Jaguar XKR convertible – Open air motoring at its best

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We would have welcomed the head-turning 2011 Jaguar XKR convertible any time of the year whether the coldest day of winter or the hottest, most oppressive day of summer. It’s a car to savor and enjoy any time not just for its nearly impeccable driving attributes and silky smooth power, but for the attention it attracts. And it’s a car you can enjoy top up or top down, peacefully cruising neighborhood streets or carving up some of the most winding roads in America.

We had the best of both worlds. The wonderful 510-horsepower gem showed up just before a glorious holiday weekend with temperatures in the upper 70s and lower 80s and without that nasty humidity that can make an otherwise nice summer day unbearable. The top, with the touch of a button was powered back in about 18 seconds and we were in our glory.

It isn’t just hyperbole when praise is heaped on the XKR, it really is fast, sporty, and beautiful based on a heritage of racing sports cars and elegance. All Jaguar advertising dollars should go into experiential test drives. Most would find it hard to walk away and leave the XKR behind.

The XK sports coupe and convertible, restyled and modernized for the 2010 model this year joins the all-new-for-2011 XJ flagship and the mid-sized XF sedan in a reinvigorated Jaguar lineup that points to big things in the near future for the renowned English luxury brand.

The outstanding new Jaguar lineup comes as the result of former owner Ford’s meticulous engineering, a group of first-class designers led by Ian Callum, and a detail to quality and dependability not traditionally a part of Jaguar. It remains to be seen if new Jaguar caretaker, Tata of India can move the process forward from this new solid foundation.

But for now, Jaguar in our estimation is as good as it gets in a European luxury lineup.

The XK is the sports car of the trio coming in base and high performance models. The standard engine is a 5.0-liter V-8 producing 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The XKR features a supercharged version of the same engine making a neck-snapping 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. Here the six-speed auto can also be shifted manually through steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

We found our supercharged XKR to be a beast from stoplight to stoplight with enough forward momentum to be unafraid of anything on the road including standard-issue Corvettes, Shelby Cobra Mustangs and Porsche 911s. The Jag will quietly — even in convertible format — smoothly and effectively propel you to illegal speeds in a matter of seconds. Take it to your favorite winding blacktop and it will astound with its athletic nature.

On the flip side, take advantage of a cool, quiet evening after dinner and cruise languidly. If you are attuned to the world around you, you will find the gorgeous droptop will attract considerable head-turning attention.  And as a bonus you will smell the newly mowed lawns and idle along watching the sun turn to red as it sets in the west.

The interior is modern and features the new gee-whiz stuff found in the XF and in the new XJ. The most outstanding features are the console-mounted stop/start button that begins pulsing red when the car is unlocked, and a round rotary shifter that rises into the driver’s hand; it is simply too cool

The multipurpose touch-screen is also cutting edge as features slide away and new ones slide into place at the touch of a finger. But some of the features are hard to attain and can be finicky needing several presses to access. On the positive side, the radio volume control and the climate controls can be accessed without going to the touch-screen which also houses the standard navigation system.

Also very useful are the myriad of seat controls mounted on the door just ahead of the passenger. It is a considerable improvement over the seat-mounted controls. With the Jaguar controls you can see exactly what you are doing and without having to reach between the seat and door, an aggravating chore in many high-end vehicles. The front seating positions are excellent, and the driver is helped with a power tilt-and-telescoping wheel. The front seats feature heating and cooling.

Be advised that the rear seats are not suitable for adults. We did stuff grandma back there for a short ride, but after 10 miles and five minutes she was greatly relieved to unfold herself and climb out, with help. The seats make a good storage place to augment the small trunk.

The new Jag has some neat driving aids with Jaguar Drive Control. It offers the driver a choice of three different modes to alter the car’s dynamics such as throttle response, shift speed and suspension settings. The adjustable suspension has been designed to maximize ride comfort and handling attributes depending on driving goals.

The price of entry is not for the thin of pocketbook. No options are necessary on the XKR convertible, but the standard price reaches six figures at $102,000 including destination charge. The XKR coupe runs $96,000. If you opt for the standard engine, prices start at $83,000 (coupe) and $89,000 (convertible). There are some options that may tempt including two specialty wheel styles at five grand (take your pick) and adaptive cruise control at $2,200.

Whichever way you go, you will have a luxury sports car that will rival anything in its price range for performance, style and quality.

Base price: $102,000; as driven, $102,000
Engine: 5.0-liter supercharged V-8
Horsepower: 510 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 461 pound-feet @ 2,500 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 188.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,968 pounds
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 11 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.1 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 22 mpg highway, 15 mpg city
0-60: 4.5 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: BMW M6, Porsche 911, Mercedes CL-Class

The Good:
• Wonderful balance of performance, comfort
• Head-turning styling
• Fast convertible top operation

The Bad:
• Touch screen can be finicky
The Ugly:
• Rear seats for storage only