Mountain of torque, driveability, great touring ability, design sensuality
Room for improvement
Price, thirst, limited visibility, interior too American for some tastes
RELEASE the devil inside. Drive an XKR, Jaguar's hottest and fastest coupe yet.
Boiling blood-red paint, aggressive 10-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels, wiper-blade thin boot lid spoiler, vented bonnet and honeycomb mesh grille mark this out from the pride.
Resist the mischievous voice if you dare, but it's hard.
The urge to apply full throttle, chirp the tyres, rouse the traction control and blow a hole in the horizon becomes unmanageable.
Engine response from the supercharged 4.0-litre V8 is fabulous.
It's a unique aural delight, a throaty roar that builds as the charger works ever harder and the road to 6000rpm and unleashing a towering 279kW is much travelled by those who become so easily hooked on thrust and deliverance.
The 525Nm on tap is so accessible, yet you can drive around town sedately.
To unharness the full potential you pick your road with care - long, snaking and well surfaced.
Although the 18-inch wheels and 245/45ZR18 front and 255/45ZR18 rear rubber mated to the CATS computerised suspension seems a recipe for a harsh crashy ride, this is a sports set-up calculated with grand touring in mind, not point-to-point kerb hopping.
It's almost a cosseting ride, but the compromise between ride and handling errs more towards handling than the standard XK8, which lurched and rolled (comparatively speaking) too much to be a useful weapon on truly tortuous roads.
There's some jiggling as the bitumen deteriorates, but composure is never questioned even when the traction control light's are flickering.
The brakes pull the car up well but pedal travel lengthens with regular use, a tired spongy feeling surfacing after a charge down a tight tack.
The steering is pretty good considering the massive front tyres.
A good compromise is beaten out by the new-generation ZR Servotronic II, between a living, breathing helm and one that dutifully responds.
The XKR is at home on a fast wet country single-laner, with boost from the supercharger to get you past a string of road trains before they've had a chance to take in the red streak flashing past.
The nose rises with the noise, just the scent of lurking prey has the Jag panting and prancing, just like its grand-daddy, the 4.2-litre E-type.
One downer on today's car though is the way the active stability system cuts power as it deduces the grip factor has fallen too low.
Powering round a hairpin it clamps down hard on acceleration, spin and slip, strangling torque in order to maintain grip. But the result, while a tidier exit, feels as if a motor home has been hitched to the Jaguar's shapely rump.
Handily there's a switch on the increasingly crowded and switchgear laden centre console to silence the traction system, but a warning lamp on the dash would be an handy reminder of the disabled system, rather than a simple LED on the switch its self.
While we're griping, the radio controls on the steering wheel should be lit for night-time use.
The interior is relatively spacious, and smartly trimmed in excellent quality plastic and cloth facings, the black leather bucket seats a highlight.
The test car was remarkably squeak and rattle free and the whole car felt, for once, professionally put together. Ford's money is finally being repaid.
Sling-shot acceleration, grippy handling, effervescent looks and that special 'Supercharged' Jaguar's head badge conspire to drive a wedge of admiration into the heart of every driver who slides behind the wheel.
Jaguar has hit the mark with this car.
The only niggle working its way into our minds is that it makes the standard XK8 feel lardy and over-priced by comparison.
If you're already considering the $182,000 for the normally aspirated XK8, test the XKR. Bet you'll find the extra $18,000 somewhere.
- Automotive NetWorks 09/06/99