The 2008 Jaguar XKR is a beautiful car. The best angle is probably from the rear. The fenders flare out like a woman's hips to cover the wide rear track and flow into a pinched trunk equipped with the most complementary spoiler ever conceived. It evokes muscular visions of British sports cars from the '60s, or even cars like the Shelby Daytona Coupe. This is exactly how a modern Jag should look, demonstrating a clear appreciation for the past without shamelessly copying it.
Jaguars are often criticized for looking too much like the current crop of near-identical Aston Martins, but that's not a comparison borne out in person. In pictures, the XKR's shape overwhelms the body's more subtle lines. It's a shape close in proportion and form to cars like the DB9, but up close and on the street, the Jaguar strikes a pose all its own — long and lithe where the DB9 is heavy and purposeful.
It's not a comparison that's borne out inside either. Where the Astons have crystal start/stop buttons and a modern and luxurious swath of bamboo on the dash, the Jag is an awkward combination of nicely stitched leather and cheap plastic parts. I know the Vantage is $20,000 more expensive, but the Jag's interior is about $50,000 cheaper than its $98,000 as-tested-here price tag suggests.
The spokes on the steering wheel — parts you touch — are made from the lowest quality painted plastic. The airbag cover — a part you look at every day — is about five cents more expensive. The door handles are chromed plastic versions of the ones that were used on the '90s Ford Fiesta. The aluminum weave trim inserts are a matter of taste, or the complete lack thereof. Why not just continue the piano black of the center console across the rest of the interior?
You see where I'm going here, but I've saved the worst for last. The touch-screen interface controls most of the vehicle's ancillary functions, but it is surrounded by an inches-thick, sweaty black plastic binnacle, the quality of which would look out of place in a Chevy Cobalt.
Having lived with this car for a week, I just can't figure out where the $98,000 was spent. Sure it looks good and, yes, initial impressions were promising, but without the ability to drive like a sports car or cosset like a luxury car, the Jag's mouth is writing checks its chassis can't cash.
Perhaps the best argument against the XKR is delivered by the sheer competence of vehicles that retail for close to half its price. A Corvette, for example, is also a V8-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car. But it starts at less than $50,000; is lighter and faster; comes with a manual gearbox; and drives like a sports car. For that price, we'll forgive its cheap interior. The Porsche Cayman costs a little more, but drives better, comes with a premium badge and has an interior that shares no parts with a late '90s Fiesta. For almost $100,000, the XKR should objectively offer something these two cars don't. Make all the arguments you want for the exclusivity its badge brings. It just doesn't deliver the goods.
So the Jaguar XKR is a beautiful car, and a fast one, but it promises too much and delivers far too little. Enthusiastic drivers don't just want a car that feels special; they want one that is special. The word I'm looking for is "underwhelming." Decidedly, woefully, disappointingly underwhelming.
Photography: Grant Ray