News and Reviews

How the other one-tenth of one percent lives

The temptation proved overwhelming.

We were wandering around downtown Newburyport on a wonderful mid-August evening, ogling the 100-odd special interest and custom cars on display during the city’s inaugural ’50’s Night.

That’s when the little voice started whispering, “You’ve got to drive the Jag through the crowd on State Street. They’re all car lovers and you should see what kind of reaction it gets.’’

The Jag is this week’s test vehicle, a very-much-out-of-the-ordinary 2012 XKR-S convertible that carries a $140,825 price tag and lives in the exotic supercar category.

As it crept along the periphery of the show cars later that evening, the 550-horsepower supercharged V-8 produced a throaty exhaust burble that turned heads among the muscle-car set and earned its share of attention.

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It should have. Jaguar has produced a number of “legacy’’ vehicles such as the XK120, the XKE, and XJ12, but the XKR-S stands atop the mountain as the quickest and most powerful production sports car in company history.

The base version of the XK is special itself at 385 HP and more reasonable at $90,500 plus the $875 destination charge. However, this top-of-the-line version is almost otherworldly. Our test version had an MSRP of $138,000 with $1,500 for 20-inch black glossVulcan wheels, $450 for gray Jaguar calipers, and the $875 destination charge.

This XKR-S puts Jaguar in the exclusive 300 kilometers per hour class with its 186 mph top speed. That doesn’t mean much to those of us in the daily driver world, but it’s a milestone in the collector/exotic car world. Jaguar’s specs say the XKR-S will do 0-to-60 in 4.2 seconds. While we have no reason to doubt that, we don’t have the equipment to verify it, either. However, it seems even faster when you use that power in real-world applications, almost instantly going from 25-to-50 on an on ramp or 45-60 in a passing situation.

Side note: Please save the emails about testing only cars the average buyer can afford. Sometimes it’s nice to see how the other half—er, one 10th of one percent—live.

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In its understated fashion, Jaguar says the exhaust’s aural feedback encourages and rewards the enthusiastic driver. On the road, that translates to having the car draw enthusiastic thumbs-up gestures from pedestrians and other drivers.

Design director Ian Callum incorporated a carbon-fiber air splitter in front and carbon-fiber center section of a rear wing as part of the XKR-S aerodynamic package. Complementing the gloss-black exterior trim are those Vulcan alloy wheels.

Jaguar has done a superb job in tuning the suspension to both maintain the marque’s legendary ride and enable the vehicle to ride on a rail in hard cornering.

When we went to test the suspension over a favorite torture test—the patched and washed-out stretch of Middle Road behind Governor’s Academy in Newbury—we got a surprise.The local highway department was in the process of repaving the road with what looked like four layers of new hot top.

As we stopped to chat with one of the paving crew (another admirer of the car), he whispered the name of another local road that might be a good place for upcoming suspension tests.

We’ll find that road soon, but this time settled for the much dug-up and patched stretch of Water Street in Newburyport to determine that this Jag’s four-wheel independent suspension passes muster.

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Just sitting in the Jaguar is an experience. Both driver and passenger have 16-way adjustable and heated seats with integrated headrests and shoulder bolsters. Mrs. G took one look at the array of adjusters and triple memory settings and said,“They look like the buttons on an accordion.’’

Mrs. G is a big Jaguar fan, having driven her well-used ’88 XJ6 until it succumbed to rust.

“I miss the old Jag hood emblem,’’she says of this aerodynamic sports car,“but it’s nice to see they kept the leaping Jaguar emblem on the back.’’

The XKR-S represents the latest in Jaguar’s ongoing use of aluminum in both engine and chassis design. The 5.0-liter aluminumV-8 with a fourcamshaft design is the third generation of this power plant, and the supercharger with its two intercoolers is the sixth-generation of that unit.

All the power (and 502 lb.-ft. of torque) is delivered to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, and there’s so much available oomph that it’s one time when using the available paddle shifters is pure fun.

In this age of keyless entry and ignitions, you start the engine via a pushbutton on the center console. However, it’s not just any pushbutton.This one pulsates with a red glow, reflecting the exhaust note and heartbeat of the engine.

As the engine fires up, the Drive Selector knob rises out of the console like a theater stage setting.

In this car, it all fits.

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