Car reviews - Jaguar - XK - XKR Coupe
Great design, hatch practicality, quiet cabin, supercharged V8 performance, impressive dynamics, ride quality
Room for improvement
Supercharged V8 thirst, tiny speedo/tacho, no seat-adjustment lighting, poor rear-seat access and space
14 Nov 2008
IS it a cut-price Aston Martin DB9 or just a cut-down XJ sedan?
This is a question that might vex a potential buyer of Jaguar’s latest two-door coupe.
But even a short time behind the wheel of the latest XKR Coupe will reveal a sort of hybrid of the two, which should be enough to lure more than the odd Porsche 911 buyer into the British marque’s ranks.
So what is the XKR all about then? Essentially, it the high-performance version of the $209,400 X150 XK series released in Australia in July 2006.
Visual changes are minor, running to a ‘sportier grille and front bumper design’, as well as a louvered bonnet, restyled alloy wheels and side vents.
They do subtly enhance the Jaguar’s styling, further underlining the XK’s Aston Martin-esque silhouette designer Ian Callum is partly responsible for cars from both marques, so the aesthetic connection is not a coincidence.
While the headlight and tail-light detailing is a little too fussy for our tastes, the large hatch door is strongly reminiscent of the 1960s Jaguar E-Type Coupe, adding a sensual as well as practical tone to the styling. The XK is a great example of past-inspiration without being mired down in retro-pastiche.
Kicking off from a cool $240,100, the ‘R’ costs more than a BMW 650i Coupe but significantly less than the M6, is about lineball with a Porsche 911 Targa 4 (perhaps its closest rival conceptually – even if the $281,200 4S PDK is more the Jag’s performance equal), and cheaper than any new Maserati.
Other like-priced competitors include the Mercedes-Benz SL350, while the similarly powerful Mercedes CLS500 looks positively affordable at $190,000, but that’s an E-class sedan in drag.
There were earlier XKs (since 1948, in fact), with the previous one, the 1996 X100 series, being pretty much a 1975 Jaguar XJS with a rather more voluptuous body, fresher interior and contemporary engines.
This one is derived from the current XJ luxury sedan’s advanced architecture, and also features all-aluminium monocoque construction that results in weight savings of up to 20 per cent on some models, while body stiffness increases by about 30 per cent.
Significant performance and driving dynamic benefits are the upshot, and these are focussed even further in the ‘R’ derivative of the XK, which Jaguar describes as “XK plus 30 per cent”.
Actually, the 4.2-litre supercharged V8 petrol engine is perhaps the oldest part of this otherwise all-new car, carrying over from the old AJ-V8 family line as used in the previous XKR iteration.
Still, it ain’t broke and doesn’t need fixing, with a new (and quieter by five decibels) Eaton supercharger and variable valve timing (continuously adjusting the timing of the inlet camshaft on both banks of the V8 depending on the engine speed and load) contributing to 306kW of power at a peaky 6250rpm and 560Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
On paper, the 100km/h mark from standstill is reached in just 4.9 seconds, which is in 911 territory, and then goes on to match it with an electronically-governed top speed of 250km/h.
And on the road, this is no paper err… Jaguar either, with the XKR feeling a bit like you might imagine a fighter jet would at take-off from an aircraft carrier: unrelenting forward thrust, accompanied by a magnificent sound.
The latter is due to an enhanced exhaust system that, as Jaguar puts it, “…varies the flow of exhaust gases through the main silencer box to ensure that the XKR remains quiet at cruising speeds but delivers a substantially more purposeful V8 roar under hard acceleration”. Which is exactly what happens.
Drive is relayed to the rear wheels via ZF’s excellent six-speed automatic gearbox, which does a superb job with well-spaced ratios right across the board. It also benefits from new electronic components that slash shift times to almost seamless levels.
So it is a shock to find Jaguar’s old-fashioned ‘J’ gate transmission lever making an appearance in this car, but it loses the lower ratio gated options in lieu of a handy set of steering column-mounted paddles for those who prefer to change their gears manually as well as sequentially.
Leave it in Sport (horizontally across from Drive), and the XKR holds on to the lower gears for longer periods (depending on the driving style), providing instant, thunderous acceleration right up to the power peak.
This Jaguar is seriously warp-speed fast, rocketing forward with a balletic urgency that transcends its muscular, hunkered down looks, yet remaining reassuringly planted to the road at all times.
Keeping this in mind, the XKR’s fuel consumption is reasonable: we averaged around 13.5 litres per 100km in a combination of highway and urban/city road use, and even saw sub-11 figures (as well as 16s-plus when really pressing on).
No doubt that this is aided by the aluminium body, which means that the 1686kg Jaguar is usefully lighter than the BMW 650i, if 100kg heavier than the sinewy Porsche.
Not surprisingly then, the reduced mass manifests itself in beautifully linear and surprisingly rapid handling responses, with the Jaguar belying its size and bulk to really dart along with ease on a winding road.
