It may share the same 542bhp supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine used across the Jaguar performance range, but the alphabet soup name alone tells you that this coupe is a little different. Of course, there’s a regular V8 XK coupe; then there’s the breathed-on XKR. Take another step and you’re in the hot XKR-S – so the GT version takes the game up to stratospheric heights as the fastest Jag this side of the XJ220.
It looks over the top on the outside…
And we love it. Only 30 of these cars will be built with Jaguar’s Clockwork Orange treatment, making this one of the most fearsome, angry road cars you’ll ever see. With its black Dark Lord nose, carbon aero fangs on the front bumper and massive carbon splitter, it looks like it’ll swallow your kids if it gets within two blocks. The bonnet stripes and that aping rear wing all scream confidence and a brashness that you’ll need a Lamborghini to compete with, and it sounds just as brutal. This has to be nominated for the best sounding car on sale in 2014.
So that cabin’s stripped out?
Partially: look closely inside, and you’ll see the crossbars of the roll-cage that’s taken care of the back seats and forms part of the super-stiff chassis set up. This XK isn’t just a little harder, but a whopping 68% stiffer up front and 25% at the rear than the XKR-S, which must make a regular XK feel like a bowl of custard. Adding to the feeling of solidarity is the racing seats – single-piece carbon-shelled jobbies covered in leather and Alcantara, which also covers the regular XKR steering wheel and the roof lining, while there’s carbon on the doors, too.
What’s it like to drive?
You need courage to drive a car like this on the street, with its bravado and visual aggression, and it’s no different behind the wheel. Drive the GT like a ‘normal’ car, and you’ve wasted the £130k you’ve spent in getting one of these rare machines. Of course, the driving position is snug and low down, with excellent steering adjustment and those bright-red racing harnesses telling you this car means business. There are regular seatbelts if you prefer, but the view through the rear mirror of the roll-cage, like two crosses swords, and that massive wing, egg you to use the race versions. Rear vision isn’t great, but those seats aren’t too hard even on long journeys – just avoid the solid bolsters when clambering in and out.
The red mist has to be contained, because if you’re complacent, the GT will easily make you swallow more than your pride. In the wet of recent heavy rains, this car requires brains and measure to drive at all, yet alone quickly. It’s 0-62mph claim is 3.9sec and is utterly believable in the dry, but a VW Golf R will leave it for dead in the wet, as the Jag’s more than eager to spin its 20in rear wheels. Despite this, the Dynamic Stability Control is pretty amazing. In default mode (that’s non-dynamic, ESP on) in torrential conditions, the tail will twitch at will – just prod the throttle – but the computer will catch it almost instantly. Flick it into Dynamic mode, and great tail-out action is part of the deal, but it still puts the power down reasonably if you’re smooth on the throttle.
So it’s a handful in the wet but masterful in the dry?
The GT is brilliant on dry roads and smooth surfaces, with tenacious grip and road holding, while its rigid set-up means that there’s almost no dive and squat whether you’re giving it 542bhp or jamming on the ceramic brakes. The stoppers don’t have masses of feel, but are solid performers, while the loud pedal has a smooth action before a nice beefy centre, where your foot commands that sonorous V8. That’s what this car is all about: making the most of the ridiculous 502lb ft torque and channeling that engine’s ability through the car to the road.
The regular XKR-S isn’t a good enough performer to be considered an capable point-to-point performer: it’s simply too soft, doesn’t change direction with the competence it needs to and is more of a show-off cruiser. This GT winds up the trash talk but actually delivers: it’s steering is super responsive, the weight transfer executed superbly and the traction levels – while still a tyre shop’s delight with the ESP switched off – in the dry see this coupe punch you into the future with ease. It’s addictive, confidence inspiring and pure joy, and part of that comes from the fact that you’re teetering on the edge of disaster: it’s snappy and will bite in the wet, and lets you know it.
Managing that power is the older six-speed ’box, one of the few signs that the XK is now a seven-year old car. It’s not as razor sharp in its changes as the eight-speed ZF in other Jags, but with those superb metal shift paddles, with the plus and minus symbols elegantly cut out of the metal, it doesn’t ruin the experience. At cruising altitude in this badass cat, an aggressive dose of right foot sees the Jag kickdown two gears, the snap and crackle of that V8 backing a ferocious bite forward. You’ll be searching tunnels to bounce that sound off.
This car as entertaining as a Jag gets right now: it’s edgy, demands confidence and maturity while exuding a brash, attention seeking exterior. It turns heads when it’s parked. So it should, though, for something that costs £130k – £30k more than an XKRS and nearly double the base coupe’s price. The best news? This pricey, limited edition GT shows that Jag isn’t blind to what proper performance car driver wants: it’s ditched the wallowy softness of the XKRS’ set-up for a razor sharp, razor’s edge thrilling experience. So we can expect great things from the F-type R, as the XKR-S GT piles on an even greater weight of expectation.