25 Years of Jaguar R Performance Cars

26 March 2013

The ‘R’ badge adorns the flagship performance models in the Jaguar range. It denotes cars that are effortlessly thrilling, technically state-of-the-art and dramatically designed.

The Jaguar 'R' brand 

The 'R' badge adorns the flagship performance models in the Jaguar range. It denotes cars that are effortlessly thrilling, technically state-of-the-art and dramatically designed. 

First engineered by Jaguar 25 years ago, the 'R' cars each have a focus on dynamic ability that heightens driver reward on the road, yet with an approach that means they are still practical for everyday use.

With a distinctive, louder soundtrack that promises higher levels of performance from start-up, the 'R' cars are designed to empower rather than overpower, adding excitement and enhancing driver enjoyment.

Acceleration is dramatic and precisely delivered, while levels of body control, steering precision and high-speed stability are significantly enhanced. Uprated aerodynamics, improved agility and a more responsive feel elevate the driving experience, while distinctive design and high quality sporting materials and finishes give the cars instantly recognisable and purposeful looks. All of which comes without compromise to the high levels of comfort and luxury that Jaguar is traditionally known for.

The Jaguar R-S models, through technical and performance upgrades, add further to the sporting specifications of the 'R' cars, while the limited edition Jaguar GT models are the ultimate vehicles, with inspiration taken from the race track to create focused, performance cars with an emphasis on dynamic ability and speed. 

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In the beginning… 

The very first Jaguars to bear the R badge were the XJR racing cars which campaigned in the World Sportscar Championship and American IMSA series from 1983. The best-known was the Jaguar V12-powered XJR-9 in which Andy Wallace, Johnny Dumfries and Jan Lammers took victory at Le Mans in 1988, the first Jaguar win since the D-type success of the 1950s. The same year, Martin Brundle won the WSCC in his XJR-9 by a record margin, and he too would go on to win Le Mans in the closely related XJR-12 in 1990.

Jaguar's racing partner TWR had successfully campaigned the XJ-S in the European Touring Car Championship, and had built small numbers of tuned road cars inspired by its racing cars and badged XJR-S. In the midst of the 1988 season, Jaguar decided to develop the R badge officially, and established JaguarSport as a joint venture with TWR to build low-volume, high-performance, R-badged road cars. Later, it would take their design and build entirely in-house.

Now, a quarter of a century later, Jaguar can look back at a long line of fast, powerful yet always graceful R cars, and forward to future models with levels of technology and performance that those who engineered the originals couldn't have imagined.

Martin Brundle on how Jaguar's racing success in the late '80s led to the success of the R cars:

"It was hardcore racing back then. There was huge competition between the manufacturers and the fans loved those Group C cars. Everything was right about it. When I look back now, it was just one of the great periods in racing, like Group B in rallying or the turbo era in Formula 1.

"The cars were monsters. It still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I hear those Jaguar V12s start up at Goodwood. The fans knew the drivers were working hard to tame them. Our success was all down to that engine. It was lovely. It had so much torque you could just trundle down the pit lane in top gear.

"It felt pretty amazing standing on the podium at Le Mans. I remember the emotion, the elation, and feeling pretty drained of energy all at once. But the support was extraordinary; even hours before the finish you could feel the crowd getting engaged in a way you just don't see much in Formula 1. And the enthusiasm from the Brits for Jaguar was amazing; Le Mans just becomes a corner of France that we rent for the weekend. Standing on the podium I remember one fan just draped in the Union Jack, and nothing else.

"In terms of developing the brand, the racing was hugely successful. A lot of carmakers would love to have that kind of success. And it was a true works effort; something Jaguar created, invested in and had control over. Motorsport really does improve the breed. Of course there's lots of stuff in your road car that you won't find in a race car, like airbags and your iPod connection. But there's plenty of knowledge that comes the other way from having a race team; developments in tyres, aero and suspension are often driven by motorsport, and smart companies make use of that knowledge. It would have been a crime if Jaguar hadn't taken that knowledge and that success and put it into a high-performance brand.

"My favourite is the XFR. That's what I drive now. It's an incredible bit of kit. It's got feel, grip and performance, but the bottom line is that a Jaguar has to be supple, or it shouldn't have the badge, and the XFR does all of that."

