Features

Sharpening Its Claws

Wind in the hair motoring just got a lot windier thanks to the supercharged Jaguar XKR.

T he Jaguar XKR was as inevitable as Tom and Jerry or Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. It is no more than the combination of the Jaguar XK8 coupe or convertible with the supercharged engine from the XJR. Simple as that. The XKR could have happened last year, but since 1998 is the 50th anniversary of the first Jaguar XK sportscar, the XK120, Jaguar was saving this car for this special occasion.
One of the great things about doing the photography as well as the words is that I get to see the car I am testing drive past just as a bystander would. In fact, when I do the action photos, I get to see the car drive past rather a lot. Each of the two dozen or so times that the Jaguar XKR swept past, apart from pressing the shutter release, I had time to appreciate the pure, drop-dead gorgeous shape of the fastest production Jaguar convertible ever.
Phoenix Red is a new color and this razor sharp red perfectly etches the shape of the sleek Jaguar out of whatever background it is passing. Head-on, side-on and, in fact, even when it is receding into the distance, there is no getting away from the fact that it bears more than a passing resemblance to its grandfather, the E-Type.
It's that big oval grille that does it, along with the beautifully sculpted compound curves of its sides. In addition, this big cat also has the best "ready to pounce" stance this side of an XJ220. But if looks can kill, it's the awesome way that the XKR gathers speed that really buries the opposition.
The intrinsic torque of the 4-liter all - alloy V8 is impressive, but the addition of the Eaton M112 supercharger with its twin air-to-liquid intercoolers augments this considerably. The coupe tips the scales at 3608 lbs. (convertible 3850 lbs.), but 370 hp at 6150 rpm and 387 lb/ft of torque at 3600 rpm generate the sheer thrust to make it feel more like a middleweight.
Our timing equipment confirms that this is one seriously quick car. The 0-60 mph benchmark comes up in just 5.2 seconds (convertible 5.4), 100 mph passes in 12.4, and you will get within five mph of the electronically limited 155 mph top speed in just 34.2 seconds from a stop! Incidentally, the 1950s Jaguar XK-SS, a roadgoing version of the Le Mans-winning D-Type, accelerated to 60 mph in 5.2 sec, 100 mph in 13.6 see and topped out at 150 mph.
Stopping the clocks in double-quick time is not the XKR's raison d'etre, however. As a grand tourng machine, its ability to a press on is measured by how quickly it can pass slower traffic and regain its cruising speed. In that respect, many cars which may be faster in acceleration or top speed will momentarily left floundering in the XKR's wake. In kickdown, 30-50 mph disappears in 1.8 sec., 70-90 mph takes 3.6 sec., and if you are cruising at the ton, you can gain a further 20 mph in just 6.1 sec. Finally, autobahn chargers will be happy to know that the 130-150 mph increment is covered in just 11.8 sec., which will give a normally aspirated 911 or an F355 a nasty fright.
Add to this the superbly crisp and linear throttle response, which enables the fuel and air mixture to be perfectly metered by your right foot, and you have a real driver's motor. The direct line to the engine room is most clearly felt when you are cornering on a steady throttle and ever so gently squeeze the accelerator pedal. The instant result of a quarter-inch of travel comes through loud and clear, as a proportionate increase in both forward velocity and the engine's charismatic V8 growl. It takes a perfectly designed, manufactured and well-oiled throttle linkage attached to a very finely tuned engine to achieve this level of control.
The piece de resistance is the perfect interface between this fabulous power unit and the Mercedes-Benz derived electronically controlled 5-speed automatic gearbox. Whether you take off as if you had a glass of water balanced on the dashboard or with deadly serious intent, this gearbox provides all the right answers.
In typical Jaguar fashion, the normal automatic functions take place in a linear plane and to engage Sport mode from Drive, you simply bring the lever over to the left. Then you're in Drive but with fifth gear locked out. Selecting third or second is just a matter of pushing the lever forwards. In the meantime, the ECU makes shifting more responsive compared to normal Drive mode.
On a blissfully fast drive over a challenging cross country route in northern France, the engine/gearbox combination proved its smoothness, power, precision and consistency. Using the "Randle Handle" in Sport mode, I found that the already smooth upshifts could be made totally imperceptible by lifting the throttle a fraction as I pulled the gear lever back to manually select the next gear up. And when braking for a bend and selecting a lower gear to accelerate out, it helps to heel and toe to bring the revs up slightly. This eliminates the torque converter drag that otherwise causes a slight jerk on engagement of the lower gear. Driven in this manner, the XKR can be hustled with amazing smoothness and precision, and at incredible speeds for a car of its size. This fastest Jaguar convertible ever has a wonderful synergy between all its moving parts that is simply sublime.
The suspension system is broadly similar to the uprated system fitted to the sporty XJR saloon but with further uprating. Using Bilstein digressive dampers, this set up is slightly firmer at low speeds but gives superb body control in extremis. The low speed ride is stiff but absorbent and evens out very quickly as you pick up speed. When you are charging hard, it feels as though the wheels are not in contact with terra firma, but that is simply the excellent springing and damping at work, editing out the uneven bits underfoot without compromising the handling or the grip of the big tires.
Whether it is a small shopping car or a million dollar supercar, any vehicle whose steering turn-in rate does not match that of the chassis is going to be a driver's nightmare. Superb chassis composure and well judged Servotronic II variable ratio power steering enables you to place this big car with near inch perfect accuracy through the bends. The steering rack bushes have also been stiffened by around 17 percent. The result is a system that feels linear and responsive, even if you never feel what the wheels are doing in the way that the power-steering of a Porsche 911 or even a BMW 3 Series allows.
The new 18-inch cast alloy wheels that come with the optional CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) semiactive suspension control system on the XK8 look terrific. But Jaguar needed another design to instantly distinguish the XKR from its lessen brethren. You can describe this new wheel as a double-five-spoke or simply a ten-spoke depending on how you look at it, but their is no denying that it looks more aggressive and is totally in keeping with the sporty nature of the car. As with the XK8, the XKR also uses Pirelli P-Zero System tires, but the new sizes are 245/45ZR18 on 8J x 18 wheels at the front and 255/45ZR18 tires on 9J x 18 inch wheels at the rear.
Styling changes that Jaguar has made to the XKR amount to a switch between fine tailors. The front of the car is much more purposeful looking. Jaguar established a theme for their sports models with the XJR saloon by giving it a wire mesh grille and, in the same vein, the XKR now sports stainless steel wire mesh within its big oval intake. A pair of louvers on top of the hood provide extra engine cooling. The only other bodywork change is the addition of a small lip spoiler to the trailing edge of the trunk lid.
The cabin will be totally familiar to owners of the normally aspirated XK8. Here, no changes have been made and, on European-spec cars, you can still choose between normal Classic burl walnut wood veneer or the dark grey birds eye maple wood finish of the Sport version. The wood/leather steering wheel and wood gear knob that are extra on the stock XK8 are standard on the blower version.
Jaguar's new XKR is one of those cars which is really hard to fault. It looks gorgeous, is beautifully built, goes like the wind and is supremely comfortable. More than that, it is also outrageously cheap for what it is. At 59,300 (coupe) and 66,300 (convertible) in the UK, it undercuts both the aging Mercedes-Benz SL and the beautiful but flawed Aston Martin DB7 by a country mile. On performance per dollar, it also knocks both of them into a cocked hat. And as for cachet, this is a Jaguar, and for many that in itself will be enough.


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