A good friend of mine has a bit of wisdom that I try to follow whenever possible: “Say yes to everything.” It’s easy to misconstrue this as encouragement to engage in promiscuous behavior, ingestion of narcotics and other activities that are indicative of poor future-time orientation. Instead, it’s an exhortation to open oneself up to experiences and opportunities, without regard for the kind of details that the more neurotic among us might obsess over.
I kept this in mind when I got a call from a local fleet manager not long ago. His offer was simple: drive a brand new Jaguar XKR for a week. As always, there were conditions attached.
1) This was, literally, a brand new car. When I picked up the keys, it had roughly 50 miles on it.
2) I had to help with the “break-in”, which meant driving it fairly long distances, and with extra care in mind. Gentle acceleration was fine. Mashing the throttle and lighting up the rears in an effort to recreate the audible signature of a Spitfire (aircraft, not roadster) was not.
3) The last of the winter weather had yet to recede. Temperatures were still in the mid to high thirties, sporadic flurries had not yet given way to spring showers, and the car was wearing a set of fat Pirelli P Zeros.
Did I mention the 510 horsepower supercharged 5.0L V8?
The XK has been out since the 2006 model year, and it’s only just starting to look dated right now – especially inside. As Alex Dykes noted in prior reviews, the steering wheel looks like something you would have found in a Hertz Prestige Collection car a decade ago. The most bit of evidence in our exercise in dendrochronology is the in-dash touch screen. Even though it dates back to 2006, it looks and feels more like Windows 95, though it works well enough.
To jaded enthusiasts already charmed by the Sloan Ranger flash of the F-Type, the XK might look a little stale. To everyone else, you’re driving the only supercar that doesn’t cause a reflexive feeling of hostility. Pedestrians stop and stare, little children point and, crucially, other motorists will let you in when attempting to change lanes or make left turns. You will frequently get this car confused for an Aston Martin, at which point, you have to inform them of one major difference: this thing is actually good to drive.
My lone experience with Aston Martin proved to be a real letdown. The V8 Vantage was a victim of an immense, Clarkson-driven jingoistic hype machine. Well, that’s not entirely true. The V8 Vantage was fairly well-reviewed, mostly by journalists who were angling to get back on another Aston Martin junket. Since I drove a privately owned car and my self-worth isn’t based on what junkets I get invited to, I can let you in on a secret.
The V8 Vantage was barely quicker than a 4.6L Mustang from the same era, and arguably less satisfying to drive. Not a whole lot has changed in the interim. Save yourself the $20,000 (likely more, once options are added) and buy this. It’s a bit quieter, a bit less impressive to the bystanders that you imagine are staring at you admiringly, but it’s better in the real world.
At typical speeds, this is an extremely comfortable car. Even with the comically large 20″ wheels and 20-Series tires, the ride over Toronto’s pothole-and-frost-ridden roads is superb. Somehow, the ride remains composed without ever feeling soft. Impacts are absorbed, but don’t seem to unsettle the car or make their way through the cowl like some oversprung sporty cars do. At all speeds, the car is quiet – too quiet even. With the windows up, the muted burble of the blown eight is no louder than say, the Hyundai Genesis V8 I recently tested. That’s not a good thing, even for a car that is rightfully considered a Grand Tourer.
Pick up the pace a little, and the XKR responds in a far more athletic manner than any GT has a right to do. With it’s all-aluminum structure, the car feels far lighter on its feet than a BMW M6, though in reality, it’s still just a hair under 4000 lbs, and 250 lbs lighter than the Bimmer. The steering is still hydraulic, but doesn’t have an abundance of feel or feedback. Any confidence inspired by the car is thanks to its composed chassis, which is largely absent of body roll or unwanted motions and the enormous, sticky Pirellis. It might not be the most communicative car on the road, but the XKR is very capable at making its way through turns at far higher velocities than what’s considered socially or legally acceptable.
Where the Jaguar really excels is as a high-speed, long-distance cruiser. By nature of its design, the rearward visibility makes rapidly changing lanes a bit of a challenger, with a rather small aperture that can be viewed by the rear-view mirror. On the plus side, the cushy seats, utter absence of NVH and the superb stereo make the XKR as comfortable as sitting in your favorite armchair, with a subdued NASCAR soundtrack looping in the background – not that you’d ever do something so declasse.
Being forced to drive this car at an artificially gentle pace made me appreciate that the exalted sports cars in our hobby – the Elises, Miatas the E30 M3s and Toyobarus – are fantastic cars when the conditions are perfect and the roads are properly paved and there’s not much else going on in your life to prevent you from unplugging your life and driving for a couple hundred miles to your favorite road.
That scenario is like a first date that stretches into the next morning: often discussed, rarely realized and necessitating unplanned food and bathroom visits, the latter of which can be rather awkward. For every other situation, cars like this are underappreciated. They let you crawl in traffic, take calls via Bluetooth and get you where you need to go without turning you into a sweaty, oily mess with rumpled clothes and a well-worn AAA card. There’s a reason why our EIC is so enthusiastic about his Honda Accord V6 6MT. The drive wheels might be swapped and the cylinder count might be down, but both cars fulfill the same purpose.
By the end of my time with the XKR, I had racked up nearly 1000 miles, and felt confident that I had treated the car with sufficient care that something that pushed the limits of my instructions could be done without causing excess mechanical harm. I knew from driving XKRs in the past that engaging Dynamic Mode and stepping on the accelerator from a dead stop would produce a launch like a pre-facelift Shelby GT500, with a bucking back end, a flickering traction control light and a demonic wail from the supercharged V8.
I found myself on an abandoned road in an industrial park. I was glad I said “yes”.