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New Car/Review

Road impressions: Jaguar XKR

SEE ALSO: Jaguar Buyer's Guide

by Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

It was almost inevitable that the red and blue lights would start flashing behind me. It was dark, it was raining and I was lost. The mobile phone rang, I got even more distracted, stepped on the loud pedal just a fraction more and within seconds it was game set and match to the officer of the California Highway Patrol. To be fair he could not have been nicer. Could I prove that the car was not stolen? Er, well, no, actually I couldn't as the papers were in San Francisco and at that very moment we were in a place called Santa Paula, named no doubt after my much loved Mother in Law..hundreds of miles away. Well, said the man, how about your driving license? That I did have but as UK licenses do not come with a photo ID I could have been anyone. How about my passport said he gently. Oh, that is also in San Francisco, you know what a dangerous city LA is, I thought it would be safer to leave it at home. He was getting a bit fraught by that time but luckily I had a copy of FORZA with me. This is a US based Ferrari magazine which had my byline in it so with that plus my international press card which did have a photograph he reluctantly accepted that I was who I said I was and that I did not steal the car even though we were in California and the Jag had New Jersey plates..there is a fine in the post as we speak and quite frankly I deserved it.

On the other hand I challenge any owner of this 370 horsepower rocket not to get a ticket at some time or another. The law of physics (something I know very little about by the way) dictates that you cannot possibly observe all the speed limits all the time because this car is just crying out for action. Not juvenile 0-60 races at traffic lights but steady cruising at around 100 miles per hour whilst listening to Ben Webster on the outstanding Alpine music system.

Jaguar and I go back a very long way. It is simply not possible to hold a British passport and not have a special affinity towards this great marque. Victories at Le Mans, the 150 miles per hour legendary E type, the name has always been synonymous with British automotive engineering at its best... Lucas and other suppliers permitting. I would be a hypocrite if I did not admit to the horrendous quality problems Jaguar had some years ago, in fact when Ford Motor Company bought it some years ago their man Bill Hayden walked around in disbelief shaking his head. What a mess, he was heard uttering. Give him and Ford's quality controllers their due-the challenge was huge, the opportunities even greater. Yes, it was going to be a long haul and yes it was going to cost an arm and a leg but in the end Big Blue would end up with not just a great name but a great car as well, manufactured to the highest standards. It had to be, to take on Mercedes and BMW and also to convince the former, unhappy owners that things were going to be very different from now on. It took a while but if the XKR I've been driving is their idea of quality standard then they have come an awfully long way!

The trip from San Francisco had a number of purposes. We were hoping to see my children in Los Angeles and on the way back to have a round of golf at Ojai. Knowing my wife's penchant for packing just "essentials" I was somewhat concerned about the capacity of the trunk/boot. I needn't have worried. When we went to the introduction of the car (XK8 at that time) in France back in 1996 it was explained to us that the bulbous rear was due to the demands of one Red Poling (CEO at the time) who insisted that there had to be room for two sets of clubs. Thanks Red, I was very grateful to you when it came to packing. There was room for all sorts of things over and above two sets of clubs.

The XKR came with a trip computer which was great once we got the hang of it. Presumably for safety reasons-unless we were dim-it only worked, i.e. it could only be programmed when we were stationary. Any changes had to be done by the roadside which seemed a bit silly although I can understand the safety concerned because it is seriously fiddly, especially when it comes to street numbers. All in all a very good idea which will be even better once voice activated.

On the way we only stopped for fuel once thanks to the huge tank- 19.9 US gallons- and the exceptional consumption-over 20 miles per gallon. With the rev counter between 2500 and 3000rpm the car was just ambling along . The extra power of the supercharged V-8 did come in very handy on the odd occasion when we had to overtake slow moving traffic. It took literally seconds and of course when we came to the hilly sections we sailed along at 70 miles per hour whilst lots of cars were simply disappearing in our rearview mirror. You may not need 370 horses all the time but its good to know they are there.

For a convertible the car was remarkably quiet, there are several layers of soundproofing built into the soft top, a far cry from my MGB in the 60s..For the obligatory cruise down Rodeo Drive the sun very obligingly came out and all it took was the press of one button and within seconds we were al fresco! It is the only convertible I've ever driven where the operation is just a matter of holding down one button. Nothing to unhook, nothing to fasten, quick, easy and simple.

Even though the car only went on sale late in 1999 there were several in and around the "Drive". If not there, where I suppose would be a legitimate question.

Is it a sports car? Certainly not. It is a grand tourer in the finest tradition of the word. You do not hurl it around, you do not treat it as Coventry's answer to the 360Modena. It is too heavy and too big for that. It is not the car for a Sunday morning blast to clear the cobwebs, you'd better leave that to a Miata or a Lotus Elise. On the other hand I cannot think of another two seater-for 77 thousand dollars I would rather take for a trip across Europe . Dignified is the word that comes to mind as far as this car is concerned. Whilst 77 thousand dollars is a lot of money unless you are a Silicon Valley millionaire it is still an awful lot less then the forthcoming BMW Z8 which will set you back over 120 thousand dollars.

It is totally safe on its huge 18 inch Pirelli Zero tires but you have to remember that it is a BIG car-bigger than the BMW 5 series to give you an idea and it is also heavy. 4021 pounds to be precise. You do not throw around that amount of weight unless you are seriously devoid of grey matter, it isn't made for that. If that is your little heart's desire wait for the new F type. In the meantime if you are in a position to buy one of the 1250 XKR coming into the US you'd better hurry up.

Is it perfect? Of course not but mercifully the faults are minor. The handbrake is a bit of a nightmare, hard to reach and difficult to use. Worse to my mind is the positioning of the hazard light which is badly lit and hard to reach. Coming back on Rt 101 surrounded by totally imbecilic Fedex drivers ( 80 mph in the commuter lane in the rush hour??!!) I needed it a couple of times as the Jag's disc brakes were considerably better then those on clapped out Toyotas following closely behind. The navigational system worked well, except for two occasions when it said turn left. Had we done so we would have been in the Pacific Ocean but one expects this sort of thing with a new device.

All in all a great automobile, a car Jaguar and Ford Motor Company should be very proud of. With former BMW whiz Herr Reitzle in the driving seat at Jag if I were in charge in Munich (is anyone??!) I think I would be slightly worried. More than slightly in fact in view of the recent debacle vis a vis Rover and the subsequent sale of Range Rover to Ford.. I would go as far as to say that the Nasser/Reitzle combo is currently the most powerful combination of business sense, industry know-how, engineering expertise and sheer opportunism in the world of automobiles.