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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