In 2007 Jaguar started the most intensive make-over in the brand’s history with the redesigned XK. While the look was drop-dead gorgeous, the interior was more evolution than revolution when you consider the direction the XF and new XJ have taken. Now that the world has managed to catch its breath after the shock of the XF and XJ’s ultra-chic modern styling, Jaguar decided to give the XK a thorough refresh in 2010.
The old Jaguar XK often received a bad rap as the old man’s sports car. From the surface, it was easy to dismiss the previous generations of the XK as simply a shorter XJ with a rather plain nose. To address this complaint, Jaguar has altered the size and shape of the proboscis, added some chrome grilles and a set of hood louvers to give the XK a more sinister look. The combination looks more visually interesting than the previous model, but still delivers a much more subtle first impression than the other two-doors in this price class. What sets the XK apart from the styling competition is the sleek side profile and perfectly executed rear. The style is not one that screams something wicked this way comes; that would be less than civilized, less than what consumers expect of Jaguar. Instead of aping the sometimes brash style of the Germans, the swooping lines, long hood, sashless windows and wide fender flares are executed with typical British restraint.
Inside the 2011 XKR the changes are largely limited to the removal of the J-gate shifter in favour of the hockey-puck style “JaguarDrive selector,” improved leather door trim and a revised steering wheel. The puck is unique and quirky looking, but actually ends up being no less frustrating than BMW and Merdedes’ latest “solution” to the “problem” of the classic gear selector. The steering wheel is another slight miss, while it feels great in your hands, the base XF gets the same tiller for half the price. Note to Jag: for 2012, swipe the wheel from the new XJ.
Current Jag owners I spoke with seem concerned that the latest Jag models are getting “too modern.” For those concerned about classic Jaguar styling; how “classic” your XK looks is largely depends on your interior color choice. There are no less than 11 interior leather color combinations up for grabs, and traditionalists would do well to note that the lighter the color the more “traditional” the interior tends to look. Seriously. Fear not Jaguar faithful, the XK can still be equipped with “acres of wood trim.” The option list includes three wood, one metal trim option and something called “piano black” which I would like to think is made from thousands of priceless tiny recycled pianos, but I’m probably wrong. Our press car was fitted with the black-on-black-on-black leather interior with metal trim and the same sluggish nav/infotainment system that garners complaints from reviewers and owners alike. I won’t beat a dead horse on this subject, but will say the new system in the flagship XJ sedan is certainly an improvement.
While we’re on the topic of complaints, not all is rosy inside the XKR. The first thing I found issue with is the rear seat arrangement, or should I say “stitched-leather luggage compartment.” No doubt countless hours were spent on the beautiful stitched leather and alcantara bits rear seat passengers would encounter, the problem is they just won’t fit back there. I’m a fairly averagely sized six-foot-tall person and with the front seat in a comfortable driving position you could have to be a legless-midget to fit back there. Room is so tight that the front seats are programed to prevent contact between seat-back and rear-seat, if you try to recline the fronts too far it starts scooting the bottom of the seat forward. My issue is not that the seats should be usable; I frankly don’t care if I have a 4-seater. The problem is that four seatbelts just restrict the XKR with a happy couple on board from using 3+ person HOV lanes. On the other hand, your briefcases and handbags will never feel as special in anything else.
Pop open the hood or romp on the go-pedal and you will immediately notice the biggest change to the XK: Jag’s new 5L V8. The 2009 XK’s two engine choices were a 300HP naturally-aspirated V8 or a supercharged 420HP V8, both displacing 4.2L. While the old Jag AJ-V8 is a nice engine, the supercharged version delivered an audible supercharger whine when pushed and with “only” 420HP on tap, the big cat always felt out of breath when running with the pack. Detractors may claim the new XK is still that old man’s car in a new-cat-suit with a big engine jammed in. To this I have to say: jam the new 5.0L engine into anything and it could be a winner. Even as lacklustre as the former X-Type was, if Jag had managed to stuff the 510HP V8 into the frame, it too would be a winner. When it comes to engines, it’s not all about power; it’s also about the noise. While the XKR doesn’t posses the XFR’s sublime bellow (I am guessing due to a different exhaust setup due to space constraints), it is never the less one of the most melodious V8 sounds I have ever heard. I’m not usually a fan of convertibles, but the engine note is reason enough for you to drop your top and choose the less-rigid XKR convertible.
