Review: 2011 Jaguar XKR Convertible
I know you're probably here to read all about how the 2011 Jaguar XKR Convertible stacks up against other six-digit luxury sports cars, but I've got a confession to make. Before we get down, dirty and up to our elbows in power figures, you need to know that this is my first real brush with luxury performance of this caliber. As we speak, the ruling houses of auto journalism are likely sending laptop-wielding assassins my way for breaking the seventh sacred tenet of our craft – "Always pretend you know more than you do" – but I can't accurately convey my time with this big cat without first giving you a taste of my perspective.
Get the mouthwash ready, this may be unpleasant.
My office is headquartered in a beautiful part of East Tennessee, where $30,000 will happily buy you seven acres of wooded hill country. Around here, I'm pleased to say that I'm more likely to hear a Massey-Ferguson lumber past my window than a Maserati, and as such, most folk have neither the use for a high-horsepower 2+2 convertible nor the ludicrous kind of coin it takes to call one your very own. As one neighbor remarked, "You can buy a damn nice home for as much as that thing costs."
And for the majority of the country, he's dead right.
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Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
Receiving word that you'll be the sole custodian of a 2011 Jaguar XKR Convertible for a week and actually meeting the beast in the sultry flesh are two entirely different things. When the machine arrived, it announced its presence with a low rumble that snaked its way through the pine, gypsum and hardwood of the house and into my ears long before it showed its face in the driveway.
Intrigue, thy name is the 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 planted behind this kitty's headlights.
I mark the third generation of my clan to call this particular house my own, and while there have been some true curiosities parked in this driveway over the past few decades, there's never been anything quite like this topless supercharged wonder. Approaching the XKR Convertible from the rear, you're met with the kind of knee-shaking aesthetics that few vehicles possess. Tall, rounded flanks work their way into a concise aft dominated by LED taillamps, a steep rear deck spoiler and four menacing exhaust outlets. Vast 275-series tires the size of a pair of small continents peek out from below the rear valance, and from this angle, there's no mistaking this convertible's true purpose.
Move down the sports car's side and you're introduced to a full 188.7 inches of sprawling bodywork. With a lengthy 108.3-inch wheelbase, Jaguar's designers had plenty of space to ply their art. From the sides, prominent haunches define the XKR Convertible's profile before transitioning easily into a low-slung nose that rolls on for a country mile. It's the kind of look that could induce labor or stop your heart if you aren't prepared for what you're seeing.
Don't be surprised if you leave a trail of newborns and cardiac arrest in your wake.
At least, that's the case with the top down. Crank the soft shell up with a merry push of a convenient, windshield frame-mounted button and the spell's handily broken. Jaguar has done an excellent job of incorporating a smooth top structure, but the mechanism draws undue attention to the massive proportions of the rear deck. While everything looks squared away with the car slinking around topless, you can't help but think there's enough sheetmetal out back to set up a regulation badminton court with the roof in place. Fortunately, the top stows in around 17 seconds, so you don't need to waste any time should the sun start shining.
Jaguar was kind enough to supply the XKR Convertible with a set of heated and cooled ventilated leather seats up front that are fully capable of boiling up a cup of Earl Grey should you become stranded far from a kettle at tea time. With the seats set to incinerate and the heater dialed to blast furnace, mother nature was no match for this kitty's open-air motoring.
In addition to being able to tan your hide, the front seats are also nearly infinitely adjustable. That includes bolsters that can be tweaked to squeeze you tighter than your one true love. That little trick joins the standard portfolio of fore/aft and up/down wizardry to serve up seating custom tailored for nearly every size and shape.
The rest of the cabin swaddles you in no less comfort. The leather dash is double-stitched with contrasting thread, and a lumber yard's worth of polished burlwood accents adorn those surfaces that aren't already covered in hide. It's a beautiful place to spend an hour or three, so long as you don't have to fight the touchscreen infotainment system. Commands to change the radio station are seemingly sent by first-class air mail to an overburdened worker in Coventry where they must be approved before taking effect. Don't expect anything to happen quickly.
The thermometer bobbed at around 40 degrees my first night with the XKR Convertible, but with stars peeking through the bud-laden branches and no clouds in sight, there was no way in this life or the next that I was going to leave this cat in the driveway. I stowed the top and headed for the snaking asphalt of Union County. From the first press of the glowing start button, it was clear I had stumbled into an alternate universe of propulsion. This is no sewing machine, and at no point did I have to check to see if the engine was running.
