Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Test-Drive: 2011 Jaguar XKR convertible

2011 Jaguar XKR Convertible
Each year, I drive some 50 or more brand-new vehicles. Being a bit of a packrat, I take a photo of each one and paste it into a scrapbook; over the many years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve amassed nine such volumes. That’s a lot of cars and trucks. And out of all of them, I can honestly say I’ve never been more reluctant to hand one back than I was the Jaguar XKR convertible.

It’s expensive. It only really seats two people. It’s hardly the most practical car on the road. And if I ever win lottery money, this is the car I’m buying. Oh, yes, I’m in love.

It will take a lottery win for me, because the XKR convertible starts at $114,000. Mine was further accessorized with several options – heated windshield (and its annoying vertical lines), red brake calipers and a 20-inch wheel and tire package, which took it to $119,800 before freight and taxes. Looking this good doesn’t come

2011 Jaguar XKR Convertible

The “R” at the end of its name indicates a step up from the regular XK. Both use a direct-injection V8 engine, but the XKR adds an Eaton twin-vortex supercharger with dual intercoolers. I’ve always preferred the sound of a supercharger over a turbo, and I especially love what it will do: while the XK makes 385 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque, the XKR churns out 510 horses and 461 lb.-ft., that latter number starting at 2,500 r.p.m. and lasting all the way to 5,500 on the classically understated tachometer.

This Jag-rag shows two faces. When you’re just cruising around town enjoying the sunshine, it’s a pussycat, moving out as smoothly as can be under a light foot and with none of the twitchy throttle response that powerful cars can often exhibit. But push your toes down hard, and you’ll be wringing three syllables out of four-letter words. The car picks up speed effortlessly, and with a growl rather than a roar, thanks partly to an acoustic filter on the engine that, according to the company, is tuned to “tenor C” and which feeds that terrific sound into the cabin (there’s also a lovely blip out the quad tailpipes when the transmission downshifts). The official zero-to-100 km/h time is 4.9 seconds.

2011 Jaguar XKR Convertible

The ultra-smooth six-speed automatic transmission is accessed through a dial, rather than a lever, which in signature Jaguar fashion rises up from its flush mount on the centre console when the car is started. There’s lots of chrome on the console around that metal dial, though, and when the top’s down and the sun hits it, it’s blinding. There’s a Sport setting, but because of the gearshift configuration, the manual shifts are handled exclusively via shifter paddles mounted on the steering wheel. There’s one side for upshift and the other for downshift, as it should be, instead of the awful redundant push-pull variety.

It runs on Premium fuel, naturally, and the official figures are 14.1 L/100 km (20 mpg Imp) in the city and 9.1 (31) on the highway. Very surprisingly, I racked up just 11.3 (25) in my week of combined driving with it. I expected a supercharged V8 to suck up much more than that, but in retrospect, I did spend a lot of time just tooling around at moderate speeds in it. That was partly because even a slight stab on the throttle can take you into lose-your-license territory without even thinking about it, but mostly, it was because this car is so composed, so sweet, and just so nice for top-down driving, I found I spent a lot of time simply cruising around and taking in all the admiring glances that it garnered.

The XKR’s body is created from pressed, cast and extruded aluminum components, and according to Jaguar, is riveted and bonded together using techniques adapted from the aerospace industry. It tips the scales at 1,800 kilograms – 47 kilos more than its coupe sibling, due to the extra bracing required when a car lacks a roof – but feels half that on the road due to its beautiful balance. While many higher-end drop-tops have gone to a retractable hardtop, the XKR keeps a soft roof, which is triple-lined, extremely quiet and which didn’t leak a drop when I took it through a car wash. It’s fully automatic and disappears behind a rear panel, although you have to hold your finger on the button throughout the entire operation – no one-touch-down or up here. Unlike many convertibles, it has a great roofline and looks just as good with the top up as it does with it down.

Handling is as good as it gets; the car reacts immediately to steering input, while its dynamic control system automatically adjusts the damping and includes understeer control. To put it into poetic terms, it feels like you’ve slipped on a glove: the car is an extension of your hands on the wheel.
It’s officially a 2+2, and those deep rear buckets are pretty much good for groceries, a child seat (it has tether anchors) or friends who are double amputees. I squeezed myself back there for the sake of the story, and found them so deep that I couldn’t get my butt down into them (no comments, thank you very much). There was no room for my legs unless the front passenger sat on the windshield. Consider it a two-seater with some space in behind.

The interior is Jaguar’s usual blend of high-quality materials put together with fastidious precision. The 16-way seats are operated via controls on the door and include a dial that moves the seatback bolsters in or out, as desired, for both driver and passenger. Not all is absolutely rosy, of course. There’s a central touch-screen that controls the navigation, climate, audio and telephone systems, which requires too much paging back and forth to access the functions and can be slow to produce some of them. There are real buttons for the automatic climate function and temperature, along with the front and rear defrost/defog functions, but if you want to handle the vent modes yourself, or activate the heated and cooled seats or the heated steering wheel, you have to page in to that function and then tap the tiny spots on the screen to do so. The backup sensors work well, but for the car’s price, I would have expected a rearview camera. The navigation system is very easy to program although it did give me one wrong turn on a trip. And as a final quibble, the exterior auto-dimming mirrors go a little too dark, making it tough to see approaching vehicles at dusk.

At 201 litres with the top stowed, the trunk can hold enough for a weekend getaway (a hard protective cover prevents cargo from being loaded up to the point where it would interfere with the roof). Pop-up roll bars deploy within milliseconds behind the rear seats in case of a rollover crash.

Obviously, for most drivers – including me, now that I’ve returned it – the XKR’s price means it stays in the realm of “I wish.” For those who are breathing the rarified air, though, this car is a standout – and I’ve driven Lamborghinis, Porsches and Bentleys that I didn’t feel justified their price the way the XKR does. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s drop-dead gorgeous: the perfect trifecta of win, place, and show off.
Pricing: 2011 Jaguar XKR Convertible

  • Base price: $114,000
  • Options: $5,800 (Heated windshield, $300; 20-inch Kalimnos alloy wheels with Dunlop SportMaxx tires, $5,000; red brake calipers with R logo, $500)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,350
  • Price as tested: $121,250

  • Source: www.Autos.Ca

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