Twin Test: Jaguar XKR-S & Maserati MC Stradale (Videos)
Two grand-tourers that have gone above and beyond – but which has gone too far?
By Shahzad Sheikh
Closely matched on paper, not far off each other in terms of style and desirability, around the same money and both with unnaturally hard core racing tendencies; the Jaguar XKR-S and the Maserati Granturismo MC Stradale are natural rivals. But how similar are they and which is going to win this ferocious fight?
How they compare on paper
It’s going to be tough to pick a winner. Jaguar’s purring big cat, the XK, and Maserati’s voluptuous Granturismo are, in my view, just about the most desirable super-touring grand coupes available in the market today. And these two are the fastest, most extreme, totally full-on versions of each car: the Jaguar XKR-S has been freed of limits stuffed with horsepower, whilst the sexy MC Stradale is essentially a race car that’s escaped onto the roads.
So that on-paper stuff then, XKR-S versus MC Stradale: the Brit’s $163,000 (AED599,000) is hardly much more expensive than the Italian’s $159,500 (AED587,000). They both have 32-valve V8s though the Jaguar boasts 5.0-litres against the Maser’s 4.7-litres (the latter is essentially a Ferrari engine!).
They both weigh the same and are almost similar dimensions, but the Jag has more power and considerably more torque (542bhp plays 444bhp and 501lb ft sees off 376lb ft). Unsurprisingly the big cat from Britain takes the acceleration honours too, although not by as much as you’d think (0-100kph in 4.2 seconds just beats the Stradale’s 4.6) and they both virtually level-peg on top speed at 300kph.
Going on the numbers games then, it’s a bit of a tussle – the XKR-S seems to have the edge but then it’s slightly more expensive, so you end up concluding a draw.
Stealing scores in the style stakes
This Jaguar is the most extreme XK ever, and even with the recent refresh of the regular XKs, this R-dash-S stands way out from its brethren. A pair of gaping nostrils appear to be slicing air out of the car’s path and feed it to the hungry supercharged V8 at the front.
They flank a mouth that is set in grim determination. This has a serious and slightly sinister face, more masculine than the normal XK and eager to gulp air and anything else carelessly getting in its path.
At the back there’s a massive black carbon spoiler and diffuser separating those angry tailpipes that are the source of a deep, guttural snarl that indicates this R-S car’s potency and lethality. Aural or visual, this car has serious road presence, and I definitely prefer my R-S as a coupe rather than the recently released cabriolet, which seems to dilute the beefy essence of this pukka bruiser.
The Maserati on the other hand just seduces you straight away. The Granturismo is a car that drips desire in regular guise, so dressed up in full race gear… well imagine Amber Heard dressed in tight-fitting race overalls, open at the front to the waist (she’s not wearing fire-proofs) with loads of attitude. I think you get the picture.
It too has blades to cut through the atmosphere at the front, and a big oval grille that… well let’s leave it at that. Plus low splitters, side air ducts, carbon-fibre mirrors, rear spoiler and even door handles, plus a rear diffuser that diffuses the Jag’s pomposity, despite only two tailpipes. It’s got curves, it’s got drama, it’s got presence, and in this case, it’s got graphics!
The Jag’s got beauty, but the Maserati sends us reeling and looking for the tissue box.
What about the inside story?
Well you’d think the Maserati would be exquisite inside, and you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s lovely, all Alcantara, fine leather and slashes of carbon fibre here and there. It’s got that beautiful centre-piece clock, the massive paddles behind the steering wheel that go fully from half-past one to half-past four. There are pedals that look as if they are milled lovingly just for this car, and the view out the bonnet is a sensation with the wheel-arches clearly demarcating the car’s extremes. Plus, of course, you’re in a Mazeraatee.
But once that novelty has worn off, you’ll realise the buttons and controls are confounding mess (made even worst because somebody had switched everything to Italian on the Stradale), the deadly serious looking bucket seats are a pain in the… well the backside actually (although even the regular Granturismo’s seats aren’t great) and the race-style harness – which will leave geekoids orgasmic – will grow very tiresome and tedious quickly. Especially when you have a passenger because it’s really hard to adjust the straps properly.
And then you look behind and… behold… no seats. Just part of a roll cage for stiffening.
By comparison the Jaguar dash looks a little plain with its piano black and slick but subtle carbon effect. There’s smudged plastic around the old-style in-car computer, everything else is familiar from the regular XK. But that’s underselling the XKR-S.
In fact it’s all superbly put together, everything works, there are electrically adjustable seats you can sink into and don’t have to wrestle with, and they even have normal seatbelts. All the buttons make sense, the seating position is comfortable and… on yes, proper rear seats. Okay, they’re really only good for small children, but they’re enough of an excuse for mid-life crisis man to justify the XK. So the Jaguars takes the honour in this round.