But while you can tip the car into a corner at speed with immediacy and virtually no heaviness or inertia, the Jag could do with a tad more steering weight and feel, especially if you are the type who likes to press on.
On the other hand, we challenge anybody not to be anything less than astounded with the XK’s remarkably tight turning circle.
The cliché goes that power is nothing without control, and so the Jaguar’s electronics do much to contain the inevitable wayward tail antics once the road surface is anything other than bone-dry.
Power is cut somewhat clumsily if you are ham-fisted with the accelerator in the wet, with the rear wagging slightly just before the traction controls catch it, to remind you that smoke on the water is an option should you decide to disconnect the safeties and go for broke – sideways and backwards if you’re not quick enough with the helm.
The Jaguar’s taut chassis and great body control certainly lend it to hooligan antics, but composure and control are this car’s calling cards, courtesy of large ventilated disc brakes and uprated springs and shock absorbers, as part of the Computer Active Technology Suspension set-up that features a two-stage damping action.
Compared to the regular XK, the R’s front/rear spring rates are up by 38 and 24 per cent respectively.
Yet the XKR’s greatest indulgence is to be found in its gloriously relaxed grand touring abilities. Set the cruise control and just enjoy the serenity of the world rushing past you in astounding silence, whisked along by an astoundingly supple riding suspension system.
While you might occasionally hear as well as feel larger bumps and potholes underneath you, much is smothered away while very little displaces the Jaguar from its chosen course. We believe that you will struggle to find a better-resolved ride/handling/performance compromise.
That this is one of the closest motorised morphine moments we have ever experienced is further underlined by the XKR’s lush cabin presentation.
It may not have the most radical dashboard design (especially after the progressive fascia fitted to the newer Jaguar XF), but there is very little wrong with the interior’s functionality.
Happily, the ‘R’ eradicates any form of old-world England inside, brandishing a stitched leather, thickly carpeted and racy metallic trimmed world of opulence, complete with rich suede roof lining that makes you feel like you are ensconced in an expensive Italian shoe.
A fabulous pair of front seats certainly look after driver and passenger support and comfort, but the rear duo are, well, like a finely pair of baby slippers in comparison – and really only suitable for toddlers. If it weren’t for the baby-seat anchorage points fitted behind the fixed backrest, we would have doubted these were actually meant for humanoid posteriors.
But we did need to use the rears in an emergency, and so were relieved that Jaguar obliges a pair of average-sized adults sat perched on them somewhat comically as face cheeks caressed suede ceiling thankfully the front-seat occupants could slide their seats forward enough, otherwise this would have been a case of legs-akimbo for the rear passengers/contortionists.
Our only real objection concerns the too-small speedometer, with its old-fashioned green lighting and clumped-together graphics. Jaguar really should have a digital speed readout option in the LED trip computer screen.
We also found the lack of illumination for the electric seat controls annoying, while the fact that the rear side windows don’t retract is a disappointment in a coupe as stylish as this.
And that’s it for whingeing because, in virtually all other respects, the XKR Coupe’s interior is brilliant.
We like the driving position, with the attractive and tactile steering wheel falling perfectly to hand and the centre screen – with its touch-activated audio, climate, phone, navigation and vehicle control settings – is truly a lesson in simplicity and usability, rendering the XK’s German rivals’ various i-Drive-style controllers unnecessarily complicated.
This screen has a myriad of uses too.
Yes, rear vision is hampered by the tapering rear windows and broad shouldered pillars, but the XKR’s acoustic parking aid – backed up by a simple visual proximity indicator shown in the centre stack screen, that very tight turning circle and mirrors that helpfully dip down so you won’t scuff those beautiful alloy wheels – does much to overcome the chore of reversing in confined spaces.
We found ample storage areas thanks to a large glovebox, reasonably deep centre console bin and (rather shallow) door bins.
And there were no rattles, squeaks or noise intrusions entering inside, making for a quiet, refined and defatiguing interior experience.
Of course, there is the inescapable fact that a large hatch lurks behind. Not especially deep, it does add a level of extra practicality and useability that usually eludes coupes such as this, although the requisite body rigidity goals dictated that the rear seatbacks do not fold at all, thus limiting the XKR’s utility somewhat.
But, boy, the supercharged Jaguar sure lives up to its styling.
As with the underrated XJ and brilliant new XF, the XK serves to show rivals that towering ability does not come at the cost of more esoteric values such as ‘soul’ or ‘character’.
Furthermore, over the last decade, Jaguar has proved that it can make reliable and dependable vehicles as well, thus overcoming one of the hurdles that held the brand back for so long in the past.
After hundreds of kilometres behind the wheel of the XKR Coupe, we arrived both refreshed and stirred in equal measure, but not shaken, and convinced that an owner of a modern Aston Martin would feel quite at home in this alluring and very competitively priced GT.
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