If ever there was a car company in need of a shot of testosterone, it's Jaguar. Barely a week goes by without murmurings of cutbacks, closures or worse. There are fears that this once-great British company will fall into Ford's corporate mire, done to death by a combination of mismanagement and union intransigence.
Jaguar's ultimate fate will be decided by time and Bill Ford's will, but if there's a beacon of hope among the malaise, it's the XK. The standard coupe and convertible were launched at the beginning of the year to a warm reception and bulging order books, and now there's a new sporting flagship, the XKR. Anyone who drove the old XKR will remember a point-and-squirt machine of the old school. It looked pretty and went hard but the chassis, originally developed for the antiquated XJS, lacked finesse. This new model was developed alongside the XJ and promises to be a very different machine. Jag's chassis guru, Mike Cross, reckons 'R' is a standard XK "plus 30 percent." Designed by Scotsman Ian Callum, the man responsible for the Aston range, the XKR makes no secret of its intent. A mesh grille, front foglights, quad tailpipes and an aluminum 'power vent' behind the front wheels all help distinguish the new car. The bonnet louvers-a signature feature of the old car-are also present and correct and embossed with the word "supercharged."
Inside, the makeover is more subtle. The new aluminum-weave centre console trim looks much better than it sounds, and there are R badges on all the major touch points and controls. The sports seats are also new, although they're still shaped for a man with middle-aged spread. It all works well, but some of the plastics feel low-rent and the rear seats are all but useless.
The 4196cc, supercharged V8 from the old XKR has been updated with the introduction of twin air intakes and Variable Inlet Camshaft Timing (VICT). Power is up 20bhp to 420 and there's now 413lb-ft of torque (up by 5lb-ft). Combine this with a reduction in curb weight of 154lbs (220lbs for the convertible) and it's not difficult to understand why this car is being described as 'the fastest ever production Jaguar'. Standstill to 60mph takes 4.9 seconds; top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
The bar-bore statistics stack up, but it's the effortless surge of torque-in any gear at any speed-that really impresses. Plus, it sounds great. The supercharger whine has been lowered in pitch compared with the old car and it's now mixed with a more vociferous V8 rumble. It's also an ideal foil for the ZF six-speed auto 'box, which includes paddle-shift functionality. Meticulous mapping of the software has resulted in a shift that's both quick and smooth.
According to Cross, the XKR has been tuned to be more engaging than a Merc SL, but less overtly sporting than a 911. To achieve the requisite mix, Jag has uprated the XK's spring rates by 38 percent at the front and 24 percent at the rear. The steering and CATS electronic damping has been retuned and a rear suspension brace has been added to stiffen the structure. Nineteen-inch alloys are standard, but our test car rode on the 20-inch rims that are likely to be chosen by most customers.
The ride is firm but nicely damped and the high-speed body control is excellent. Its agility will be a revelation to owners of the old XKR, even if it's still not as nimble as a 911. Fast, sweeping curves remain its forte, but it's no longer disgraced when the road starts to get tight and twisty.
The XKR is a genuine grand tourer, capable of covering huge distances at high speed and with a minimum of fuss. It looks terrific, goes hard and handles well. If Jaguar is to survive and prosper, then it needs more cars like this
2007 JAGUAR XKR
Longitudinal front engine,rear-wheel drive
4.2-liter V8, dohc, four valves per cylinder, supercharged
F: Double wishbones,coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: Five-link, coil springs,anti-roll bar
Four-channel ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Hydraulic Brake Assist,Electronic Park Brake
Length x Width x Height (in.): 188.6 x 74.5 x 52.0
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Curb weight: 3,671 lb
Peak Power: 420 bhp @ 6250 rpm
Peak Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
0-60mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 155mph (limited)
Why we love it:
Great looks, long distance comfort, accessible performance, gearbox
Why we don't:
Cabin quality, useless rear seats
The Price Tag:
$86,500(coupe) $92,500 (convertible)
*figures are for coupe