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Jaguar XKR convertible

 

A sportier-looking Jag

Jaguar was certainly keen to get the lifestyle message across. I was picked up by a fit young whippersnapper in a nice suit, who tucked me into the Jaguar XKR’s passenger seat before taking the wheel.

I was delivered to Auckland’s newest expensive hotel, the Westin, where Jaguar NZ’s boss and two staff members plied me with expensive pastries, and told me about the car. Then whisked to a flash restaurant for lunch, and to some exclusive establishment for a M.A.C. make-over, before at last being tossed the keys.

Trouble is, they got it wrong. Women my age are not picked up by young whippersnappers unless those whippersnappers are gigolos, who couldn’t afford the Jag. They won’t eat the pastries (you can never be too rich or too thin) or, most likely, much of the lunch.

Me? No offence, but I’d have liked more time at the wheel. For I’d been underwhelmed by the standard car, and was keen to see whether this XKR is a marketing exercise, whether it really is a lifestyle car as all this faffing around increasingly suggested, or whether it’s the real deal.

Certainly the visual tweaks have lifted the car’s look far more than you’d think from their relatively modest scope. There’s a mesh grille and new bumper; bonnet nozzles and side gills; and four muffler outlets. The result no longer looks like an up-market Hyundai, and a lot more like a sporting Jag – I liked it.

That its aim really is more sporting is clear from reading the spec. This 4.2-litre supercharged V8 has 306kW and 560Nm – 80kW and 140Nm more than the plain XK’s normally aspirated unit. Apart from the forced induction, that’s been achieved by adding twin air intakes and associated tuning of the ECU, which sharpens the power-to-weight ratio by 34 per cent, and hones the zero to 100 time to 5.3.

Which is quick, but not insanely so – after all, this car’s a GT. That means performance cannot compromise cruising comfort.

It sounds good though, at least with the windows down, or with your foot up it when the ‘active exhaust’ has been designed to impart aural aggression. A tad disappointing then to find that under normal driving you can barely hear the distinctive beat of a V8.

But what about handling? Chopping the roof off rarely improves matters. Quite apart from any added bracing, there are the gizmos that let you raise and lower the three-layer fabric top, in 18 seconds, at speeds of 24kph and under. That’s tacked 50kg onto the coupe, taking this car to a hefty 1715kg – it would be worse, if not for the aluminium construction.

Actually it’s surprising how little the roof has changed the centre of gravity, which is 29mm closer to the rear than the hard-top XKR, 2.7mm to the left and 9mm higher up – less than a centimetre. Disaster for keen drivers, perhaps, though I’d defy most people to feel it. After all, your luggage and passenger will make more of a difference.

That it took, what, two months to get a reply to my query about it is interesting. With a sports car or even a GT you’d expect an answer immediately. Perhaps that explains the gigolo, the flash lunch, the make-over. Jaguar expects this car to sell to those with a certain lifestyle and look to maintain, rather than to those who want to blister tarmac in their spare time, or slaver over the minutae.

Hence, no doubt, the keyless start, the integrated garage door openers, the heated seats and premium sound system; hence the rear slot for your chihuahas – they’re not seats sized for Kiwis; and hence the six-speed auto in place of a more obviously sporting manual transmission, though the steering wheel-mounted paddles access reasonably rapid runs through the cogs, not to mention the bark of a blipped throttle on downshifts.

Then there’s the $7000 soft-leather option that adds leather trim to the carpet, suede trim to the A pillars, and replaces the broader grain leather for the seats. The standard pews are firmer and therefore in theory more sporting. So it seems odd that the ‘soft’ version gets the adjustable bolsters, which moved in to grip my waist with the lascivious firmness of a soap-opera smoothie, and held me firm during my more lurid cornering manoeuvres.

Hmmm. That reminds me, the handling. The steering has been tuned for more heft and greater response. There are uprated springs and dampers, with the front spring rate increased by 38 per cent, the rears by 24; and the Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS, a two-stage adaptive damping system) has been recalibrated to further hone ride and handling.

Certainly it proved firm enough for sporting feel despite the low profile tyres, yet comfortable enough to cosset the crustiest owner. That it wasn’t as nimble as I’d like was initially disappointing. At anti-social speeds the nose pushed wide when those corners tightened; the rear hinted at waywardness after too keen an approach to the throttle. But I quickly grew to like that whiff of unruliness in what is otherwise a rather grown-up machine. It suggests power unleashed, the dangerous side of the big cat that’s often obscured by the comfort and luxury on offer. Only suggests, because I wasn’t game to turn it off on a public road.

The million dollar question of course is, would I buy one? I suspect not. Yes, the engine’s a beauty; yes the visual tweaks have enhanced this car’s looks. You pay the same for a standard convertible as you would for the XKR coupe; but the soft roof – quiet and refined though it is – adds 20 grand, and makes this thing rather pricey. My own choice would be something more obviously sporting, or something rather less visually extrovert and much more affordable – the 4.2-litre V8 Audi S5, for example.

But then I’m not a fan of going topless, and I do like 4WD.
 

Jaguar XKR convertible

Engine: 4.2-litre supercharged, 90-degree, 32-valve dohc V8, with 306kW at 6250rpm and 560Nm at 4000rpm
Performance 0-100kph (claimed): 5.3 seconds
Fuel consumption (claimed, overall): 
Transmission: ZF six speed auto drives rear wheels
Suspension: Rear, upper and lower wishbones; front, upper and lower wishbones; coil springs and dampers, plus Computer Active Technology Suspension
Brakes: Jaguar R vented discs front 355mm, rear 326mm
Price: $254,990

 


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