I’d been so calm up until now. Up until a large Russian man pushed me to the flimsy door of the aircraft. Now, dangling my feet 27,000 feet above the Arabian Gulf, I start to contemplate the sanity of what I’m about to do. My smile starts to crack, and suddenly I’m falling, tumbling, screaming…
Rewind a few hours, and I’m leaving the very pleasant Al Maha desert resort in the middle of the UAE. It’s early morning, and I’ve awoken at 6am to find two gazelle grazing outside my room. It’s still, tranquil and the slightest bit chilly, despite the Middle East’s inexorable rise toward summertime sweatiness. Why am I here? Well, blame Jaguar. The company, still working hard to shed its historic pipe-and-slippers image, has organised two days of activities for journalists – more lifestyle titles than motoring mags, it must be noted – designed to fit in with its latest brand message of feeling ALIVE (the capitals are all important, apparently). Consequently a platoon of lucky scribes spent yesterday wafting to Al Maha in a fleet of XJs, wiling away the afternoon by their own private pools and sauntering through the huge stretch of wildlife reserve that the resort sits in.
Sadly, I wasn’t one of them. I’d been flat out on another story and arrived late, heading straight to dinner before collapsing into my admittedly very comfortable bed. And now, while the massed ranks of the media sleep off the previous day’s indulgences, I’m up and leaving at 7am having spent no more than 20 minutes actually enjoying the luxurious surroundings. You see, chilling out with an XJ is all very good, but it’s not really crankandpiston’s idea of feeling alive. Our idea of living usually involves stiffer springs and more horsepower. And this morning, it comes in a very fetching shade of blue, adorned with badges that say things like ‘Supercharged’ and ‘XKR-S’.
The XKR-S is the most hardcore of the latest generation XK sports car. This is fitting, as it’s the XK that started the transformation of Jaguar’s image back in 2006. With stunning contemporary lines penned by designer extraordinaire Ian Callum, it set the standard for the revamp of the whole range. Now on its second facelift, the underpinnings are slightly ageing, but there are plenty of up to date features. In the XKR-S, the most notable feature is the supercharged 5.0l V8 engine, blowing out 542bhp to the rear wheels. That should be enough to get our blood pumping!
So that’s step one of today. I’ll head from Al Maha for a thrash around the quiet desert roads outside Dubai. And when I’m done, I’ll drive towards the Palm Jumeirah for step two. Here I’ll meet up with the rest of the journalists enjoying Jaguar’s hospitality. After luring them in with food and fancy cushions at Al Maha, day two will see our hosts load them and me into an aeroplane and then chuck us out. The plan is that falling from 27,000 feet above Skydive Dubai will make us feel ALIVE and reinforce the new brand image. Journalistic cynicism aside, I fervently hope they’re right, because the alternative is landing hard and being DEAD.
First things first though. As the sun struggles to rise through a sandy haze over the dunes and shrubs surrounding the resort, I head to the XKR-S. The shape may be some six years old now, but’s it’s a classic sports car silhouette – long bonnet, short overhangs, coupe roofline. The haunches are poised, the arches filled with big black alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber. The XKR-S model has the bonnet vents adorned with Supercharged motifs, and the front bumper has a carbon fibre splitter waiting to carve through the air. A carbon rear wing sits atop the bootlid to complete the look. The effect leaves onlookers in no doubt to the car’s performance intentions, and the updated front and rear lights keep things looking fresh even after more than half a decade.
Inside, there are hugging wingback sports seats to settle into, clad in black leather and stitched with blue thread matching the exterior paint hue. An R-S logo is embroidered into each headrest and the doors are upholstered in a material that resembles carbon fibre. I’m still a little bleary from the early start, but I’m excited. And that excitement builds when I push the start button mounted on the transmission tunnel. There’s a pause, and the engine ignites with a burst of sound that’s indicative of some serious grunt. The gear selector dial next to the start button rises from its resting place, and I twist it to D. The shortest of blats to the main road follows. I don’t want to thrash it yet; I’m waiting for the engine to warm up, but a subtle squeeze of the throttle shows the performance that awaits later on.
The quiet muted burble transmogrifies into a hard-edged warble as the revs climb, and the acceleration is instant and insistent. I smile and feel my heart rate climb slightly, before settling into a 120kph cruise on the freeway. The iPhone clips into place and I’m soon enjoying some early morning tunes. There may be thunder and lightning to follow, but the XKR-S does an admirable job of being a GT car when not being worked. The ride, though hardly rivalling an S-Class, is beautifully damped and nothing on my journey into Dubai comes close to feeling harsh, not even speed bumps. The B&W stereo is excellent, the cruise control buttons beautifully set into the leather-lined steering wheel. It’s thoroughly relaxing and punctuated only by the occasional rasping blaaarp as I pop in some overtakes.
With snapper Tom and gear safely loaded up in Dubai, I head back out of town, clearing the traffic and speed cameras and finally onto desert roads where I can open the XKR-S up.
Shots courtesy of Thomas Richardson