The cars

1988-1993 XJR-S, 1143 made

"One of the great driving cars of our time. Fast, refined and endlessly satisfying to drive, some will deem that powerhouse engine alone to be worth the cost of the car."

Autocar & Motor, 12 Feb 1992, p61

The 25-year lineage of Jaguar's official R-badged road cars started in August 1988 with the launch of the XJR-S. JaguarSport, a joint venture with race team TWR, assembled the XJR-S at a dedicated plant near Oxford. The first hundred were badged 'Celebration' models and commemorated Jaguar's 1988 Le Mans win and its domination of that year's World Sports Car championship. Finished in Tungsten Grey, they had the image of an XJR-9 stamped into their rear wing and sold out within days. In 1989 a 6.0-litre V12 replaced the 5.3 of the early cars; at first boasting 318bhp and then 333bhp, its 362lb-ft of torque was more than a contemporary

Ferrari Testarossa offered. The three-speed automatic gearbox was remapped, and the suspension stiffened and equipped with Bilstein dampers. Jaguar would later offer a 6.0-litre V12 in its standard range, but the XJR-S would remain the most powerful official road-going XJ-S, and a fitting high-point in the near twenty-year career of this great grand tourer.

1988-1994 XJ40 XJR, 1243 made

"The XJR is all control, grip and accuracy… If this were a school report the conclusion would be: good first effort. Will go onto great things."

Autocar & Motor, 24 May 1989, p61 

The XJR was revealed in October 1988 and was be the first of many Jaguar saloons to carry the XJR badge. It established one half of the formula for its successors right from the outset, its revised suspension and steering delivering sharper handling without compromising a Jaguar saloon's essential suppleness. It was visually distinctive too, with a more aerodynamically efficient bodykit, and less chrome, with colour-keyed trim and a matt-black grille. The other half of the R formula - considerably more power - would come just a year later with a new 4.0-litre straight-six engine modified by JaguarSport to give 251bhp, up seven per cent on the standard car. The R saloon had arrived: it's now impossible to imagine the Jaguar range without one. 

Jim Randle, former Jaguar Chief Engineer, on developing the first R cars: 

"Jaguar had developed a small turbocharger with a good torque curve, and of course we used them on the XJ220, but I like supercharging. The fact that they give such a nice torque curve is very attractive, especially in a Jaguar. But for me, ride was the key issue with the R-badged cars. It's the cornerstone of what a Jaguar is all about. The first XJR was a very careful medley, and in some respects I think the ride and handling balance was even better than in the standard cars, as the primary control was better." 

1994-1997 X300 XJR, 6547 made 

"Probably the best saloon car in the world… Couple the chassis' brilliance with the engine's massive urge and a cabin unsurpassed for sheer class and you have what must be the goal of every luxury car maker."

Performance Car, Nov 1994, p81 

The new XJ was a critical car for Jaguar. An R version was part of Jaguar's DNA, and part of the new XJ range, from the outset. The 326bhp, 4.0-litre XJR was the first supercharged R car, this method of forced induction being judged a better provider of the effortless performance required of a fast Jaguar than peaky turbocharging. The new XJR offered 78bhp more than the outgoing car, and more even than the 6.0-litre V12 also offered in the new XJ. Its 0-60mph time dropped below six seconds: 'just about as quick as you can go with four doors around you,' as one tester noted at the time. There were plaudits too for the looks, the ride and the handling, but that performance set this car apart from its rivals and the rest of the XJ range. Only available for two years before the new V8 arrived, this XJR was hugely significant, and is fondly remembered. 

1997-2002 X308 XJR, 15,303 made 

"This has got to be the ultimate getaway car; enough room for a big swag bag and little else on the road that will keep pace."

