Test Drive: 2008 Jaguar XKR

There was a time when luxury automakers just got so staid and stuffy that they were no fun at all. Cadillac lost its mystique in a sea of GM standardization, no one was sure if Lincoln was even making cars any more, and Jaguars were just nicer-looking mid-size Fords.? The average age of luxury brand buyers was rising fast – and something had to be done.

A few years ago that all began to change – manufacturers found that their luxury brands were the perfect vehicles to attract a new generation of buyers if they could offer luxury cars with real performance – measured and proven on the dyno and on the race track, not just claimed on the brochure. Cadillac did a great job reinventing itself with rides like the CTS and STS-V, and Jaguar returned to its racing history and gave us the XK convertible and the XKR coupe.

I drove the 2007 XK and XKR last summer and loved them both, so I was thrilled when the press car guy drove up in a beautiful forest green XKR last week. I found that the XKR is just as capable and fun in the cold rains of February as it is in the sunshine of July.

Jag gives the XKR a brilliant engine – a supercharged 4.2-Liter DOHC 32-valve V8. It?s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifting. I?d still love to drive the one with a 6-speed manual, but as automatics go, there?s nothing to complain about with the Jag box.? Big brakes and a great suspension complete the performance package and deliver a 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds, and a passing power (50-70 acceleration – far more important to most drivers) of just 2.5 seconds.? Top speed is governed to 155 – which is reasonable, I suppose.? Horsepower measures out at 420, with 413 lb-ft of torque.

Inside, the Jag really shines – provided you understand that the rear seats are just there to hold your lady friend?s purse or a bunch of roses. No actual human could possibly fit back there. The interior is comfortable, sporty, and has every creature comfort you could wish for. The controls are completely handled through a touch screen with a clear and obvious interface – nicely done. The stereo is awesome, and includes all the options – satellite, CD, MP3, you name it.

One thing to single out for praise is the heated steering wheel – in a bleak February, that?s the kind of touch that just makes you love a car.? In the XKR, you just feel better about yourself and the world around you.

The outside of the XKR is special, too – made of riveted aluminum as a race car should be, but its lines are smooth and sinuous, as a Jaguar should be. There?s no doubt that this car is fast, luxurious, and capable. The forest green paint is elegant, recalling generations of great Jaguar racing cars that looked like the XKR.

The driving experience is similarly fantastic – this is not a sporty-looking shell that sits on top of a blah-blah driving car.? The car corners flat on big tires and when you lay into the throttle, the engine roars and tosses you back into your seat. An XKR owner has to develop some self-control with the throttle or he?ll be making quota for every speed trap cop within 50 miles.

As outfitted, the XKR I drove for a blessed week was just shy of $90,000. That?s some tall coin, but if you can afford it, I?d recommend this car over the Corvette, Viper, or anything else in the price and performance category. Call it cat scratch fever if you like, but the Jaguar XKR is just an amazing ride.

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