Jaguar has made damn sure that you feel the supercharged 5.0-liter V8 come to life, and it does so with a bark that serves as a harbinger of all sorts of naughtiness. If the starting sequence is the gateway drug of Jaguar love, the first punch of the accelerator is straight methamphetamine. You can forget fighting this addiction. The automaker's engineers have managed to wring a full 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque from the eight force-fed cylinders, and every dash to 60 miles per hour clicks off in a claimed stammer-inducing 4.6 seconds. That's shorter than the time it took you to read that last sentence, which is an impressive feat given that the XKR Convertible tips the scales at a whisker under two tons.
The six-speed automatic gearbox is a work of art, dispatching upshifts with quicker-than-thou precision and serving up rev-matching downshifts with a click of a paddle. An extra cog or two would likely go a long way toward bettering the vehicle's 15 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway EPA rating, but really, who's counting?
In order to keep all that momentum-building glory in check, Jaguar has bolted on a traction control system that must have been programmed by a panel of ruler-wielding nuns. No matter how desperately you mash buttons or turn dials, get too happy with the accelerator and you'll get your knuckles rapped in a hurry. Even with the gearbox set to Sport, Competition mode on and Dynamic Stability Control off, I was barely able to get a few decent revolutions of wheel-spinning heaven before being made to submit to she-who-rules-all-nannies. I don't even want to talk about attempting to ply the throttle in anger with the parameters adjusted to more sane settings.
Still, the chaperone under the hood wasn't enough to quell my lust for this car. Even with 3,968 pounds of heft to scoot along, the dynamic suspension is perfectly firm for a series of apexes while turning buttery supple to accommodate imperfections in the tarmac. Mix in a brake system fully capable of pulling your eyelids from your face and you're delivered a grand tourer that can go 10 rounds with lighter sports cars all night long. The machine is just as happy to consume mile after mile of rolling highway as it is darting from one mountain corner to the next.
Pulling into the driveway after a full hour of sampling all the talents the XKR Convertible has to offer, I was convinced that Jaguar had managed to build a vehicle that was worth every copper cent of its MSRP.
That was the honeymoon.
With the sun shining after work the next day, I was looking forward to dinner out with the wife followed by a long ride home via some of the area's more desolate roads. We hopped in, I hit the key and was instantly rewarded with a glowing check engine light. Having suffered through the hazing associated with English vehicle ownership in the past, a few dozen Lucas jokes buzzed through my brain before I could so much as mutter a curse.
For the uninitiated, Joseph Lucas founded the company behind nearly all of the electrical components under the hood of hardware from jolly old England. His gear had a reputation for reliability that was about as spotless as a pair of polka dot socks. There's a reason they say the company holds the world's only patent on the short circuit.
Still, check engine lights are nothing new or special, even on a vehicle with 2,200 miles on the clock. We piled back out and the next day I got the pleasure of spending some time with the experts at Harper Jaguar. The problem stemmed from a faulty evaporation system sensor, and in no time the techs at the dealer had the XKR Convertible up and running again. There was much rejoicing.
Or at least there was until two days later, when the light reared its head once again. Having precious few days before having to leave town, I wasn't interested in carving out any more time to have the vehicle addressed. I parked the cat in the driveway and defaulted to the familial fleet for the remainder of my transportation needs.
Jaguar's current owner, Tata, inherited an entire British brand that was on its way up. From beautifully-styled XF, XJ and XK models to vastly improved reliability records, Jaguar is heads and shoulders above its old self. In fact, the automaker routinely scores well in J.D. Power and Associates surveys. Unfortunately, those scores are based largely on the company's previous generation hardware, not the new kit that mostly fills Jag showrooms now.
Granted, the poor vehicles submitted to the vicious hands of the average automotive journalist endure acts banned by the Geneva Convention, but by and large, most automakers manage to serve up products that can at least manage three days without needing attention from a qualified service professional.
I can't help but imagine what would happen if Kia, Toyota or Chrysler began cranking out vehicles with the kind of reliability woes that recent Jaguar models have come to be known for. Whereas the big cat is more or less given a pass for its luxury pedigree and history of foible-ridden vehicles, other brands are held to continuous scrutiny.
Having been completely wowed by an excellent interior and heavenly drivetrain, I'm more than a little soured by my run-in with the ghost of Lucas' past. Until Jaguar can get its reliability house in order, I have to imagine there are better places to spend your $103,375. A nice house on a few dozen acres in Tennessee, perhaps...
Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
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