November 23, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2007 Jaguar XKR

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Reims, France – France had just suffered a painful defeat in the finals of the World Cup, but there was little evidence of this national heartbreak as I motored the 500 km from the 10th century Chateau de Marcay to Saulieu in a 2007 Jaguar XKR convertible. The endless fields of sunflowers still followed the arc of the sun, the ancient villages appeared all but deserted, and best of all, the smooth and flowing rural roads through central France were mercifully free of traffic.

All the better to explore the capabilities of the 420-hp XKR – Jaguar’s latest predatory cat. The XKR coupe and convertible ($117,000 and $127,000) will be arriving in Canada in early 2007.

Penned by Jaguar’s design chief Ian Callum, the XKR can win your heart on its looks alone, but lurking beneath these taut flanks is some serious performance.

The 4.2-litre DOHC AJ-V8 in the R is Eaton-supercharged, developing 420 hp at 6250 rpm and 413 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. That’s up 120 hp and 110 lb-ft over the naturally aspirated XK. Along with continuously variable valve timing, the 90-degree V8 features computer controlled Variable Inlet Camshaft Timing and a twin inlet air intake system.

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It is mated to a specially calibrated ZF six-speed auto with normal mode and a more aggressive and adaptive sport mode. In both settings, the transmission can be shifted via steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Gearshifts in Jag’s Sequential Shift transmission are achieved in less than 600 milliseconds, which by automatic standards is lightning quick, and faster and smoother than many automated manual systems including VW/Audi’s DSG.

The transmission functions as advertised, seamlessly snapping off shifts in an eye-blink. It works beautifully with the robust V8, making passing on these B-roads a simple matter of two downshift-flicks of the left paddle followed by a firm shove on the right pedal. This thing takes off like a… well, scalded cat. The resultant explosive forward progress renders any doddling proletariat voiture a receeding dot in the rearview mirror. Jaguar claims the XKR coupe scampers to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds, with the convertible reaching that benchmark 0.1 seconds later. It certainly feels that quick.

As the XKR coupe weighs only 70 kg more than the base 300-hp XK coupe, the power-to-weight ratio jumps by 34%. And weight is a big issue with Jaguar.

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The bonded and riveted all-aluminum XK was initially designed to be a convertible, and uses cross members, rigid aluminum extrusions and A-pillar reinforcements to achieve the torsional rigidity of a frozen flounder. As a result, there is not a gram of additional strengthening in the drop-top. At 1715 kg, the XKR convertible undercuts the Mercedes SL500 by 195 kg and the BMW M6 convertible by 225 kg.

The lined and fully automatic top retracts in just under 20 seconds, and wind management is very good. Even at 130 km/h (the maximum speed on French motorways), conversation with my co-driver was easy. With the top up, the convertible feels nearly as quiet and secure as the coupe.

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In France, they take speeding quite seriously. More than 50 km/h over the limit nets you a 750 Euro fine, six penalty points and immediate confiscation of your license and vehicle. For those not keen on practicing their French on a Gendarme, the XKR has an adjustable speed limiter – a very good feature for a car that disguises its speed so well.

This new XK has been criticized in some circles for lacking a certain “wow” factor, but if the attention these press cars garnered in France is any indication, this XKR variant should silence those on which the base XK’s subtleties are lost.

The front fascia is blunter on the R, fitted with the now de rigeur aluminum mesh grill inserts that signal higher performance on sporting British cars. Subtly marked “Supercharged” inlet vents grace the hood, and out back are pair of twin chromed exhaust outlets. The side “power vents” are aluminum finished.

All our testers wore the optional 20-inch wheels (19-inchers will be standard) which nicely showed off the cool black brake calipers emblazoned with the “R” logo.

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Late in the afternoon, while blasting through some hilly and heavily wooded countryside, our progress came to an abrupt halt. A small bridge, which was to take us across a river, was… well, gone. Had we been filming the next Dukes of Hazzard sequel, it would have been a perfect opportunity to pull one of those General Lee-type airborne leaps. And I’m sure this cat would have made it.

A ratty Peugeot van pulled up and a family spilled out. Were they here to give us directions? No. They wanted to have their picture taken with the Jag.

We did manage to discern that by following the “Diversion” signs, we’d get back on course. The next day was more of the same: great roads, great car, great scenery.

That evening in Reims, Ian Callum gave some background into the creation of this XK, of which he is quite proud. A retracting hardtop was seriously considered, but Callum nixed it, as he feels the cost, weight, complexity and space-usage issues of the contraptions far outweigh their benefits. He predicts in a few years a bunch of engineers will be sitting around saying, “You know, if we used a fabric top…”

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Spending time in the cockpit of the XKR is no hardship. It is a study in elegance and comfort, exuding an inviting warmth that is quintessentially British. The standard XKR’s interior trim is a weave patterned aluminum, although wood is a no-cost option. A red over tan convertible with burled walnut would be my choice, although hard core Jag-ophiles will tell you the E-Type never had a lick of timber in it.

The 16-way powered seats are supportive and extremely comfortable over the long haul, with the adjustment controls cleverly placed on the door panels just below the mirrors. The adjustable side bolsters are a nice touch, but unfortunately ventilation is not offered. The optional Luxury Sports interior features soft grain leather on the seats, door trim, dash and console.

And, hallelujah, Jaguar’s interface with the control center is a touch screen. The graphics are clear and logical, and navigating through all the areas is as easy as poking your digit on the desired word or symbol. Additionally, there are analogue controls for the major HVAC and audio functions.

Rear visibility in the coupe and the convertible (with the lid in place) is marginal at best. With the top down and the baseball cap on… well, is there a better way to blur the French countryside?

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No car can be truly sporting without creating the right sounds, and Jaguar went to great pains in the XKR to extract the proper aural stimulation. Since the supercharger masks the intake sound which contributed to the base car’s song (and there is no supercharger whine, by the way), Jag engineered an exhaust “can” with electronically operated valves that open and close at various times to give the XKR a nice bark on startup, an aggressive full throttle howl and quiet cruising. The transmission automatically blips the throttle on downshifts, which sounds especially sexy when echoing off the ancient stone walls of these French villages.

New, larger 355 mm ventilated discs in the front (up from 326 mm) provide extra stopping power. The system also includes four-channel ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Hydraulic Brake Assist. The parking brake is of the electronic variety with the button placed just behind the shifter.

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Handling has been beefed up via stiffer front and rear spring rates, and the two-stage Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS… get it?) has been recalibrated. The switchable Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control System have also been fudged with, allowing for more aggressive behavior before the nannies step in.

On these sinuous roads, the XKR is a delight. The engine, transmission and chassis all come together as a well sorted whole, and the car has a lightness about it that encourages spirited driving. It is first and foremost a very fast and comfortable luxury sport tourer, but never does it feel ponderous.

If you like your luxury motoring served with a side of catnip and Earl Grey, the 2007 XKR is worth a serious look. Jaguar has a winner here.

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