– Enchanting design
– Tight handling
– Cool luxury gadgetry
– Docile new face
– Not as fast as its looks
– Seating position too low
Since the debut of the XK moniker back in the 90s, the sportiest Jaguar model has been regarded among automotive circles as a poor man’s Aston Martin. It is no surprise that the Jaguar XK has always looked like a derivative of its more exotic countrymate, largely because both companies were under the ownership of Ford for a while. However, when we picked up the latest XKR from Jaguar, we realized that it loses almost nothing to its overpriced lookalike.
Not that the XKR is in any way cheap. Priced about the same as two Corvettes, the second-generation XKR has all the luxury trimmings of a Bentley, let alone Aston Martin. While we weren’t fans of the new “sad baby seal” front end, it does nothing to take away from the overall allure of this car. It certainly looks intensely better than the fugly Audi R8, and turns as many heads as any Ferrari. The XKR is so rare that this is probably the only one we’ve ever seen in public.
The interior, as nicely done as it is, seems almost bland compared to the extroverted exterior. There are no unique features or funky shapes, but only an elegant simplistic layout that wouldn’t look out of place in an XJ sedan. The pleasantness of the uncontroversial cabin design is enhanced by a generous slathering of leather all over, including the dashboard and the centre console, while the headliner is made up of what felt like cropped cat fur. A few patterned aluminium pieces are also spread about tastefully.
Front cabin room is excellent, and the beefy seats can be electrically adjusted in every conceivable way, including lumbar and side-bolster support. The rear buckets, however, are extremely cramped, but we still managed to shove an adult in there for an uncomfortable long-distance journey. Odd that one has to wait ages for the front seat to slide electrically out of the way to access the rear seat. Luggage space in the back is shallow, but still large enough to be useful, especially due to the hatchback-style rear opening. Two cup-holders up front, a central cubby under the armrest, door pockets and the glovebox round out the practical storage areas.
Our XKR coupe, also available as a convertible, was loaded with all the expected goodies, such as navigation, CD stereo with stylish steering-wheel buttons, parking sensors, multiple airbags, power windows, electric mirrors, and keyless entry and start, but surprisingly our tester did not have a sunroof. We liked the attractive interface of the touchscreen computer, although we only deciphered part of the workings of the navigation system, made harder by outdated maps. The stereo is excellent, with amazing clarity and decent bass. The automatic a/c maintained temperatures well, although we didn’t test it at full blast due to the winter weather. In a product stereotyped for poor British build quality, everything worked as it should, and the only defects we found were a Bluetooth phone that worked intermittently and a loose trim piece under the glove box.
Beating under the sleek hood is a blown engine we’ve already seen its S-Type-R sibling and the high-end Range Rover models. Indeed, the refined 4.2-litre supercharged V8 is a potent powerplant, delivering 420 hp at 6250 rpm as well as 560 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. Mated to a smooth six-speed automatic with impressively quick-shifting paddles, the silky powertrain offers a bit of a kick on take-off, followed by a linear increase in power that almost feels boring. However, when the revs smoothly transition into the higher rpm band, the power is instantly noticeable, as the realization sets in that the car is quicker than it initially seems. The XKR is fast, although nowhere near as quick as any Corvette or Ferrari. We clicked off 0-to-100 kph in 5.5 seconds with the traction control off. Leave the aggressive electronic nanny on to kill wheelspin, and the sprint takes almost 7 seconds.
But this 1700 kg piece of rolling aluminium sculpture is intended more for fast cruising duties rather than drag racing. The highway drive is very quite, with a muffled engine and only the occasional hint of wind noise at 120 kph, while burning 16.2 litres of petrol per 100 km overall. Tyre noise causes a constant howl, but is easily ignored. The ride is firm, but most potholes are handled about as well as any BMW coupe. The low seating position means that the wing mirrors block part of the forward view, forcing us to cautiously take longer turning circles to avoid hitting footpath curbs. But casual driving is easy, thanks to the soft power steering, tight overall dimensions and parking sensors, even though all-round visibility is somewhat limited. The coolest feature is the adaptive cruise control, which allows the Jag to cruise at the speed of the car in front, braking and maintaining distances as if a ghost is controlling the car. We even put our feet up to see how the system behaves, pulling up at 125 kph behind a van traveling at 90 kph, and it brakes a bit too late for our comfort, but the car then backs off and maintains its distance. It doesn’t seem to keep working at speeds under 20 kph though, as our Jag kept going when the car in front came to a full stop at a red light.
Handling is very impressive for a luxury sports car. There is no obvious body roll in quick side-to-side moves and tight corners. The soft steering doesn’t ruin the driving, especially since its sensitivity to small inputs makes for tighter control. Going around long highway off-ramps as fast as we had the guts to go, the car safely reacted with only a hint of mild understeer. Grip certainly is perfectly adequate with the 255/35 front and 285/30 rear tyres wrapping 20-inch alloy wheels, which also contributed to the Jag’s strong braking abilities. What we didn’t like were the overly soft pedals, which made it slightly hard to judge throttle inputs, so we were occasionally pressing a bit too much while powering out of turns, and making the rear twitch before the stability control caught the slides. But it didn’t hinder our fun. In a city overflowing with speed cameras on every road, most of the time we were driving much faster around the corners than in the straights.
While the new Jaguar XKR does not set the world on fire with horsepower or acceleration numbers, it certainly has as much character as any of those speedy exotics that cost twice as much. However, it does appear to compete more in an entirely different segment made up of powerful personal-luxury coupes, and it seems to straddle the boundary between the two segments quite well. While still a very expensive car, its combination of style and performance is enough to make it one of the better values in the high-dollar world of excess.