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JAGUAR'S DRAMATIC-LOOKING supercharged S-type flagship, the 'R', is so good that it's hard to pin down precisely the single factor that makes it such an addictively entertaining drive. With notable British understatement it provides formidable high-speed thrills, agile handling and a whisperingly-quiet and soothing ride.
Externally the R doesn't shout about its performance. Okay, so there's a set of striking 18-inch diameter five-spoke star-pattern alloys (8-inch at the front and 9.5-inch on the rear, shod with 245/40 and 275/35 rubber respectively), a subtle lip spoiler on the boot's trailing edge and a de-chromed body. Oh, and a discreet 'R' badge on the bootlid. Yet, if anything, the R's deliberately played-down looks make it appear all the more potent. The sculpted bonnet and quad headlamps, another Jaguar hallmark, only serve to heighten the R's road presence.
Conjuring up evocative images of the legendary C-type racer of the early '50s, the shield-like mesh grille fronts a supercharged version of Jaguar's 4.2-litre V8 engine with 400bhp on tap and 399lb ft of torque enough to effortlessly rocket the R off the line to hit 60mph in just 5.3 seconds and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph.
Better still, it comes as standard with the new six-speed ZF automatic transmission controlled by Jaguar's electronic J-gate gear selector, its six speeds contributing seamless, rapid-fire changes.
For everyday driving, blistering in-gear performance can be taken for granted, with instantly accessible warp-speed acceleration for safe overtaking whenever it's called for. Yet, with in excess of 80 per cent of torque always available from 1,500 rpm, the R is equally at home loping serenely along in sybaritic comfort. At legal motorway speeds the creamy V8 is spinning at less than 2,000 rpm.
However, when you do prod the crank-driven supercharger into life a new sound intrudes into the hushed cabin, so clear it could be coming from the front speakers. A civilised multi-cylinder howl that signals the quick exit of Dr Jekyll and the appearance of an all-powerful Mr Hyde as the S-type R transforms instantaneously from soothing cruiser to searingly-fast sports saloon that satisfies without ever being intimidating or overly demanding.
What is quite hard to convey is just how much fun this transition actually feels. It has to be physically experienced to be appreciated either as a passenger or, ideally in the driver's seat.
So, does absolute power corrupt? Applied to a car, it only corrupts if it's not harnessed correctly. Fortunately Jaguar's engineers are well versed in the application of power, and have done a sterling job with the R. Along with the coveted badge comes sports suspension with, appropriately, CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) two-stage, adaptive damping ride control.
On a twisty, bumpy road, CATS maximises comfort, handling and driver control by switching the system's dampers from their normal 'soft' setting to 'firm' in order to improve stability, particularly during cornering or braking. Another benefit of the R's stiffened suspension and lowered stance is its superior stability in crosswinds.
At low speed, CATS automatically switches the rear dampers slightly ahead of the front pair in order to reduce transient understeer for improved agility and turn-in performance. At high speed, it automatically switches the front dampers ahead of the rear pair to increase understeer for improved stability. Dynamic Stability Control is also fitted as standard to improve handling, particularly at the limit.
Of course there are limits, but you're unlikely ever to breach the S-type R's on a public road. Driving hard over a familiar yet challenging route, our test car exhibited neither under- nor oversteer. Despite an Aston-like 400bhp, and thanks in no small measure to CATS, this particular 'Coventry Cat' is not easy to unsettle.
The steering is positive and feels very 'connected', responding to driver inputs with alacrity and inspiring confidence under all conditions and at all speeds.
Fortunately the supercharged R's ability to go very fast is matched equally by its ability to stop. Brembo race-engineered brakes with large ventilated front and solid rear discs, and a four-channel anti-lock system with brake assist provide exceptional stopping power. Masses of engine braking is always available by simply snicking the J-gate down a couple of gears.
Our experience of driving an S-type R for a week is that you rapidly appreciate that in the R Jaguar has created a very special motor
car one that combines a clever blend of luxury and exhilarating performance in a manner that accurately defines Jaguar-ness.
And when you compare its price with those of similar high-performance offerings from other prestigious manufacturers you also realise how much £48,600 represents value for money. Yet another historic Jaguar trademark.
Although Jaguar do the wood 'n' leather bits so much better than a lot of other luxury car makers, our test car's interior benefited from 'blacked out' wood. The beautiful dark-grey stained bird's eye maple echoed the 'blacked out' chrome on the outside. In the middle of
the full-width fascia is a redesigned centre console that houses the audio and climate control systems, and an optional 7-inch widescreen LCD touch-screen display for the DVD SatNav.
Fit and finish are every bit as good as you would expect, and driver and passenger both enjoy superbly comforable, heavily bolstered R Performance sports seats upholstered in soft leather (ours were black with cranberry perforated leather inserts). Both adjust every which way 16 ways actually, but who's counting and the resulting driving position is about as close to perfection as most people will
The cabin is well laid out and easy on the eye, whether it's the quality materials or the crisp detailing of the instruments with their distinctive dials and slender pointers. It's also loaded with labour saving devices and executive 'toys' to spoil the lucky driver, ranging from a memory system for driver's seat, door mirrors, steering column and pedals (the pedal assembly moves fore or aft at the twist of a steering-column mounted button) to voice-activated controls that will even recognise regional accents.
Other desirable kit includes an electrically adjustable perforated leather steering wheel, one-shot electric windows all-round, auto dim electro-chromic rearview and door mirrors, an electric moonroof, automatic dual-zone climate control and an electronic parking brake you lift
up a switch to engage and press down to release. The brake also applies itself when the key is removed from the ignition, and releases automatically as the gear lever moves out of the 'park' position. Naturally there's also a decent 140-watt sound system with CD and externally there are power fold-back door mirrors and Xenon headlights with headlamp powerwash.
Jaguar haven't stinted on safety either. Standard safety features include Adaptive Restraint Technology System (ARTS) with ultrasonic front passenger sensing that detects the front passenger's weight,
the position of the driver in relation to the steering wheel, whether seatbelts are being worn and, should a crash occur, the severity of the impact. ARTS can greatly reduce the risk of airbag-related injuries caused by inappropriate airbag deployments.
Further safety enhancements include side curtain airbags, front and side airbags, energy-absorbing seats, seat belt pre-tensioners, ISOFIX child seat anchors, decoupling brake pedal mechanism and Emergency Brake Assist. The S-type R's stiffer, stronger body also exceeds worldwide crash legislation.
Ownership worries are adequately take care of by Jaguar's compre-hensive 4-year/50,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty that includes corrosion coverage for 6 years/unlimited mileage as well as wear parts and service adjustments for 1 year/12,500 miles, whichever comes first. Jaguar owners also receive complimentary scheduled maintenance every 12 months or 10,000 miles, up to 50,000 miles or 4 years.
The R will serve faithfully and uncomplainingly as a practical, com-fortable family car and will happily accommodate four adults. The long boot, although shallow, does take a fair amount of luggage. During our road test we managed to achieve an average of 22mpg over mixed driving, and the R returned 30mpg on several long motorway runs with cruise control policing the legal limit.
It seems a pity to rein in the S-type R when you feel certain that it was born to race the wind.
Jaguar S-type 4.2 V8 R | £48,600
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 5.3 seconds
Overall MPG: 22mpg | Power: 400bhp | Torque: 399lb ft
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