2008 Jaguar XKR Expert Review:Autoblog
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Put a gun to my head, hand over a winning lottery ticket and tell me to go out and bring back the best grand touring sports car money can buy, and I may just return with a Jaguar XK. Ask for the best large or midsize luxury saloon, however, and you will not get a car crowned by a leaping jungle cat. Read Dan Roth's review of the 2007 Jaguar XK Convertible, and you'll wonder just how the current XJ, S-Type and X-Type can be sold under the same brand as the XK Coupe and Convertible.
So what happens when you add an "R" to the XK? For one, the price jumps by $11,000 to $92,500. Aside from that, the high-performance version of Jaguar's sexy drop top kicks things up a notch from mild to medium strength. As good as the XK is, does the additional consonant make that big of a difference?
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Much of your extra $11,000 is spent under the hood of the XKR, but we'll get to that in a minute. Considering that the standard XK coupe and convertible are regarded as objects of automotive sex, we're curious as to why Jaguar felt it necessary to accessorize their highly regarded design with go-fast trinkets. The XKR gets a new front bumper and mesh grille design that, frankly, doesn't improve the standard car's gentle lines. Add to that a pair of aluminum hood vents emblazoned with the word "SUPERCHARGED" that spoils the surprise below. The most telling sign you've got an XKR on your hands is the air extractor vents behind the front wheels, which here are blinged a bit instead of body colored like on the standard cars. Of course, XKRs also wear new wheels, in our case a set of 19-inchers with five split-spokes per. Finally, all XKR models sport a pair of dual exhausts out back, another indicator your XK is into heavy breathing.
We're such fans of the standard XK's design that ordering up an XKR without the new front end would be a preferable option. We'd keep the new wheels, chromed side vents and extra set of exhaust tips, as we do believe in differentiating your power player from the rest of the lineup. That said, we could deliver countless bystanders and passerbys who disagree with us. You may remember that the XKR Convertible was with us at the 2007 Woodward Dream Cruise, and surprisingly (at least to us) the convertible from Coventry drew in more than its fair share of gawkers while parked on Motor City's most famous avenue. Despite our reservations, Jaguar must have done something right with striking a balance in the XKR's design of elegant grace and aggressive tendencies.
The interior of the XKR, meanwhile, has been tampered with little by Jaguar. Added are only aluminum "weave" inserts, which our tester didn't even have in favor of burled walnut inserts (a no-cost option), and sport seats with an incredible 16 ways of adjustment that are controlled by a gaudy panel near the door handle. As such, the XKR's chairs were extremely comfortable, and made our 3-hour jaunts between Cleveland and Detroit for the Dream Cruise a pleasure to endure. While the interior itself is identical to the domicile of a standard XK, that's fine as this represents the best instrument panel ever installed in a Jaguar. It earns high marks for the use of expensive materials that feel rich to the touch, as well as the ergonomic elegance of its center console. Front and center is a large 7-inch touchscreen that, aside from being above average in its ease of use, employs one of the prettiest graphical user interfaces (GUI) of any nav system on the market. Unlike many vehicles that offer a built-in touchscreen to control the nav system, audio and HVAC controls, Jag chose to keep redundancy to a minimum and not repeat every command with a button, knob and dial on the dash. It's risky to channel all of the driver's inputs through a single touchscreen, but Jag's GUI is straightforward enough so that your fingers won't be tripping over themselves trying to change stations or input a destination.
Being that the Jaguar XKR Convertible costs nearly $100,000, we appreciated not having to insert a key and twist to get it started. Keyless entry and start are standard in the XKR, so one needs only to approach the vehicle with the key fob on his person, get in and press the start button to hear the roarty engine come to life. Jaguar seemed content not to plunge a syringe full of steroids into the car's 4.2L AJ V8, instead adding a supercharger and raising horsepower by 120 to a more respectable 420. Being that the recently unveiled 2009 Jaguar XF sedan will use the same naturally aspirated and supercharged versions of Jaguar's 4.2L AJ V8, we think it's time this crowning convertible got some more oomph. It's not that the XKR Convertible's 420 horsepower left us wanting, it's just that on paper this engine doesn't stack up well against its German competition, particularly the BMW M6 Convertible that, while costing around $10,000 more, comes with a superlative 500-hp 5.0L V10. Despite the discrepancy in power, we'd still rather be seen sitting in the Jag, which is like a supermodel compared to the BMW's linebacker looks.
