2004 Jaguar XJ8/XJR by Marty Padgett (3/17/2003)
A secret British aerospace programme hidden atop four wheels.
It's hard to know where to start, really. When the latest Victoria's Secret catalog comes along for The Wife, should I turn directly to the lingerie section, or should I pace myself by starting with, say, the sportswear or pajama pages? I mean, these are some very pretty girls here — girls this schmo is never going to have a chance to meet, let alone flirt with — and I'd like to feast my eyes while I can. Whenever The Wife winds up with the catalog, it always ends up in the dumpster.
I don't know why, exactly, these thoughts come to mind in the context of my review of the 2003 Jaguar XKR Coupe. Well, actually, maybe I do know why. This car is so dramatically beautiful that just gazing at it reduces me to tears and mumbles of "I'm not worthy." It is sexy; it is athletic; it is powerful. And for us mere mortals, it is every bit as unobtainable, impractical and unrealistic as that little bella donna wearing tanga and underwire on page 21.
For once, a car is aptly, mythically named. Jaguar. Forget that techie-sounding XKR bit for now, and just ponder a moment upon all those primordial connotations of feline grace, agility, strength, ferocity. Now look at that coupe — the coupe, mind you, and not the significantly less beautiful convertible version — and note the slinky sensuality of the hood and front fenders, the coiled sinews of the flanks and the slitted cat's-eyes that serve for side windows. The way the roofline of Jaguar's flagship coupe rears up gently from the trunk to crest at the front windscreen vividly suggests the strong, arched back of a flesh-and-blood jaguar stalking the savannah. A clan of cats in the wild is known as a pride for a reason, I suppose.
2003 Jaguar XK
As for the aforementioned XKR bit, here's the catalog copy: You're looking at a supercharged V-8 version of Jag's "standard" XK8 coupe. The XKR lists, as tested but without options, for $81,975. The R-Car makes 395 horsepower from 4.2 liters of displacement, besting its junior sibling by almost 100 hp. Torque is even more impressive at 399 pound-feet. This number and the headstrong, irrational exuberance characteristic of the supercharging technique translate into firebreathing gales of acceleration anywhere and anytime you put your foot in it. Were it not for Jaguar's computerized traction and stability control systems, it's conceivable that an XKR in the wrong hands would be a pavement slinging, ever-slewing menace to all good citizens of Our Town.
That it is not is a subtle, salutary endorsement of civilization's influence over feral instincts. In addition to traction control for minimizing rear wheelspin, and stability control for counteracting slides to port or starboard, the XKR wears giant racing-style Brembo brakes equipped with anti-lock circuitry and Emergency Brake Assist for proactive responses to panic-stop situations. CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) is the clumsy but cute acronym for a suspension technology that constantly monitors damping rates, then tweaks individual shocks for optimum behavior with respect to road conditions. "Sport" and "Normal" modes provide push-button options for drivers with CAMP — Constantly Alternating Motoring Preferences.
Lithe, not lean
For all its lean lines and sleek silhouette, the XKR tips the scales at over 3800 lb. Just the same, it's capable of 5.2-second sprints from 0-60 mph. Even more impressive to me is its agility in lacing through sweeping corners and twisty back roads. This coupe feels big in comparison to feistier sports cars, because it is. Still, it's stately and unflappable even at imprudent speeds. It is the car that smaller sport coupes wish they could become when they get older, wiser, richer.
Current events virtually dictate mention of XKR's supporting-role as the "bad guy's ride" in the latest James Bond movie. I'm an unabashed 007 fan, and I'm suitably impressed with the movie-XKR's bristling arsenal. But as far as my own fantasy life is concerned, I'd much rather assign Jag's super-coupe to the gran turismo duties it was designed to fulfill. Slipping into the driver's seat, I can think of nothing better than ensconcing The Wife beside me and scouring the DVD-based navigation system for meandering trajectories into the countryside. On the other hand, I can think of nothing worse than attempting to shoehorn anything larger than a Shih-Tzu into what Jaguar purports to be two rear seats. Even at 5’ 6”, I am simply unable to effect a safe driving position that's far enough forward to provide leg room behind me. Same goes for The Wife, unless she's looking for a little dashboard support to pick up where the Miracle Bra leaves off.
2003 Jaguar XK
In every other respect, the XKR cabin represents an ideal combination of plush and functional. Leather and burl, of course, are the aesthetic staples. Jag's switchgear is, thankfully, very straightforward and un-gimmicky. The outboard hand brake — i.e., to the left of the left thigh — is a tolerable British eccentricity. The trademark J-pattern shifter, on the other hand, is a marvel. For 2003, Jaguar installs a new "stepped" six-speed automatic transmission that's seamlessly smooth when left to itself but positively hip when "gated" through manual shifts. Jag's exclusive J-Gate, moreover, provides intuitive control over gear selection while managing what no other modern clutchless manual system does: It tells you, by the position of the shifter, what gear you happen to be in, just like a traditional manual gearbox does. When you touch it, you know; and you can carry on with hellraising without taking your eyes off the road to read some little indicator in the dash.
After all, sense of touch, as you may well suspect, is the precious little secret here. It's what we long for in the presence of heavenly bodies.
2003 Jaguar XKR
Base Price: $81,975
Engine: 4.2-liter supercharged V-8, 395 hp/399 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic (normal/sport modes), rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 101.9 in
Length: 187.4 in
Width: 72.0 in
Height: 50.7 in
Weight: 3817 lb
Fuel economy: 16 city/ 23 hwy
Standard safety equipment: Adaptive Restraint Technology System (ARTS), dual-stage driver and passenger airbags, traction control, automatic stability control, four-wheel disc brakes w/anti-lock control
Major standard equipment: Alloy wheels, speed-sensitive power steering, electric power-latching convertible top, 320-watt Alpine Audiophile sound system w/six-CD changer
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles