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December 15, 2012updated Feb 11, 2013

Test Drive: Jaguar XKR-S

By Chris Boyle

Jaguar XKR-SCadillac ATSFord Mustand GT PremiumNew York, New York—Reported by Mike Daily and Mike Espindle for Elite Traveler, the private jet lifestyle magazine

Jaguar’s XKR-S combines the brand’s elegant sensibilities with an aggressive performance orientation perhaps not seen since the XJ220 supercar of the 1990s. Be on your best behavior—this cat has claws.

With mild roadside manners, understated good looks and a typical premium on luxury, the latest variation of the Jaguar’s sports tourer, the Jaguar XKR-S, tends to bely its identity as the marque’s most powerful production car ever. Until, that is, you rotate the transmission dial to sport mode and press down the checkered-flag button to activate Trac DSC (which attenuates suspension and exhaust settings to their sportiest extreme). Only then does this muscular cat truly show off its supercharged 550-horsepower V8 engine, which catapults the car to 60 mph from standstill in just a blazing 4.2 seconds.

All nuance aside, while the recent announcement of Jaguar’s launch of the two-seat true-sports F Type dominates the brand’s news of late, enthusiasts of pure performance should ignore this car at their peril. First, the nomenclature: The “R” designation denotes a supercharged engine variant. But new suspension improvements as well as exhaust tweaks that push out 40 more horses (as well as toot one of the sweetest exhaust notes we’ve heard this year) create the added “-S.” But the “S” could stand for “specs:” The supercharged and direct-injected 5.0-liter V8 trots out 550 horses at 6,500 rpm and 502 pound-feet of torque between 2,500 and 5,500 rpm. A lightning-fast transmission creates a satisfyingly innate sense of mind-to-engine control, but honestly, the abundance of available power, even in higher gears, means you don’t have to be a genius on the shift to draw out thrills and chills in this impressive car. Governed top speed, by the way, is 186 mph.

While most of the premium price of the XKR-S is devoted to the power plant to be sure, the “S” could also stand for “style.” The to-be-expected elegant wood trim so associated with Jaguar is doffed for anodized aluminum trim upon request, and a premium Bowers & Wilkinson audio system is included. Soft leather seating holds the bar on comfort high, but the cockpit chairs are more strongly bolstered in the XKR-S to counteract the high performance physics of the vehicle. Special exterior badging adds nice eye-catching flair for the cognoscenti. Available in both convertible (from $138,000) and coupe (from $132,000) versions, doesn’t the price and performance bring this powerful cat right up to the rarefied “supercar” strata, even though EPA mileage ratings remain the same as a standard XK (15 mpg/22 mpg)? Of course, we have our own opinion (smile), but doesn’t that kind of smart use of technology just serve to make a car more, well, “super” to begin with?

Quick Takes

Cadillac ATS
Caddy is making no bones about it. With the release of the 2013 ATS, based on an all-new lightweight architecture, it is coming right after the BMW 3 Series, universally heralded as a “perfect” compact luxury car. With a skinny 3,400-pound curb weight, Nürburgring-tested driving dynamics, a stunning 321hp, 3.6-liter V6 (as well as an intriguing 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder power plant) and a sporty but characteristically aggressive exterior vibe, the crosshairs are right on the money. Base price: $47,500 for the V6 Premium version.

Ford Mustang GT Premium
Live out your childhood Matchbox fantasies in America’s ultimate pony car; the appealing Mustang just keeps getting better and better. But there’s more to this premium version than just teenage kicks: A retuned 5.0-liter V8 delivers 420 horsepower and produces a 0-to-60mph giddy-up in about 4.7 seconds. That’s some serious performance to balance out the car’s fun and eminently customizable design details, including a retro neon-green paint scheme that might just match the Mustang in your die-cast model collection. Base price: About $35,000.

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