The Jaguar XKR Convertible's folding cloth top hardly spoils the car's profile. It does, however, gobble a good amount of trunk space whether up or down. There's still enough room back there for a couple of soft bags, and we found the trade off more than worthwhile on sunny days when we dropped the top and basked in the aural delight of the cat's subdued purr. While there are technically a pair of chairs behind the driver and front passenger, we never managed to bring a full four along for the ride. The rear seats have literally no leg room, so consider them an adjunct to the trunk.
We spent many miles on the highway with our XKR Convertible, which we thought would be uncomfortable because of the 'R' at the end of its name. Normally the "sporty" version of a model gets that name by firming up the ride, which may improve handling but almost always at the expense of a smooth ride. Despite its 19-inch wheels wearing low profile rubber, the XKR 'Vert rode like a luxury car over uneven pavement. Well, maybe not a luxury car, but the bumps we expected to shake our spine were muffled somewhere in the XKR's suspension. Do the dampers ruin the XKR Convertible's performance pretense? Well, let's just say that on a daily basis you'll use the car's forgiving ride more than its capacity to carve corners anyway.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the newest Jag that was just revealed, the 2009 Jaguar XF, before ending this review. We were hoping after the production XF was unveiled that we could say the XK and its variants weren't the only fetching felines offered by Jaguar, but alas, we can't. The XF's exterior didn't fare so well on its way from concept to production model, so the XK remains the most attractive Jag available. And if you add an 'R' on the end, it just gets better.
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New Car Test Drive
The sleekest of the cats.
The Jaguar XK is a thoroughly modern car, having completely redesigned and re-engineered for 2007, and it competes well with the latest versions of the Mercedes-Benz SL, BMW 6 Series, and Cadillac XLR.
The outgoing Jaguar sports car, the XK8, lasted 10 years on the market and, toward the end, had become a patchwork as new technologies such as satellite radio, navigation and airbags had to be adapted to it. Its V8 horsepower number began with a 2 instead of a 3, putting it way behind the competition. There were also new safety and emissions goals to be met. So for 2007, Jaguar replaced the XK8 with a brand-new car from the ground up, the first aluminum-chassis sports car in Jaguar's six decades of production.
Riding on a much longer wheelbase than before, the latest XK offers substantially more interior space. The seats are more comfortable, the gauges are nicer, and everything works better. Benefiting from the lightweight chassis, the 4.2-liter V8 propels the XK from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, says Jaguar. Its rigid chassis and the latest CATS adaptive suspension provides a smooth ride and demonic cornering, coupled with accurate steering and powerful brakes. Gone is the old J-gate transmissions shifter, replaced by a more conventional design that offers a Sport mode with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
For 2008, the Jaguar has refined the XK with better interior materials, a concealed (rather than retractable) audio antenna, and more equipment bundled into the optional Luxury Packages. Nineteen-inch run-flat tires are available for 2008, and four new colors have been added for convertible tops. A high-technology, limited-production Portfolio Edition was also introduced.
The XK heritage dates back to the fast and sensual XK-120 of 1949. This latest design of the XK is beautiful and evocative of the breakthrough XK-E of the early 1960s, with some Aston Martin and Ford styling cues thrown in. (Jaguar's Scottish chief designer, Ian Callum, designed the Aston Martin DB-7 and DB-9.)
Like its luscious ancestors, this latest XK is a tasty combination of Jaguar style and traditional British luxury-car wood, leather, and quietness.
The 2008 Jaguar XK coupe ($74,835) and convertible ($80,835) come with a 4.2-liter, 300-horsepower V8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Standard wheels are 18-inch alloys.
The XKR coupe ($86,035) and convertible ($92,035) add a supercharger to the same engine for 420 horsepower. XKRs come with high-performance brakes, active front lighting, and 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside are sport seats with added lateral support, polished stainless pedals, a suede-like Alston headliner and aluminum trim. Outside, the XKR is distinguished by a deeper front valance, mesh grille inserts, and body-color hood louvers.
Standard equipment for all XK models includes all the power accessories and other amenities you'd expect at this level, plus 10-way power seats with memory, DVD navigation, keyless entry and keyless start, a seven-inch video display, Bluetooth capability, cruise control, 160-watt Alpine stereo with 6CD changer, rear park assist, and an electronic parking brake.
