2006 Jaguar XKR Test Drives
The last version of the current Jaguar XKR -- based on a platform that's nearly a decade old -- proves there's still some fight left in this old cat.
New in this final-year model is an optional Victory Edition interior and, introduced last year, a standard Automatic Speed Limiter. The ASL allows the driver to manually select a speed at which point the throttle becomes ineffective unless you floor it, which supposedly disengages the ASL. During my testing, the ASL refused to allow acceleration several times, even though I had my foot to the floor. Were still not sure what its advantages are, despite asking a spokesman to explain the gizmo.
But if you pay $2,200 for the XK's superb adaptive cruise control, the ASL becomes redundant. Adaptive cruise -- one of the major automotive advances in recent years, and I say that as somebody who rarely uses conventional cruise control -- measures distance and closing rate to traffic ahead with a microwave radar beam and adjusts acceleration and braking accordingly. Unlike some manufacturers' more tentative systems, the XK's is positive and forthright. It accelerates strongly when the road ahead clears and brakes aggressively -- almost to a standstill -- when necessary, before a chime and warning light demand driver intervention.
The Victory Edition trim, honoring Jaguar's four Trans-Am Racing Series championships, is a less successful innovation. The $5,500 package substitutes garish white leather and a large swath of plastic-y carbon-fiber dashboard trim for what could otherwise be luxurious elm veneer and more restrained leatherwork.
Behind the Wheel
The driver's side of the XKR's cockpit is surprisingly cozy. The foot well is small enough that size-nine shoes occasionally hang up on structural sheet metal when stabbing for the brake. And an odd confluence of pedal offset, seating position and steering-column location made the ignition-key fob a constant annoyance on my right thigh. Beefy males or anyone taller than six feet should carefully consider the XK's headroom and legroom.
The XKR has the same basic 4.2-liter, four-cam V8 engine as its XK8 stablemate, but a supercharger adds 96 hp, raising output from the XK8's 294 to a substantial 390 in the XKR. Hard acceleration falls into turbocharger territory through a six-speed automatic transmission, but this is accompanied by one feature no turbo can provide: the yowl of a belt-driven blower pumping induction air. It sounds like you've sat on a cat sleeping under a sofa cushion and evokes an image of the great supercharged Duesenbergs, Mercedes-Benzes and Bentleys of the prewar era.
Some car writers deride Jaguar's unusual J-gate shifter -- one leg of the J for conventional autotrans shifting, around the hook to enter select-shift mode. But I find it far more logical, smooth-acting and intuitive than many other manu-matics.
Even on the XKR's special sport-tuned springs and anti-roll bars, as well as the optional 20-inch wheels and accompanying very-low-profile tires, the ride is remarkably comfortable, due in large part to the R's standard Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS, appropriately). A suite of sensors gauges road conditions along with the driver's throttle and steering aggressiveness, so the CATS can continually select and switch the shock absorbers between firm and comfort settings. Works for me.
The nav-system screen is small and low on the center-console stack. This unfortunate placement is a result of the car's age: The XK first went on sale as a 1996 model -- before designers and engineers realized that such displays should be as close as possible to the driver's line of sight to the road ahead.
Ultimately, the Jaguar XKR has aged well -- both mellowing and maturing. Its power train will go virtually unchanged in the next-generation model. And though concerns about Jaguar reliability linger, the company was second only to Lexus in new-car quality, according to J. D. Power's 2005 survey. That works for me, too.
Is the XKR for You?
Buy this Vehicle if - You want a car that will look as stunning in a decade as it does today.
Keep Looking if - You're a plus-size or were a linebacker in college.
Options Worth Splurging on - The $2,200 adaptive cruise control is highway magic, and the $6,000 20-inch wheel package gives the XKR a politely brutish look, like James Bond packing a .357 Magnum.
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