will. Especially, lap after lap after lap. As the car drops down into the sweeping dip again, my stomach is forced down and then as we approach a crest immediately after, it rises. The car swings right and then left, inertia keeping my stomach going the opposite way. Not. Feeling. Well.
Talboys seems to have worked out what’s going on. But his pace doesn’t cease. A wry smile appears on his face. More crests, more bumps, more dips. If this doesn’t end soon, the camouflage on the car will end up a slightly different colour.
“Want to go again?” he asks, knowing the answer, almost laughing. Pulling into the exit, we take off our helmets and it’s time to wind down the windows, let some fresh air in, and recover for a while.
We’re here to experience a development car for the first time. While plenty of tests have shown us that Jaguar’s new XKR-S is an absolutely cracking drive, we’ve been invited to see what hundreds of thousands of kilometers will do to a test car.
“Do you know why we chose the Nordschleife as our testing ground?” asks Talboys. “The track gives us a 1:100 ratio when testing cars; one kilometre on the Nordschleife equals 100 kilometres in the real world.”
It’s easy to see why. The Nordschleife has the most punishing surface of any track in the world, with cars constantly hitting ripple strips, hopping kerbs, lifting off the deck, and receiving a general hammering. Talboys says this XKR-S development mule has just undergone what he calls the Enthusiastic Driver Robustness test before the production car was launched. Around 390 laps of the Nordschleife were completed during testing, equating to around 8000km on the track. The 1:100 ratio springs to mind. You do the math.
What’s remarkable, however, is how tight the car still feels. Sure, there’s a roll cage holding everything together, but the stock trim is still in place. The suspension is still off-the-shelf gear and the brakes are standard issue production calipers. This is not a clapped out, just-holding-together automobile. This is a car that remains compliant and responsive, despite its hard life. Probably the thorough testing procedure helps here.
We get out of the car and Talboys points to a piece of wire resting on the front discs.
“See that sensor? That’s for measuring the disc temperatures,” he says. “They get to around 650 degrees, you know. We even measure the brake fluid temperature. Keeping an eye on everything means we don’t get massive warping of the discs or boiling of the fluid. Our owners can’t have that.” Inside the development car there are instrument boxes, wires and sensors everywhere. “We test everything: ABS, traction and stability control, engine cooling cycles, transmission longevity – everything.”
“When we’re finished testing a model here, it’s completely production ready and ready for the real world. In fact, you can bring your Jaguar here to the Nordschleife and even after a hundred laps, all you’ll have to change is tyres and brakes. The car will handle it.”
Earlier in the day we proved what he says. We’ve been piloting the latest supercharged models – XFR, XKR, XJ Supersport – and each of them has been constantly lapping the Nordschliefe. None of them suffer brake fade, none of them overheat. They all feel like you could keep going on the track for months on end.
The XKR-S mule, however, is actually more impressive than that. When asked how long it takes to truck the car to the Nurburgring, Talboys smiles.
“We don’t truck it. I drive it.”
“Yep. And back again.”
You see, the car has been designed so you can drive it to a track, race around for hours and then drive it home. In the most extreme case, Jaguar built it so you can theoretically drive to the Nordschleife from England without breaking a sweat. But “theoretically” doesn’t seem to be in Phil Talboy’s vocabulary, and so he does it – with every new Jaguar model.
He’s based in Germany for 17 weeks in every year. Since 2003, Jaguar set up its own testing centre right here at the Nordschleife, to ensure the most is extracted from every test car. Phil consequently knows the ‘Ring better than most. His lines and his smoothness behind the wheel demonstrate intimate knowledge of the track. His testing and refinement also demonstrates intimate knowledge of the car.
It turns in sharper than a regular XKR and resists body roll more assuredly. When the normal XKR feels a little switchy under uphill braking, the XKR-S doesn’t. You can punch the throttle earlier exiting corners, you can brake later. The XKR-S’s ability to withstand the constant suspension pounding is nothing short of mind-blowing. It soaks up hits without becoming flustered, but maintains huge grip levels, and with its heavier steering, it’s all the more involving.
Then there’s the power. With a remapped ECU and a revised exhaust, system, the XKR-S now makes 550ps and a whopping 680Nm. It’ll do 0-60mph in just 4.2 seconds – not slow in anyone’s books. It’s more growly, more aggressive, and the ZF six-speed’s shifts are sharper and more punchy in sport mode (incidentally, in normal mode, it’s just as smooth). Aerodynamic revisions sees lift reduced by 26 percent, too.
I met with Dr Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, at a press conference a few days later. Standing next to him was Frank Klaas, head of global communications at JLR. Dr Speth asked me how I enjoyed the car. After explaining that I was most impressed with the newfound power and decreased shift times, I said it was the suspension that really blew me away. A huge beaming smile appeared across his face. Fist pumps are strictly unprofessional, so the look of pride that he shot Frank would have to do.
All of this brilliance didn’t come about by accident. Yes, the work Phil Talboys does has paid off, and brings Jaguar back into the serious sports car fray without any reservation. A luxury car that can tackle the most formidable track in the world? Well, that’s any of the Jags, really; they’ve all been put through the ringer here in Germany.
It proves the big cat is back. And this time it’s got some really sharp claws.