The Luxury Package for the XK ($3,300) adds 16-way power seats with adjustable bolsters, soft-grain leather interior, heated leather steering wheel, leather gearshift knob, power-fold exterior mirrors, and 19-inch alloy wheels. A similar package is also available for the XKR ($2,500). The Aluminum Luxury Package for the XK ($8,125) combines the soft leather 16-way seats with aluminum interior trim and 20-inch alloy wheels. Advanced Technology Packages for the XK ($2,750) and XKR ($2,450) add adaptive cruise control, front park control, and (on the XK) active front lighting. The Premium Sound Package ($1,875) comprises an eight-speaker, 525-watt Alpine Premium Dolby surround sound system with Sirius satellite radio (subscription sold separately).
Several wheel options are available as stand-alones, including 19-inch alloys ($1,200), 19-inch chromed alloys ($1,400), 19-inch chromed alloys with run-flat tires ($1,700), and 20-inch alloys ($5,000).
The Portfolio limited edition ($12,000) for the XKR adds Alcon brakes with six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in the rear, 20-inch polished alloy wheels, polished aluminum power side vents, leather-edged floor mats, a 525-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system with Sirius Satellite radio, and Celestial Black metallic paint. Buyers can choose American Walnut or engine-spun aluminum interior trim at no extra cost. Also included is the XKR Luxury Package described above. Jaguar said that just 255 Portfolio Editions would be available in the U.S. Adaptive cruise control is available as a stand-alone option ($2,200).
Safety features for all XKs include front and side air bags, ABS with EBD, traction control, dynamic stability control, and tire-pressure monitor. Also included on convertible models is electronic roll-over protection: If the convertible should roll over, two rollover bars come blasting up through the rear glass to stabilize the rear of the compartment.
The Jaguar XK has been a design icon since 1949, and the latest version (introduced for 2007) looks very much the part. The overhangs are shorter, but the signature voluptuousness is in every panel on the car, and the tires and wheels are more prominent in the design.
The stowaway power convertible top added some width to the rear end of the car to accommodate the steel top cover, but both the coupe and the convertible are stunning cars. We don't need those new front fender badges to tell us that it's a Jaguar, and the taillamps are a bit busy, but otherwise the coupe and convertible are a pair of lovely shapes, carefully adorned.
Most of what is underneath came directly from the all-aluminum-chassis XJ sedan introduced three years ago, and that's a good thing, leading to huge weight reductions with concomitant gains in stiffness, strength and performance.
Part of the total engineering revision introduced for 2007 involved stretching the wheelbase by almost six and a half inches to afford much more interior space.
Inside the latest XK, everything is roomier. The seats were given more travel, and there's more room for humans in all directions. Everything inside was new last year, from the new shifter with a Sport slot to the new dashboard and instrument layout, to the standard touch-screen navigation system.
The seats were given a major redesign, and are much the better for it, with longer cushions, more power adjustments, more enveloping bolsters, and generally more long-distance comfort built in. They're upholstered in Jaguar's traditional leather, of course, and set off by the buyer's choice of walnut veneer, poplar veneer, or aluminum trim panels on the doors and dashboard.
The instruments have more engaging graphics, the layout is better, and the switchgear makes more sense now because of the opportunity to redesign it.
The XK was built up from the idea of a 2+2 roadster. The coupe came after the more complex disappearing hard top design, also as a 2+2. We appreciate what Jaguar is trying to do here, but the rear compartment simply doesn't have room for the average adult occupant. Purses, backpacks, briefcases and satchels, maybe, but not real people. At least not very large people, and not for long distances.
All the controls and switches make sense, especially if you're used to Jaguars. Things work pretty much the same way as the previous XK8 and XKR. The new navigation system is big, bright, colorful, clear and useful with a minimum of fuss.
None of the other coupes and roadsters in this small luxury sports car class are exactly swimming in cargo space, and the XK doesn't move the needle here, either, with 10.6 cubic feet in the coupe, 10.0 cubic feet in the convertible with the top up, and only 7 cubic feet with the top stowed.
Dealing with the XK, working its works, discovering it system by system, was a pleasure. No surprises, no weirdness. We did find the A-pillar to be thicker than we'd like, interfering with our vision in some driving situations, but other than that quibble, the car was quick, quiet, comfortable and easy to use, with strong kudos for the touch-screen design and interface.
The 300-horsepower engine in the Jaguar XK, outfitted with variable valve timing and other improvements for both power and fuel efficiency, wouldn't be competitive with other sports cars in this price range if the car had a steel body and 700 pounds more weight. But with only the 3600-pound body and chassis to carry around, the engine is pretty darn good. It sounds especially mean and nasty at full throttle because of some extra valves and plumbing in the exhaust system, especially with the convertible top stowed. In sixth gear cruising, though, it's a near-inaudible pussycat.