Autocar, 10 Sept 1997, p55 

Just three years after the last XJR had been unveiled, Jaguar launched a supercharged version of its new AJ-V8 engine. It weighed 20kgs less than the outgoing straight six yet produced 370bhp - 44bhp more. Fitted to the revised XJ - dubbed the X308 inside Jaguar - this engine propelled the new XJR to 60mph in a supercar-standard 5.3 seconds and required the fitment of Jaguar's first electronic speed limiter. Set at the same 155mph as the outgoing car, without it the XJR would hit over 170mph. But it retained the grace that ought to characterize a Jaguar, the CATS adaptive suspension introduced on the XK helping to provide both high-speed stability and city-centre comfort; one tester praised the all-round double-wishbone set-up as a 'model of refinement'. And all this additional performance and technology added just two per cent to the price of the outgoing car. No wonder this model proved so popular. 

1998-2006 XKR, 23,791 made

"Driven with restraint, this car is as peaceful and effortless as an XK8, but full-blooded acceleration is in another league."

Autocar, 6 May, 1998, p35 

The first XKR arrived in 1998 to a rapturous reception from the motoring press, and stayed in production for longer than any R-badged car to date. At launch it was the fastest-accelerating standard-production Jaguar ever made, and the fastest car on sale with an automatic gearbox. It used the same 370bhp, 4.0-litre supercharged Jaguar AJ-V8 as the XJR saloon, and like the saloon kept the visual clues to its performance subtle: bonnet louvres for better cooling, red badges bearing the 'supercharged' script, one-inch bigger wheels and a tiny lip spoiler at the rear. Displacement increased to 4.2 litres and power to 400bhp in 2003, and limited-run versions included the XKR100, built to celebrate Sir William Lyons' centenary, and the final XKR 4.2S of 2005. 

2002-2007 S-TYPE R, 8043 made 

"The S-TYPE R makes you feel like you're in league with it. That you're jointly getting away with something slightly illicit and a lot of fun, that it's egging you on as you are at it."

CAR, April 2002, p93 

The S-TYPE R was, when it arrived, the fastest, most powerful saloon Jaguar had ever made, getting the uprated 4.2-litre, 400bhp version of the supercharged AJ-V8 engine from launch; it was later fitted to the XJR and XKR. As Jaguar's range grew, so did the R line-up: with the launch of the S- TYPE R it extended to three cars for the first time, as it still does today. And the smaller saloon was every bit the R car. As with the other two cars, the suspension and brakes were uprated with help from Bilstein and Brembo respectively, while the rear bulkhead was re-engineered to give a 14 per cent gain in torsional rigidity. A deservedly popular super-saloon, more than 8000 found homes over five years. 

2003-2010 X350/X358 XJR, 7316 made 

"The astonishing thing about the XJR is just how easy it is to drive fast. The secret is its light weight. And its superb suspension. And its excellent supercharged V8. It's a four-door stealth racer wrapped in gentleman's garb."

CAR, December 2003, p83 

The first Jaguar with aluminium monocoque construction, the bodyshell of the seventh-generation XJ was 140kgs lighter than it would have been in steel, yet 60 per cent stiffer. At one end of the line-up, its light weight allowed Jaguar to reintroduce the six-cylinder XJ6. At the other, it allowed the creation of the fastest standard-production Jaguar ever in the new XJR (sports cars included, but XJ220 excluded) with the 400bhp AJ-V8 engine used in the XKR and S-TYPE R producing a 0-60mph time of five seconds dead. And the lighter, stiffer structure allowed the chassis of the latest XJR to offer an even broader span of ability than before, with incisive handling mated to fabulous steady-state ride comfort. The stiffer structure simply gave the CATS-controlled suspension with its Bilstein dampers a more stable, consistent platform to work from. The new XJ was a bigger, more spacious car, but the new XJR felt no less agile as a result. 

2006 - XKR 

"Let's not beat about the bush. The revised Jaguar XKR is now one of, if not the best, sports GTs money can buy."

CAR, May 2009, p42 

The supercharged version of the current, all-aluminium XK boasted a 420bhp version of the 4.2-litre V8 which, when allied to the low mass of the new body, dropped the 0-60mph time to under five seconds. When the third generation of the AJ-V8 engine appeared in 2009 with 380bhp in standard, naturally-aspirated form - more power than the supercharged car had until 2003 - the R had to move the game on again. It did so with its 5.0-litre, 510PS, 461lb-ft unit that rocketed the XKR to 60mph in 4.6sec and on to a limited 155mph top speed. Low-volume special editions have included the XKR Portfolio, with its massive 400mm front discs, the biggest fitted to a production Jaguar, and the XKR 75, built to celebrate the firm's 75th anniversary, which boosted power to 530PS and top speed to a (still limited) 174mph. Just 75 were made, but it showed that the R badge could be pushed a little further still. 

