By on April 9, 2014

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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?

Challenge accepted.

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”.

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19 Comments on “Drive Slow, Homie...”


  • avatar
    Meathead

    The world needs more GTs.

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      Yes – the world needs more sub-supercar-GT’s (FTFY.)

      Too bad driving ACE’s (Artificial Cock Extension) has gone out of style. The sales numbers on the SL, the 6, and the XK are saddening. I have to wonder how much of this is caused by your typical GT buyer looking upmarket at the more exotic stuff – Porsche seems to have positioned themselves at that level (think $120k) and left the others behind making nice, honest, 90k coupes with big engines.

      I love the XK, and Jag is still saying they are seeing more of an increase due to XF shoppers wanting 4 seats than cannibalism from people deciding to buy Sex-on-wheels instead of a comfy GT, but I have to wonder how much of a priority replacing the x150 is. It got a full refresh in ’11, but they probably wont do a new model until at least ’16.

      Also, it’s a little disappointing to hear someone else confirm the poorly kept secret that ‘base’ Astons don’t offer much more than jaw-dropping looks (that Jaguar seems to have poached quite nicely via Callum.) Most of the people I know who own Astons are nice people, and it’s sad to hear they are getting shortchanged for not driving something flashier (ahem, looking at your Mr. Bently GT…)

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I can agree with you in that this is still a very good looking car. But it’s already showing its age.

    And yes, my son asks me about them when he sees them on the street. He also liked a W114 or W108 he saw yesterday.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    ” I had to help with the “break-in”, which mean 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.”

    Who wants a gentle break-in on a modern engine? Do some burnouts and get those rings to seat!

  • avatar

    The XK is getting dated, but it is under-appreciated for what it is: An old school, classic GT made by one of the best GT car makers on the planet.

  • avatar

    After driving the Nissan GT-R, I recognize that engines exceeding 400HP, really don’t make sense unless they are AWD – or you’re using a fantastic set of staggered rear summer tires. The power just doesn’t connect to the ground without AWD. My JEEP weighs way more than my 300 – has the same engine as my 300 – but is FASTER to 60. AWD is king.

    I really wish the CTS-V Coupe had AWD cause it would be a monster – probably faster than the GT-R. When I drove it, the car had serious fishtailing issues under hard acceleration and the computer for stability didn’t keep up like I’d hoped it could.

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      500 hp is my upper limit for the most power one should reasonably have without AWD. Of course, I like having traction control (that can be disabled occasionally for hijinks) AND a well modulated right foot.

      And of course, this XK, an e64 M6, and a warmed-over SRT Challenger will all handle that much power quite differently, let alone comparing them to a GT-R. People who treat cars like on/off switches should drive a GT-R (and preferably not in public…) while the others should be treated more as rotary dimmers. It’s why Rolls Royce used to advertise power figures as ‘adequate’ – there should always be enough there for anything you need.

      I’ve heard mixed opinions on the CTS-V coupe (haven’t driven it myself much, the interior packaging is horrible if you are 6′+) but it does have a very short wheelbase for what it’s trying to do.

      • 0 avatar

        I was pleasantly surprised by the space in the CTS-COUPE and I’m a huge guy. Since I drove the CTS-V coupe, I’ve shed weight so I can sit even more comfortably in it now. I went to a car show (made a video) of a CTS-V Coupe with Twin Turbos and a more aggressive hood. It was absolutely exciting.

        The interior of the new Caddies puts the old ones to shame – each and every consecutive year. I’m wondering what the “sport” interior of the new V will look like?

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    “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.”
    Sounds like a Toyota Camry… not that that’s a bad thing.

  • avatar

    >>>Even with the comically large 20″ wheels and 20-Series tires, the ride over Toronto’s pothole-and-frost-ridden roads is superb.

    I would imagine the large wheels would help with the pot-holy roads.

    By today’s standards, I’d say this is a very good looking car. One of the few that doesn’t look like a pod.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    While my budget will make me forever a member of the audience and not a performer in this dance; this is what a Jag should be.

  • avatar
    salhany

    I don’t care how long this thing has been around, it inspires pure automotive lust within me. God I want one bad.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Nice – 9 comments and nobody has complained about reliability yet!

    It’s the showroom floor comparison that likely makes it seem dated. On the road, that’s diminished somewhat.

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      The XK has actually been a high-point for reliability with Jag – maintenance on post ’03 X100 cars doesn’t cost nearly what you’d think it should (XKR overcharge not withstanding.)

      From what I’ve heard from owners of the x150, most of it’s problems seem to be gadget related.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    I love how these look except for the headlights. They’re too similar to an old Taurus’.

    GT’s are nice, but a car that combines both the sports car formula and the GT’s virtues is best. Not exactly common on the ground though.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    For what it’s worth, the previous XK8/R that this car replaced was outdated the second it went on sale in 1997. That car was basically a re-bodied version of the XJS (just like the terrible Aston DB7…shhhhh), which dated back to freaking 1975! A Jag two-door with a platform from this century is an improvement. The driving position in the old one definitely felt like 1975. The current one is definitely a lot better than that. Its about as much fun as a BMW 6 or Benz SL are, but it’s no sports car.

    One of the best reviews of the Aston V8 Vantage I’ve ever seen is the one Brian Cooley did for CNet, because it’s one of the very few that are completely honest. The in-car tech is a joke, the SMG is basically broken, and the top in his convertible didn’t fit right. Glorious hand built Aston.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      This new one is certainly a nice looking (and I imagine nice driving) car, but I particularly liked the XK8 despite its roots. Sure it was never a “sports car” in the Corvette sense, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be.

  • avatar
    John

    Sure to get flamed for this – this is TTAC after all – last two new cars, and last new motorcycle I bought I broke in the Motoman way with excellent results:

    1. Let engine reach operating temp on way home from dealer.
    2. Find safe stretch of road where, in the appropriate gear, you can accelerate as hard as possible from about 2,000 rpm to near redline, repeat for a total of six reps.
    3. Go home and change oil and filter.
    4. Engine is now broken in. Drive as you wish.

    Motoman claims modern materials and machining achieve tolerances such that the classic 2,000 mile gentle break-in results in poor ring sealing with excessive blow-by and consequently an engine that will never achieve it’s optimum power potential.

  • avatar
    Bocatrip

    Although not an XKR, I own a 7,000 mile 2010 XK Coupe which is an absolute pleasure to drive. Yes, it’s 385 HP but you wouldn’t know it. I have always been big on reliability as an important part of car ownership and did a fair amount of research before purchasing this car used. This car has been one of the more reliable cars Jaguar has produced in years. Yes, people think it’s an Aston Martin, and I say nothing.


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