Jaguar XKR - High Class, High Speed Fun

Something about Jaguars makes it easy to forget that they're bona fide exotic cars. Maybe it's their air of subtle reserved elegance; maybe it's the well-publicized quality-control issues that plagued the brand throughout the 1980s. Maybe it's the fault of the unlamented "bargain Jaguar" X-Type. Whatever the reason, this brand's image has evolved from that of an unstoppable LeMans stormer to a silky cruiser.

Jaguars can still run, though, and the days when they challenged Porsches and Mercedes on the track aren't that far away. The XKR arrives for 2010 to emphasize this facet of the marque's history. Powered by a supercharged version of Jaguar's new 5.0 liter V8, this high-end sports coupe is a reminder that the folks from Coventry can put together a seriously fast and capable vehicle.

The rush of a supercharged Jaguar V8 is an automotive delicacy. It's not just that there's 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque on tap; it's the delivery that makes it almost magical, an endless rush of power that shoves you back in your seat without ever becoming violent. The new engine uses direct injection and variable cam timing, and though displacement and power have increased significantly, fuel economy's also better.

A twin-vortex supercharger boosts power by 23 percent compared to last year's XKR, and the dual exhaust provides the right soundtrack. Plant your foot, and the XKR launches with the inevitability of death and taxes. The six-speed automatic transmission is controlled by a unique dial-like interface, and delivers solid, confident shifts. Steering wheel paddles offer manual gear selection, and the massive power is kept under control with a standard limited-slip Active Differential Control. Not surprisingly, this car is adept at high-speed cruising, as well as boasting a sub-five second 0-60 time.

Jaguar's been into lightweight body structures for a while, and the XKR's stiff undercarriage is almost entirely aluminum. Jaguar has ditched the awfully-named Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) active suspension with Active Dynamics. Where CATS had only "soft" and "firm" settings, Active Dynamics offers a full range of automatic suspension settings. The XKR controls body roll and pitch actively, tightening the suspension when necessary and measuring grip at each wheel to adjust where necessary. Dynamic Stability Control is also standard. In seat-of-the-pants terms, that means this car seems to cling to the road better the harder it's pushed. It's responsive enough to be manageable in traffic without feeling cramped or ponderous.

Visually, the XKR is a subtle beast. Extravagant wings and spoilers just aren't Jaguar's style, after all. Since this car's starting point is the sleek and handsome envelope body of the XK coupe, it's already eyecatching enough. The front end has been slightly revised with an oval grille that's reminiscent of classic Jaguars. The new taillights and side marker lamps are lit with LEDs. The XKR is distinguished by a chromed lower grille and a redesigned lower rear valance panel. A choice of nineteen or twenty-inch wheels is offered.

Interior comfort is provided in Jaguar style, which means firm seats, a snug cabin and lavish appointments. The XKR is technically a four-seater, but the rear seats are more useful as a package shelf than for transporting living human beings. Consider this car a getaway vehicle for two. The seats take some getting used to, with ten-point adjustability; some drivers will love them while others will hate 'em. It's hard to dislike the dark oak with mesh aluminum trim and watch-style instrument panel, however, and this big Jag is comfortable enough to drive all night. Standard equipment includes a seven-inch touch screen controlling audio and climate control functions, as well as the available navigation system. High-end sound is provided by a 525-watt Bowers & Wilkins system. Be sure to pack the handsomely finished cargo area with enough luggage for two, because you may not want to come right home.

So the XKR is a serious performer. Of course, so are its competitors--the BMW M6, Mercedes SL500, Porsche 911 and even the Audi R8. In this crowd, five-second 0-60 times and Velcro-like handling are expected. What the XKR brings to the table is a subtle air of elegance. Yes, it's got stunning power, but it's delivered with a rush rather than a sledgehammer blast. The suspension is comfortable at low speeds and increases its sensitivity as needed. The handsome interior appointments and amenities are matched by Mercedes and BMW, but there's no substitute for the Jaguar's confidence and sense of self, if you will. Can a car have a sense of self? It most certainly can. Pricing for the XKR starts at $95,150, and the optional Nevis 20-inch wheels drove the bottom line of my tester over six figures, to $101,000. That's some serious money, but then the Jaguar XKR is a serious piece of automotive equipment.

By Chris Jackson