Despite the turmoil surrounding the future of the brand, the XKR reminds us of what we loved about Jaguar from the beginning
Looking purely at Jaguar's most recent vehicles, it would be easy to say that the brand is on a roll. Especially if you focus in on the lithe, luxurious XJ sedans and the new XK coupes and convertibles, Jaguars are, by a long shot, better than they've been in decades and arguably, the best ever. They're well built, with striking designs, and engineered as well as anything from Germany. But despite the wonderful products coming from the brand, with Ford's financial woes, and the reputation of Jaguar in recent years as a loss leader, there are rumblings that the brand faces an uncertain future. Despite that, they're doing everything but hanging on in quiet desperation.
Earlier this year, Jaguar introduced its all-new XK coupe and convertible. With a completely new chassis, including a lighter, stiffer, all-aluminum body, beautifully designed inside and out, with a uniquely British style, the new XK is a revelation among grand touring coupes
While the new XK, thanks to its lighter weight, is already about as fast as the former XKR, it's been no secret all along that an even higher-performance, supercharged XKR version was on the way. It's almost here. Set to arrive in dealerships beginning in October, the new XKR gets 120 more horsepower (40 percent more) than the XK, yet the 'R' tips the scales only slightly heavier than the XK and about 200 pounds lighter than the last-generation XKR. With 420 horsepower on tap for well under 3700 pounds for the coupe, the XKR has an impressive power-to-weight ratio that's actually 36 percent better than the standard XK. The Mercedes-Benz SL55 and M6, though they have more power, are also considerably heavier and it's not that big of a difference.
Power comes from Jaguar's familiar aluminum DOHC V-8 with four valves per cylinder, but it's been specially tuned for the XKR - and of course, given the 'R', fitted with a supercharger. Intake valve timing is variable for the first time on the XKR.
Love it or hate it, that familiar supercharger whine underhood is an expected sideshow. But one of the first things you may notice after firing up the engine with the red, console-mounted start/stop button is that it's remarkably absent of blower sound. The same supercharged engine is also offered in the S-Type R and the XJR, but it sounds quite different in the XKR, more like a naturally aspirated engine. Jaguar engineers intentionally tuned out much of thewhine; you only notice the 'blown' induction sound and supercharger whine at full throttle, or near it. In all, engineers say that peak supercharger noise has been reduced by five decibels versus the previous XKR. While intake noise is muted, the exhaust instead has been tuned beautifully, with a raucous, throaty V-8 sound at full rip. At idle it has the smooth character of a German V-8, but when being driven hard it has more the character of an Italian exotic crossed with an American muscle car. That great compromise between quiet cruising and raucous power delivery when driving fast was achieved through an Active Exhaust system, which alters the flow through the primary silencer depending on throttle position and revs. No manual gearbox is available in the XKR, but that's okay. The ZF automatic is perhaps the fastest-shifting traditional automatic in any vehicle, with the capability of shifting in less than 0.6 seconds - 0.4 seconds faster than a typical automatic and 0.1 seconds faster than the best automated manual systems, according to Jaguar. The transmission essentially has three modes. In the normal 'D' position, there's more of an emphasis toward smoothness and everyday drivability, while in the 'S' sport mode, gears are held much longer and downshifts are more rapid - with an expertly timed throttle blip for downshifts. What's more, transmission logic is very attuned to vehicle dynamics, downshifting whenever needed for hills and sharp corners. If the transmission isn't doing quite what you want it to do - or if you just want to feel more like a race driver - you can do the shifting yourself via the great paddle system beside the steering wheel. Quicker than Aston Off the line, the XKR doesn't feel that much quicker than the XK - it's probably just a matter of traction, as it uses all it can get. But the XKR's acceleration is significantly improved versus the standard XK, and the difference between the two vehicles becomes more pronounced at high speeds. 0-60 is achieved in only 4.9 seconds - a full second faster than the 300-hp XK, and a hair faster than the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage - while the 50-70 time is increased 25 percent faster than the XK and the 60-90 time is 30 percent faster.
It gets even better out on a curvy road, though, which isn't always the case for a larger GT like the Jag. The lightning-quick throttle response and rapid-fire, throttle-blip downshifts, and the very satisfying sounds are the stuff of dreams on a curvy road, especially when just how comfortable you're kept in the process.
Taking a step back, it's beautiful—dare we say gorgeous—from any angle, as either a coupe or convertible, cleanly styled and not at all cluttered or overly flashy. Jaguar exercised restraint with the XKR, saying that its customers want subtle changes and an exclusive feeling that's neither too conservative nor too flamboyant. Differences on the XKR are limited to twin (functional) air intakes (they say 'supercharged'), aluminum mesh grilles in front, aluminum-trimmed side gills just behind the front wheels, additional aluminum trim in back, 'R' black brake calipers, a quad-tip exhaust and lower rear fascia, a unique 20-inch wheel option, and 'R' badging. Inside, the XKR has some modest upgrades over the XK's already posh interior, including sport seats with more lateral support. 'R' badging is added throughout, but it's not overstated. There's also an aluminum-weave trim used that's unique to the XKR. Burl walnut or poplar woods are available as no-cost alternatives. Otherwise, there's a standard DVD navigation system and screen-driven interface for the sound system and climate control, among other things. The interface is extremely easy to navigate through, with a home button that instantly brings you back to the main menu if you want to access a feature quickly. Versus the XK, the XKR gets considerable improvements to its brakes and suspension. Discs have 26 percent more braking surface, while cooling efficiency has been improved by 37 percent. The heftier brakes can haul the XKR down from 60 to zero in half the time it takes to accelerate back to 60. The spring rate is also significantly stiffer (by 38 percent in front and 26 percent in back), the rollbar is a millimeter thicker, and the dampers are 25 percent firmer all around. There's also a rear strut-tower brace that's been added to match the more aggressive setup. Faster CATS To match, the calibration for the CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) system - that switches the dampers between soft and firm - has been tweaked for better reflexes. Though the system's response time is the same, it's now more sensitive to inputs and more likely to switch from soft to firm sooner. It does a great job of keeping the ride smooth and supple yet firming up when the situation demands it.
