The 2008 Jaguar XKR is good at pushing buttons. I had looked forward to driving it, having grown progressively bored with a succession of SUVs, economy rides and lackluster sports cars during these past few months. I was in sore need of something lithe and European. On that, the XKR delivered.
The cabin feels warm and inviting. Befitting the Jag's nation of origin, it rained solidly during my first few days with the car. Peering out of the tiny glass house over the bulging hood at the cold, wet world outside, you feel safe, warm and empowered. A world of cold, wet roads and towering SUVs becomes inferior as you make swift progress through it. The ugly roads and rain-swept buildings gain an aura of glamour when viewed past the chunky, Alcantara-clad A-pillar.
At city speeds, the engine is smooth and instantaneously powerful. Put your foot down and the traction control allows a second or two of spin before hooking up and driving the car forward with real intent. The automatic gearbox is perfect in this urban environment, complementing, rather than detracting from, the impression of luxury and speed. Once the revs start to climb, a valve opens in the exhaust, making it louder. Keep your foot planted and the supercharger whine grows in aural precedence. Combined with the V8 growl, this conveys a sense of vast power and speed. The car dips rearwards slightly with a planted right foot, further accentuating the acceleration.
Fitted with optional 20" wheels, you'd expect the ride to be harsh and fidgety, especially on the rutted, pot-holed, third world streets of New York. Up to a point, however, it's surprisingly posh. Through the steering wheel you can feel the road's texture, but it doesn't find its way through the seat or into the rest of the cabin. Your hands say sports car while the rest of the experience says luxury. This impression lasts right up to the most severe of impacts with the biggest potholes—this is where the Jag's stiff aluminum chassis, big wheels and firm suspension finally give up the luxury game. Driving out of town through a torrential storm, I couldn't see the road — or the lane markings for that matter — and crashed into huge holes with surprising regularity. At one point, I thought I had surely torn off the front suspension. I hadn't, but I did gain a few more gray hairs.
So the XKR aces first impressions. It makes people think you're rich and classy. If you're not careful, it makes you think you are too. It feels fast, it feels luxurious, it feels like a Jaguar. For most people, that's enough to seal the deal. For us, it's not. A Jaguar should be a real sports car, and we have yet to drive it fast.
Part Two of the Jaguar XKR review will appear tomorrow.
Photography: Grant Ray