2001 Jaguar XKR Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All this, and brains too.
The Jaguar XKR is one of those rare grand touring cars with seemingly endless talents. It makes you a happy driver, it coddles you in comfort while egging you on to insane speeds, and it makes other drivers British racing green with envy.
Based on the lovely XK8, the XKR keeps a secret under its hood - a magnificent 370-horsepower V8, supercharged with a growl entirely appropriate to this brand. While the 290-horsepower XK8 is powerful and expensive enough at $66,200, the $81,800 XKR convertible makes a compelling argument for the best way to spend those future lottery winnings.
There are two versions of the XKR, coupe and convertible. The coupe is priced from $76,800, including a range of standard features you might never be able to live without. It's got acres of gorgeous wood trim, a CD changer, leather everything, power nearly everything, and a shape so handsome several passers-by in Southern California begged me to pause for just a little longer stare. The sole option is a DVD-based navigation system, with enough information to blanket the U.S. on a single disc.
Though considered separate models, Jaguar's XK8 is well worthy of consideration for anyone who doesn't feel the need for the XKR's power. XK8 Coupe retails for $66,200; XK8 Convertible lists for $71,200.
The foundation for the XKR is well known to enthusiasts by now. Its predecessor XK8 entered the sports car scene in 1997 with a riveting shape and a smooth, responsive 290-horsepower V8. The XKR doesn't vary widely from that formula, except in one striking way - it supplants the standard engine with a supercharged V8.
Jaguar plotted the XKR as a stealthy speeder, which explains the relatively minor cosmetic changes that distinguish it from the XK8. Those distinguishing details: The XKR grille is wire mesh and the crests of its fenders bear louvers. (The twin louvers are located in an aerodynamic low-pressure zone, creating an extractor effect that helps draw air through the radiator pack at an increased rate.) A brief spoiler crests atop the trunk's aft edge, XKR lettering adorns the trunk lid and doorsills, and the traditional Jaguar badges have red backgrounds.
Nothing detracts from the gorgeous shape, however. As time passes, we seem to grow even more fond of the XK silhouette, with its leonine lines and subtle body curvature. It's rolling art - a supermodel translated into sheet metal. There's a distinctly feminine air about the XKR, especially inside, where voluptuous curves dominate the outward view, unlike the Teutonic creases evident from behind the wheel of a Mercedes SL.
While the XKR grabs the headlines, the XK8 has been upgraded for 2000: The anti-lock braking system has been revised to the Electronic Stability Braking System and the front disc brake rotors have been enlarged. Also adding to safety are front seat belt pretensioners that are now electrically actuated. The standard audio system is upgraded to six speakers and a new 320-watt Alpine Premium Sound system is available as an option. New standard equipment includes new alloy wheels, traction control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a trunk cargo net, de-powered front air bags, and, for the coupe, child seat tether anchors.
You'll never want for sybaritic accoutrements inside the XKR. Rich leather, dense and plush wool carpeting, and a swath of wood the size of a twin headboard transform the plainly shaped dash into an exquisite piece of retro architecture.
Of course, you can lodge minor complaints for the amount of space available, although the XKR's cabin is fairly roomy for six-foot driver. The convertible top presses down a bit closer than is ideal, and the seats aren't supportive enough to slouch into. The seats may in fact be this Jag's worst feature - narrow seatbacks with little side-to-side support that's essential in fast driving. The rear seats, called '+2s,' shouldn't be counted on for carrying more than that many grocery bags or briefcases. Even children will be unhappy wedged in the back. But children's comfort is hardly the point, then, is it? Better to leave them at home.
The XKR's newly invigorated engine is Jaguar's AJ V-8, a 4.0-liter engine that in naturally aspirated form makes 290 horsepower. With the addition of the supercharger, it surges to 370 horsepower. It's very similar to the supercharged powerplant in the XJR sedan, but to fit under the XKR's sloping hood, some minor modifications to the intercoolers and cooling system were made.
Jaguar says it chose supercharging over turbocharging for its immediate throttle response and superior torque at low revs. When prodded, the XKR responds with breathtaking acceleration. Yet it can crawl through miles of snarled traffic without raising a claw - or the temperature gauge. The supercharged V8 develops 387 foot-pounds of torque, fully available from just 3600 rpm, which provides the XKR with effortless response to throttle movement. At just 1600 rpm, the supercharged engine is already producing more torque than the XK8's naturally aspirated V8 generates at its peak.
Purists should no longer be shocked to learn that Jaguar uses a five-speed automatic transmission built by Mercedes-Benz. (Perhaps the car world would be a better place if we all just used GM or Benz automatics and Nissan and Honda manuals.)
What we all want from Jaguars are stunning looks and breathtaking speed. Fortunately, the XKR delivers those in abundance. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.2 seconds (a tick more for the slightly heavier convertible) and charges to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. It bears noting that Jaguar clocks the XKR as being faster than the Porsche 911 or Mercedes-Benz SL500.
XKR's suspension and tires put all of its power to the ground in a delightful manner. Its suspension consists of control arms and shocks in front and a hallmark quasi-independent rear suspension that uses the driveshafts along with control arms and coils as suspension components. In addition, the XKR features a Computer Active Technology Suspension (or CATS) that harnesses computer-processing power to change shock settings.
The blend of a comfortably firm ride and responsive handling is appealing. While road impacts can be felt slightly, the sum of its responses makes it a cozy vehicle for long highway jaunts and for assaulting your favorite sharp corners. Its variable-ratio power steering is exceptionally sharp without wander and abrupt kickback. Massive 18-inch Pirelli P Zero tires (245/45ZR18 in front, 255/45ZR18 in back) provide an amazing amount of grip that inspires driver confidence.
Dynamic differences between the coupe and convertible are minor. The coupe has a rocklike solidity that previous experiences in 1980s-vintage Jaguars made seemingly impossible.
The convertible shudders a bit over the largest road crevasses, but not improperly. The convertible's cloth-lined top seals well against wind noise. It's an attractive soft top, among the few convertible tops that fits that description.
The XK8, for the lucky few who can afford it, makes a convincing case to be considered along the stalwart Porsche 911s and Mercedes-Benz SL. When it's supercharged, it's no longer a question. The only question is whether it's the best of the trio.
XKR coupe ($76,800), XKR convertible ($81,800); XK8 coupe ($66,200), XK8 Convertible ($71,200).
Options As Tested
XKR convertible ($81,800).
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