The variable-ratio, electro-hydraulic Servotronic steering system has speed-sensitive variable assist and is fit for a surprisingly wide range of driving needs and conditions. The steering doesn't communicate the road surface much, if at all, but it does bring the best of both potential sides of the GT coin, with fingertip-light response in leisurely low-speed driving and also nice weighting and feedback when muscling through corners and cruising at high speed. Unlike the former XKs, the stability control system is truly tuned for performance driving, allowing the tail to get just a slight bit out of line at low speeds before nudging it firmly back in place with the brakes. Turning the traction control completely off would be risky, but there's an in-between setting - accessed by holding down the stability control button for a short time - that allows a larger slip angle and a little more tail-out fun at low speeds. Overall, the chassis is just so capable, and the electronics so good at keeping everything in check that the XKR feels like it could handle even more power. On our relatively empty test roads, in the Basque region of Spain, with plenty of variety between high-speed sweepers, small villages, and tight esses, it was extremely easy to get into a smooth driving rhythm, and we often don't realize just how fast we were driving until looking down at the speedometer. We clocked time in both a coupe and convertible, and the coupe, and found both of them very solid, stable, and quiet at triple-digit speeds. Even the convertible, with its triple-layer soft top up, was quiet enough inside for a normal conversation at about 90 mph, and the wind buffeting was nice enough with the top down to not require shouting at the same speed. Whether to choose the coupe or the convertible may be your most daunting choice. The former XKR was split toward the convertible by 88 percent, though the coupe is expected to be considerably more popular this time. The new XK coupe has already been selling at a rate of 30 percent. Buyers are on to something; the coupe has some beautiful lines, especially from the back, but the convertible has its strengths, too - it's one of few drop-top models that still looks beautiful with the top up. Our only minor gripes involved some subtle details inside the beautifully trimmed cabin. The seats, we thought, were comfortable, but cushions were short and they could have used much more lateral support to handle the formidable grip from the sticky Dunlop tires. The only other complaint also dealt with the seating position, as the top of the center console functions as an armrest, but it's a different height than the rather hard armrest built into the door. Major options include a Luxury Sports interior package, including softer-grain leather for the seats and door and dash trim. There's actual room for stuff as well, whether you get the coupe or convertible. In the coupe, the trunk is quite roomy, with a flat cargo floor that's a bit high, but there's still plenty of space for a couple of duffel bags or a large suitcase. A niche player, making a deserved popularity play
Feature for feature, the XKR coupe looks to be sportier than the BMW 650i, Cadillac XLR, and Mercedes-Benz SL550, yet considerably cheaper than the M6 coupe, the Cadillac XLR-V, or the Mercedes-Benz AMG SL55. It rivals the former three for comfort, and it feels considerably more sprightly and athletic. Yet it's more affordable and more livable day-to-day than the latter three. In price, it has an advantage, with the coupe starting at $86,500 and the convertible at $92,500, making it a bargain in a relative sense. Of course, exclusivity becomes a priority for many of those shopping in this price class, so the XKR can't become too popular. Jaguar won't commit to producing specific numbers, but to date Jaguar sold only about 8000 last-generation XKRs over eight years. There were about four times as many XKs sold, but even with those numbers XKs aren't a common sight. Jaguar says that there are already about 1300 orders for the new XKR - in addition to 9000 XK orders to date and 5000 total vehicles delivered - so the new XK is already looking far more popular than the vehicle it replaces. And, perhaps, more likely to bring Jaguar back into the black. The XK and XKR establish an enviable image for the Jaguar brand; let's just hope that Jaguar product planners are prescient enough to bring some of the character of this vehicle into the upcoming S-Type sedan, which may be Jaguar's last chance to make it or break it…if Ford holds on that long. We can't emphasize enough just what a revelation the new XK and XKR are, whether compared to the previous, outdated XK8/XKR or to the modern competition. The XKR's appeal is definitely a niche, but one with wide grand touring appeal. For those who are willing to pay the modest premium for the XKR, it's even more of a good thing.
2007 Jaguar XKRBase price: $86,500 (coupe); $92,500 (convertible)Engine: 4.2-liter V-8, 420 hp/413 lb-ft Drivetrain: Six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel driveLength x width x height: 188.8 x 81.5 x 52.0 inWheelbase: 108.3 inCurb weight: 3671 lb (coupe); 3781 lb (convertible) Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): N/A Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags; anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution, traction control and stability control, pop-up rollover bar (convertible)Major standard equipment: DVD navigation, keyless start, xenon headlamps, six-disc in-dash CD changer and MP3-compatible sound system, rear parking assist, Bluetooth compatibilityWarranty: Four years/50,000 miles