I'm on Ford's email list for press releases and news items. This service is supposed to be helpful, but I've found that swimming through Ford's mess of emails keeps me from doing more important things. Like drinking smoothies and checking how my "Frampton Comes Alive" CD collection is doing on eBay, for instance.
Recently, Ford has been sending out a lot of emails about Jaguar's entry into Formula One. None of these emails have told me the important stuff: Will Eddie Irvine and Johnny Herbert be forced to have tea and crumpets between practice sessions? Will their racecars have Connolly leather seating and real walnut wood trim?
So I watched the opening Australia Grand Prix on Speedvision. Never saw Irvine consuming tea and crumpets. I don't think the cars had wood and leather interiors, either. I did see Herbert drop out on the first lap due to a bum clutch and Irvine spin out a few laps later. Didn't get too many rah-rah Ford emails about that.
At least Jaguar has some decent performance products right now. Nothing could have been more ridiculous if Jaguar had said it was going racing during the '80s or early '90s. Since the death of the E-Type, Jaguar's vehicle lineup has had about as much sporting intention as a day-old Sourdough Jack with cheese. Things turned around in 1997 with the debut of the XJR high-performance sedan. For 2000, Jaguar showed off the exciting F-Type concept car, and finalized the XKR for American soil.
The premise of the XKR is very similar to that of the XJR. Take a stock XK8 Coupe or Convertible, supercharge the engine, tighten up the suspension, bolt on huge wheels and tires, tack on some tasteful trim, and let 'er rip.
The best part of this package is the DOHC, 32-valve 4.0-liter V8 engine. It is similar to the XK8's engine, but the XKR's features a huge Eaton M112 supercharger, twin air-to-liquid intercoolers, and minor structural changes. The XKR doesn't have variable camshaft timing like the XK8, but the results speak for themselves. Like McGwire at Coors field, the XKR bangs out a huge 370 horsepower at 6,150 rpm and 387 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm.
For comparison, the XK8's normally aspirated V8 generates a "wheezy" 290 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4,250 rpm. Jaguar says at just 1,600 rpm, the XKR's supercharged engine generates more torque than the XK8's engine at its peak.
To cope with the extra power, Jaguar has fitted all XKRs with a Mercedes-Benz W5A580 automatic transmission. Linking the electronically controlled five-speed automatic to the rear wheels is a new two-piece steel driveshaft.
You like the sound of all this? Despite the luxury coupe beginnings, the Jag posts better stats than most sports cars. It produces 25 more horsepower than a Chevrolet Corvette and 129 foot-pounds more torque than a Porsche 911.
Need verification of these numbers? Try this (we did): At a stop, plant your left foot on the brake pedal. Tip in the throttle with your right to bring up the revs. Release the brakes as you mash down the throttle.
The rear tires momentary lose grip (no limited-slip rear differential, though), and then the Jaguar uncoils forward. The acceleration isn't violent, so to grasp what the XKR is capable of, you need to watch the speedo needle wind unerringly upwards. Expect a zero-to-60 time of 5.2 seconds.
If you don't use the brakes to bring up the revs, the XKR can feel a little flat from a stop. But once the tachometer clears 2,100 rpm, there is little that can touch this car. Of course, going fast on public roads quickly becomes rather silly and hazardous to your driver's license's health.
After all this fun, the engine's sound is a complete letdown. At cruise, the V8 is quiet enough. But whipping it hard nets little aural satisfaction. The V8 rumble you've come to expect from Mustangs and Corvettes (or even the standard XK8) is drowned out by the supercharger's belt-driven whine.
From the inside, it's all standard XK8, which means it shares the same strengths and weaknesses. The cabin is tight (or cozy, depending on your view), and the effect is amplified by the narrow views through the windshield and other windows. Entry and exit to the XKR are problematic, and the left-mounted emergency-brake handle is particularly offensive.
So is the small driver's foot well. The dead pedal is located so far forward that it is virtually useless. During our evaluation period with the XKR, one of our editors noted that the foot well confined his feet so much that he resorted to left-foot braking.
Despite the tight cockpit, there still seems to be adequate headroom and legroom for front passengers. The front seats themselves are comfortable, too, though they aren't designed to hold occupants tight during hard cornering. Like in the XK8, the rear seats are for small children only.
The luxury materials are impressive. In seemingly standard operating procedure for Jaguar, Connolly leather is used on the seats, center console, door panels and steering wheel. The leather is matched up with extensive use of burl walnut wood. Another nice touch is the interior chrome door handles that also have integrated power door locks.
Much of the plastic is disappointing, however. It reeks of Ford, and often looks like it was lifted from a Crown Victoria. The center console contains a block of black buttons that all look and feel alike. Making matters worse is the fact that the controls for the heated seats, rear defroster, traction control and fog lights are all lumped together with the climate and stereo controls.
At least nearly everything on the XKR is standard equipment. This includes items like rain-sensing wipers, traction control, automatic headlights, and a 320-watt premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer (otherwise optional on the XK8). Like the 2000 XK8, the XKR has depowered front airbags, seat-belt pretensioners, and an upgraded ABS system. Side and head airbags are not available, however.
The only option is Jaguar's new-for-2000 GPS navigation system. Jaguar should have worked on this feature a little longer. Like in the S-Type, the navigation system can only be operated when the transmission is placed in park. Obviously, this is a good safety feature. However, Jaguar didn't take into account that a passenger might want to operate the nav system while the vehicle is in transit.
Fiddling with the navigation system's buttons and menus isn't all that easy, either. The control joystick makes entering information tedious, and the 3x5-inch screen is small compared to other cars' navigation systems.
Too bad you can't drive the XKR while sitting on the roof or something. No question, the XKR is one of the most voluptuous vehicles sold today. Can we get away with saying the XKR combines the class of Sinatra with the sex appeal of Tyson Beckford and Catherine Zeta Jones? Sure we can.
Over the XK8, the XKR can be differentiated by twin hood louvers, 18-inch "Double Five" wheels, a subdued rear spoiler lip, a mesh grille, and special badging. The louvers, located midway between the nose and windshield, draw heat away from the engine and reduce aerodynamic lift at the front of the car.
Thanks to the 18-inch Pirelli P Zero tires (245/45ZR-18s in front, 255/45ZR-18s in back) and a stiffer suspension, the XKR offers prodigious grip. It also has Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) system. Standard on the XKR, CATS automatically adjusts suspension-damping stiffness according to driving style and road conditions.
On canyon roads, the XKR offers what you would expect from a luxury coupe that has been modified for performance. The steering is not as communicative or involving as a 911's, nor does the car beg you to explore the limits on every corner. The brake pedal doesn't inspire confidence, either, as it has a rather mushy feel to it. But thanks to the big tires and engine, the XKR can still put a stupid grin on your face.
On city streets, the Jag again walks the line between luxury and performance. The suspension doesn't beat you up like a true sports car, but it's no road marshmallow, either. The XKR is still allergic to speed bumps and potholes. Tire roar is very noticeable at elevated highway speeds, as is wind noise from the A-pillars.
At close to $80,000, the XKR's closest competitors are the 911, the Mercedes-Benz SL500, and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz CLK55. We haven't driven the CLK55 yet, but we have no problem recommending the Jaguar.
The XKR's balancing act is its key trait. The monstrous engine power, sexy body and tight interior suggest performance, but the light steering feel, muted exhaust and standard automatic transmission convey luxury. Though it doesn't excel at either, it is quite good at both. Put up with the fusty interior, and you'll get a car with a level of class that the other cars can't match.