Out on the road the new Jaguar Active Differential Control (unique to the R version of the XK) is immediately obvious. The XKR produces more than 125HP more than the base XK yet it applies the power with much greater finesse. While it is really not possible to call any rear-wheel-drive 500+ HP car drama free in the wet, the ADC takes most of the hair-raising drama out of the equation. The system is capable of not only locking the rear diff when it needs to, but it can also torque vector whenever the electronic nannies feel they should. Because the system can disengage itself at any time, it doesn’t feel unnatural the way some limited slip diffs can. The ADC’s activation is always seamless and fluid. Matching the ADC’s precision and feel is the re-tuned active suspension system which delivers a fairly compliant ride on the freeway and enough heft on the track to satisfy most GT buyers. Yep. GT buyers.
In truth the XK and XKR have always been “grand tourers” (Gran Turismos for those who prefer Italian) at heart, a type of car that aims more for gracious pace than maximum-attack. While BMW shoots for a GT-sized sports coupé with their M6, a V10 that screams all the way to its 8,250RPM red-line is not my idea of luxury. I mean F1 is fun and all, but for the city dweller seeking some coupé panache, something more subtle is called for… and that is what the XKR does best. With 461lb-ft of torque available from 2500-5500RPM Jaguar obviously had a choice to make: stuff some massive rubber out back and favour acceleration and handing over ride quality, or stick to Jaguar’s luxury-oriented roots. Jag chose the latter, and rightly so. The already low stock 4.6 second 0-60 time (TTAC verified) could be far lower if the rear end could find more grip. For the sake of comparison, the 2009 M6 runs to 60 in 4.4 seconds. Buyers will be pleased to know that somehow this kitty manages to be a fuel sipper delivering 15/22MPG neatly avoiding any gas guzzler tax. Ok, so fuel sipper is a relative term but Jaguar claims it is the first 500+HP V8 capable of skipping the gas guzzler tax in the USA. That has to count for something, right?
Speaking of the competition, let’s see how the XKR stacks up. BMW’s M6 is still the technology king despite having ended production last year, and the soon-to-be-released 2011 6-series is likely to raise the bar even higher. Still, the M6 is about gadgets and performance, the XKR marches to a slightly more posh drummer. The M6 may be faster, but is also carries a slightly higher price tag and is saddled with a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax due to the epically low 11/17MPG EPA numbers. While BMW’s 7-speed SMG is significantly smoother than the Mercedes Speedshift transmission, it’s still not as silky as the 6-speed ZF unit Jag selected. The M6 will probably always be the top choice for track days, but the XKR will make your vertebrae happier on your daily commute and your bank account fatter at every fill-up.
From the AMG corner we have the SL63 and CL63. The CL may have a real back-seat, but the looks of the CL have never been my cup of tea. At $150,000 for the CL63 and $139,050 for the SL63, it’s easy to just stop at pricing and call the XKR a bargain. The CL550 lacks the grunt of the Jag but does being 4MATIC AWD to bear, at $113,150 it still makes our tester XKR seem like a flat-out bargain at $101,000 as tested.
A wise man I once knew said it is impossible for a human to ever be truly objective. With that admission out of the way I have to say my week with the XKR left me smitten. Not because the XKR is the best car ever made, but because it fit me. While I can say as objectively as possible that the 2010 XKR is quite possibly one of the finest Jaguars ever made and with an available top speed limiter set to 174MPH, it might just be the fastest since the ill-fated Jaguar XJ220. While it may not have the athleticism of the BMW 6-Series, it actually does match the marketing hype on Jag’s website “elegance and beauty combined with power and grace.” Personally I would call it “automotive sex” but that’s probably why nobody hires me for marketing. If you have 100 large to spend on an aristocratic coupé, the XKR should be at or near the top of your list.
Jaguar provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Feedback for our Facebook fans: Ronald Balit: it is a well sorted chassis, but with 510 and RWD it’s easy to get yourself in a situation where it feels like the car is trying to kill you. But that’s half the fun, right? Peter Dushenski: I would have it over a Carrera S any day. Over an M6? Close call, but yes I would take the XKR over the current M6, the 2012 M6… maybe not. Darren Williams: it purrs when you start it and growls like a lion when you prod it. Careful, those claws are sharp. David Hoyt: judging by the looks in downtown Los Gatos, the 0-Woman time is very short indeed. Amir Kazi: one or two clubs perhaps. The trunk is fairly shallow.