Shut up and drive
Okay, okay, I was building up to it. I drove the Stradale extensively last year, so I jump in the ‘brand-new’ XKR-S first. It barks into life. Rotate the gear selector dial over to Sport, hit dynamic mode (is there any other way to drive this?) and floor it. The response is electrifying, well with all that torque on tap from just 2500rpm, what did you expect?
It overwhelms the traction before the electronic nanny cuts in and pulls things back, squeezing the power back out in a more measured manner. After the initial sensation of speed and acceleration things calm down as the upshifts are delivered smoothly through the clever ZF full-auto transmission, the power delivery is linear and you get used to the fact that you are in something low and lean and you’ve just flung it at the horizon.
The ride comfort has gone all knobbly, particularly at low to medium speeds, partly thanks to the hairier suspension set-up and also because of the higher-rated high-speed tyres (remember this R-S been derestricted so the rubber had to be changed to cope with the higher speeds).
The trade-off though is excellent body control for such a big beastie, with a very stiff aluminium front suspension upright for precise and talkative steering, although it can also make it over sensitive and fidgety, if you were expecting a cruiser that is.
Of course this also makes it remarkably good at direction changes, as long as you adopt a slow-in, fast-out method. Employ a heavy right foot and it engages a battle between the traction systems and physics as the otherwise sticky rubber gets overwhelmed.
There’s an overwhelming sense it wants to go play muscle car, dare to press and hold the traction control button down for a full 10 seconds, and it will. It tries to deliver the best of both worlds: sports coupe and potent grand tourer. In fact compared to the Stradale it’s much more the latter than the Maserati is.
The Stradale takes some of the attributes for the R-S and turns them up even more. The engine’s a screamer when it’s warmed up, and sounds very saucy unlike the brutally ballistic Jag, as you’d expect from an Italian, it’s music to your ears.
Although your ears are getting a pounding, it has to be said. It’s much noisier in this car, and if you thought the ride was a little rough in the Jag, you’ll think it was like riding on air compared to the Stradale which follows the road, transmits everything, and you have to take it real easy over speed humps and rough surfaces.
It has the old robotised manual paddle shift cambiocorsa transmission (which admittedly I love, but is not everyone’s cup of tea). This has a superfast mode and you can bang in changes tremendously quickly – if you don’t mind risking whiplash. The gear shifts are brutal, mechanical but very satisfying when you’re hard on it, although quite irksome and jerky if you’re just trying to negotiate city traffic.
Whilst this car is not quite as quick as the Jaguar on paper, it actually feels a lot faster in reality. It’s a combination of the racier looks, the harness, the sounds, the sensation, the transmission of feedback through the steering. Talking of steering, it’s brilliant, very communicative and responsive, nice to hold, well-weighted, just lovely to use.
And it encourages you to explore the car’s prodigious grip-and-go abilities. You have to wait till the semi-slick style tyres warm up, otherwise it’ll go AWOL at the back, but then the perfect balance, good grip and intuitive handling egg you on. It’s even more neutral than the Jag and better composed. It urges you to dive deeper and explore the cars potential.
And that’s the thing, there is a lot of potential, both to get it right, and to get it wrong, because this car is essentially a slightly watered down racing car (it’s the basis for the Trofeo Cup race series), so it’s both one of the most exciting and one of the most compromised road cars out there.
Win, lose or draw?
And the compromises you have to make are the problem with both these cars. The Jaguar is far more user friendly on a day-to-day basis than the Maserati but the Stradale is the bigger scene-stealer, despite its rival being the most extroverted XK ever. Despite how similar these car, they are substantially different personalities, it’s James Bond versus Rocky Balboa.
If you want a car to drive around every day, take the XKR-S, it’ll just about stop your nerves from getting completely frayed. If you want something to trash on the weekends or at the track, it’s the Stradale for you. But neither of these cars is an outright winner.
The winners are actually the cars that sit directly below these ones: the Jaguar XKR and the Maserati Granturismo S. To choose between those would be much harder, and both work very well in the real world – real if you’re a bit of a wealthy man-about-town with sporty tendencies.
And there’s the logical verdict, ignore completely the two cars you see here, and opt for their lesser brothers. Trouble is that I say that with less than full conviction because the 10-year old in me desperately wants the blistering performance of the XKR-S and the ballsy showmanship of the MC Stradale.
So I’ve been no help at all then. Sorry.
Price: $163,000 (AED599,000)
Engine: 5000cc 32v supercharged V8, 542bhp @ 6000-6500rpm, 501lb ft @ 2500-5500rpm
Performance: 4.2secs 0-100kph, 299kph, 12.3L/100
Transmission: six-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Maserati MC Stradale
Price: $159,500 (AED587,000)
Engine: 4691cc 32v V8, 444bhp @ 7000rpm, 376lb ft @ 4750rpm
Performance: 4.6secs 0-100kph, 300kph, 14.4L/100
Transmission: six-speed semi-auto, rear-wheel drive
Pictures by me!