The six-speed automatic with manual control, a Sport mode, and shifter paddles on the steering wheel, is about three levels of sportiness better than the outgoing transmission and the old J-gate shifter. The new twin-clutch transmission allows extremely quick, positive shifts between gears, with little or no lurching on upshifts and a nice, growly throttle blip on downshifts. This is an improvement on the similar ZF transmission Ford uses in the Aston Martin DB9, now with better hardware and software. It can sense aggressive driving and adapt accordingly, limiting upshifts in long corners in Sport mode, and giving instant multiple downshifts when conditions are right.
The engine/transmission combination is good for about 5.9-second 0-60 times and 14.4-second quarter-mile sprints, according to Jaguar, with an electronic speed limit of 155 mph. The EPA rates the XK at 16/25 mpg city/highway, thus avoiding any gas-guzzler tax. But Jaguar does recommend premium fuel.
Hugely stiffer than the outgoing car on the basis of its riveted and bonded aluminum construction, almost 50 percent stiffer in bending and much stiffer in torsion, the current XK offers the kind of silky smooth ride and demonic cornering that great sports cars have always had. It's helped by the completely retuned CATS adaptive suspension system with faster-acting, smarter shock absorbers that work with the engine and transmission to immediately react to the situation and driver's intention. The tuning is roughly 10 percent stiffer in the front and 4 percent stiffer in the rear than the old car. There are several assist modes to the CATS system, including completely off, for track days.
Another byproduct of the stiff chassis is the steering accuracy. It's without question the tightest, heftiest, and quickest Jaguar power steering in history, but nowhere near the point of skittishness. Solid, stable, and planted. The traction control system now features a Trac mode that keeps everything on but allows a higher threshold of yaw, letting the car get sideways in corners for those owners who go to Jaguar Club track days.
The new XK models are fitted with a choice of 18-, 19-, or 20-inch wheels and tires. Base tires are Continental P245/45ZR18s front and P255/45ZR18s rear. Dunlop SP Sport 01 asymmetric high-performance tires, 245/40ZR-19 front and 275/35ZR19 rear, are standard on XKR and fitted on XKs with optional 19-inch wheels. Optional on all models (and standard on Portfolios) are Dunlop SP Sport Maxx ultra-performance tires, 255/35ZR20s for the front and 285/30ZR20s for the rear.
The current XK's ABS brakes are much larger than those on the previous model, and much more powerful, considering the reduced weight of the car, with braking starting at the very top of pedal travel, where we like it. No fade whatsoever after a long downhill switchback workout.
Although the weights and balances between the coupe and the convertible versions, which we drove back-to-back, are close, there's really no discernable difference in the way they drive, except that the convertible with the top down generates more sound in the cockpit and more admiring glances from the other drivers than the coupe.
With its Eaton supercharger, the XKR develops 420 horsepower at 6250 rpm, and 413 pound-feet of torque at 4000. It also rides more firmly than the standard model, with spring rates increased 38 percent in front and 24 percent in the rear; and its steering is tuned for higher effort and quicker response. Additionally, the front brake disc diameter is increased from 12.8 to 14.0 inches, and the thickness from 1.2 to 1.3 inches, not only to improve braking performance but also the system's resistance to fade. We haven't driven an XKR ourselves, but Jaguar says its supercharged super-cat can rocket from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds. Top speed is still electronically limited to 155 mph. EPA estimated fuel economy dips to 15/23 mpg city/highway, but the XKR still avoids a guzzler tax.
The limited-edition XKR Portfolio takes braking and handling to the next level with standard 20-inch wheels and tires, and an Alcon braking system that includes massive 15.7-inch discs up front with six-piston calipers; and in the rear four-piston calipers squeezing 13.8-inch discs. Crescent-shaped grooves cut into the surface of the brake discs prevent a build-up of deposits on the brake pads and improve braking performance under extreme use.
The Jaguar XK is an absolutely gorgeous sports car that will appeal broadly to successful men and women looking for the latest in sleek affordability. We are smitten by this beautiful Jag and the way it drives down the road, changing direction like the big cat it's named for, but coddling the adventurers inside like an English nanny.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this story from Cape Town, South Africa.
Jaguar XK Coupe ($74,835); XK Convertible ($80,835): XKR Coupe ($86,035); XKR Convertible ($92,035).
Options As Tested
Jaguar XK Convertible ($80,835).
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