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CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE

For too long, British sports coupes came with a list of caveats as long as your arm. Here's one that needs no excuses - Jaguar's XKR. By Andy Enright

Ten Second Review

It's hard to imagine why a Jaguar XK with its 155mph top speed and sub-six second sprint to sixty might not be fast enough - but then people with over £70,000 to spend on a luxury coupe or convertible live by different rules. And if the 503bhp supercharged XKR doesn't quite hit the spot, there's always the slightly mad 542bhp XKR-S, the fastest volume-built road car Jaguar has ever made.

Background

As much fun as the old MK1 XKR was, it was a ludicrously inefficient car. Rarely had so little space on the inside been offered by something so big on the outside. It was almost like a reverse TARDIS. The same length as a seven seater Ford Galaxy, the XKR struggled to seat two decently sized adults. The latest car gives you a lot more practicality and a bigger serving of on-road capability as well. It's also a showcase for some state of the art vehicle engineering.

Pumped full of snarling attitude, the XKR-S - launched on the E-Type's 50th birthday - boosts the swagger quotient to almost unprecedented levels. There have been some almightily powerful Jaguar coupes in recent years and they've been growing gradually more focused. Whereas a big Jaguar coupe once felt like a saloon but with less headroom, the XKR-S ups the ante by quite some margin.

Driving Experience

Let's start with the engine of the regular XKR. It's now a direct injection 5.0-litre V8 unit complete with supercharger and now it's good for a crushing 503bhp. This is a highly advanced piece of metal work on Jaguar's part with its aluminium construction, independent variable cam timing and spray guided direct injection. Jaguar quotes a sprint to 60mph of just 4.6 seconds with the 50-70mph increment dispatched in a vanishing 1.9seconds. An electronic limiter intervenes softly at 155mph, fast enough for most of us. Without the limiter, Jaguar insiders reckon that over three miles a minute are possible given the car's slippery aerodynamics and leggy gearing. The Convertible model is 50kg heavier than the Coupe but retains the same performance figures. Beneath the skin, the latest models benefit from ADC Active Differential Control which works to apportion drive to the wheels that can best deploy it.

With fully 123bhp more than the XK, which uses a non-supercharged version of the same engine, and good for a fulsome 625Nm of torque, the XKR has the firepower to make good on its aggressive styling. This is no crude old V8 with a blower bolted on. Drivers will notice that the 'four milk floats of the apocalypse' sound of the old XKR's supercharger under full acceleration has been muted to allow more of the engine note to dominate. This is a good thing as at higher revs, the 5.0-litre unit has an almost Aston-like aural signature. A paddle-operated six-speed Jaguar Sequential Shift automatic transmission handles the gear changing duties and adapts to the driver's style. This is now marshalled by the neat rotary knob of the JaguarDrive Selector which resides where the gear lever should be.

With a better power to weight ratio than an Aston Martin DBS, the Jaguar XKR-S is in the premier league of sports coupe heavy hitters with a top speed of 186mph and 0-100mph of 8.6s, which makes it comfortably the quickest Jaguar road car since the iconic XJ220.

Design and Build

The latest XKR gets an even more aggressive front end and LED indicator lights on its wing mirrors. At the rear, the bumper sits lower and there are LED tail light clusters. It would be tempting to think of this car as an evolution of the old XKR. Tempting but wrong. This latest generation model is built from entirely different stuff. The advanced aluminium construction and massively superior technology embodied in the latest XKR raise its game enormously. There's also a welcome injection of practicality to the XKR. The high hipline remains, but Jaguar has worked at making the interior feel a good deal airier, with a low scuttle and clever use of colour combinations. The wheelbase has increased by 162mm, and rear occupants will notice the difference immediately. Up front, there's way more room around the pedal box and beneath the steering wheel. Gone is the rather mean boot of its predecessor - unforgivable in a car with Grand Touring pretensions - and in its place is a more versatile hatchback arrangement.

Unlike many premium convertibles, the XKR drop top model relies on a fabric roof rather than the voguish folding hard top, but there are valid engineering reasons for doing so. Folding tin tops require a whole host of heavy electric motors to operate and the ethos of the latest XKR is clever design and light weight. It may be a mere 1.5cm longer than the old car, but thanks to that advanced aluminium construction, its weight is just 1,800kg.

Market and Model

XKR-specific bits include that more aggressive front bumper with colour keyed finish that incorporates tall air intakes on each side, aluminium trimmed side power vents, old-school bonnet louvres and an aluminium trim on the mesh grilles. There's additional aluminium brightwork on the rear and 20-inch alloys as standard along with heated and cooled seats, Jaguar Premium Surround Sound, alloy pedals and a heated windscreen. Blake brake callipers with an 'R' logo are fitted, as is a quad exhaust system. The XKR-S looks notably more aggressive and runs on lightweight 20-inch 'Vulcan' alloys.

Cost of Ownership

The XKR is not a notably inexpensive car to run. Any vehicle with a supercharged V8 engine that displaces 5.0-litres and cranks out 503bhp is going to have a rather immodest appetite for fuel and the XKR can slug it back with the best of 'em. Jaguar publishes a combined fuel figure of 23mpg that seems rather hopeful and that figure will take a sharp nosedive if your right boot gives the supercharger something to chew on. The insurance rating is, rather predictably, a top of the shop Group 20.
Depreciation is an area where the XKR more than hold its own. The Convertible will hold a full 52 per cent of its new price after three years. If you want a BMW 6 Series drop top with more power, you'll need to shell out for the M6 and be prepared to see 40 per cent of your investment back after three years. Ouch. The Jaguar even manages to pip the Mercedes SL500 when it comes to retained value which is no mean feat. If you want a fast coupe that will really hold its value, however, look to the Audi R8 with its market-leading 62 per cent showing.

Summary

As good as the Jaguar XKR is, and it's a very well executed GT car, one has to wonder whether it's worth £6,000 over the price of a standard Jaguar XK. Yes, that £6,000 does buy you 125bhp extra, which is no small beer, but it also raises expectations as to the XKR's worth as a sports car. Compared to a Porsche 911 or an Audi R8, it falls short in this regard and the closer its price comes to the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, the more uncertain the value proposition appears.

Were the stock XK not to exist, however, we'd have very few quibbles about this supercharged Jaguar. It's well finished, very capable, resolutely modern and now features excellent build and reliability. Years ago, a Jaguar of this all-round excellence would have been unthinkable. The achievements of the marque nowadays provokes harsher scrutiny but even under the most critical examination, the XKR is tough to fault. As for the XKR-S, it's something else again and for those who can afford its £100k price tag, one of the world's most thrilling coupes.

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