2009 - XFR 

"I'll spare you the suspense. The new Jaguar XFR is brilliant."

Autocar, 18 Feb 2009, p28 

The R version of Jaguar's acclaimed XF arrived in 2009 with a power output that started with a 5 for the first time in a standard-production saloon Jaguar, and a sub-5 second 0-60mph time. The press agreed that the raw numbers translated into a car that felt sensational to drive. The new CVD continuously variable damping system meant the XFR rode 'serenely' according to CAR, and the quicker steering ratio and electronically controlled differential made it 'incredibly agile' and allowed that vast power to be deployed with confidence. The XFR's price and power output pitched it straight into competition with super-saloons from the other premium makers. The car magazines were quick to organize comparison tests, which the XFR won. "It genuinely offers something to the enthusiast driver, feels faster more of the time, has a much better transmission, costs less and is more economical," said CAR after giving the victory to the XFR in a grouptest with its rivals. 

2011 - XKR-S 

"Finally I can get deep into that throttle, and the supercharged V8's thunderous bass soundtrack… the big GT's grip is mighty, its body control firm and flat and its brakes don't go off despite provocation. It has a mighty span of ability, the XKR-S."

CAR, November 2011, p107

The Geneva motor show has always held a special significance for Jaguar. The 1961 show marked the debut of the iconic E-Type; in 2011 Jaguar marked the 50th anniversary of that occasion with the launch of another extraordinary sports car; the XKR-S. Created by Jaguar's ETO division - as was the convertible which arrived later in the year - the R-S badge signifies a level of performance above the R-badged models, and which engineers working on the first R cars a quarter of a century ago would have thought impossible to combine with the grace any Jaguar saloon or coupe should always display. The XKR-S has the same power output - 550PS - as the special-production XJ220 of 1993, an output thought shocking at the time. The XKR-S will rocket from 0-60mph in 4.2sec, and is the first series-production Jaguar to hit 300km/h. But while the performance is uncompromising, the car is largely uncompromised. Computational fluid dynamics have helped create an aerodynamic package that cuts lift by 26 per cent, and the sophisticated, recalibrated Adaptive Dynamics package provides both low speed refinement and extreme high-speed precision and stability. The XKR-S may boast some extreme figures, but at heart it is still a Jaguar. 

2012 - XFR-S 

The shock of putting an engine with the same output as the XJ220 hypercar into a coupe could only be topped by putting it into a saloon. So that's what the ETO team has done. The XFR-S is the second car to receive the R-S badge from ETO. The already mighty XFR has been comprehensively rethought. It gets the same 550PS, 5.0-litre V8 as the XKR-S, the extra power liberated by revised intake and exhaust systems at no cost to fuel consumption or emissions. The aural performance has been improved too, with a symposer that allows the best of the soundtrack into the cabin, and a rear exhaust system that gives a fierce crackle on the over-run. The suspension and transmission draw on what Jaguar learnt with the XKR-S and F-TYPE; from the former the XFR-S takes its beautiful milled-aluminium bespoke suspension parts; from the latter its eight-speed Quickshift transmission. The same computational fluid dynamics work has created a largely carbon-fibre aero package that cuts lift by an extraordinary 68 per cent; necessary when this saloon car has to be electronically restrained to 186mph, or 300km/h. This level of performance in a saloon car makes the XFR-S arguably the most significant R car yet from Jaguar. 

Mike Cross, Jaguar Chief Engineer, on what he wanted from the XFR-S: 

""I like a fast saloon," says Mike Cross. "I drive an XFR myself, so this was a great programme to work on. We wanted more driver focus, and a more extreme flavour, but without throwing away that traditional Jaguar brand DNA. It still had to feel as good at 30mph as it does at very high speeds. It had to be safe, comfortable and refined. It still had to be recognisably a Jaguar. But to deliver that extra confidence and precision we might be prepared to make the ride a little tighter and allow a little more road noise."

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