2010 Jaguar XK

2010 Jaguar XK

I’m an intrepid sort of test driver. And not how you think.

I try very hard not to get arrested testing the limits of a car’s performance on public roads. (More on that below.)

Rather, I test the limits of reason since, as an avid cyclist, and journalist on that subject, too, I’m often taking all sorts of liberties trying to squeeze bicycles into cars never designed to accommodate them.

I’ve strapped a bike frame into the front passenger seat of a Porsche Cayman (wrapped in a beach towel, both wheels off the bike, the latter stuffed into the front boot); I’ve done similar tricks with a Miata and a Honda S2000.

Here, with the XKR, I soon discovered that there was no way to wedge a bike frame through the narrow passenger door opening without risking trim damage or leather ruptures. And forget the back pair of perches—there’s room enough there for groceries or soft sided luggage but not a giant triangle of metal. The hatch? I’d ruled it out initially because it just looked too small but decided to see if the bike would pretzel inside and on the first go, like some amazing trick of origami, it easily slid into place, both wheels off and stacked on top of the frame, and after some slight fiddling the hatch snapped shut.

A 510-hp daily driver

This was an aspect of pragmatism to the Jag I’d never expected.

Yes, it was already clear this was one hell of a fast car. The 510-hp supercharged V-8 is stupendous, capable of racing the Jag to 70 mph in second gear just before redline. And, yep, it’s a flexible engine, too, with peak torque (461 lb-ft) slamming home at a mere 2,500 rpm, allowing both beyond-brisk acceleration (other sites report 60 mph in four seconds flat, which is easily believable in my experience with the car), and reasonably muted highway runs at low revs, plenty of passing mustard headily and readily on tap.

Also, the ZF-derived HP paddle shift six-speed autobox is snappy—it’s also tuned for BMWs  by the way—and rivals Tiptronic Audis for quick downshifts (it doesn’t match that company’s clutchless manuals unfortunately). There’s more to the XKR than a slick driveline, though. This Jag features the company’s latest adaptive suspension. It ensures an always fluid-feeling, but never over-buttered ride because its sensors monitor the car’s position, roll, yaw, steering angle and so forth 100 times per second, ensuring reasonable comfort, despite massive optional 20-inch tires (30-series front, 35-series rear). Cruise slow and easy and this GT is as calm as a sleeping house cat. Find a little-trafficked (see that note at the top of this column) set of darkly lit switchbacks to tear up and the suspension is locked tight, with little body roll and very accurate, if light-touch steering. The XKR’s limits are close to astonishing, with Car and Driver reporting .92g on the skid pad. Driver control is simply superb, allowing a tick through of turn-in and track-out points on my favorite road as precise—and faster—than I can achieve with much smaller, lighter and less robustly powered machines, a real tribute to the very balanced suspension.

And what the hell, the XKR’s pragmatic, too.

Why care if a $96,000 sports car also features decent utility and livability? True, one doesn’t hunt down Mercedes’ AMG SL63 or BMW’s M6 thinking first, or even second or third about pragmatic features.

But these cars are GT’s, unlike say, the Lamborghini Gallardo, which is a pure track machine with all pretense of daily driving toil sacrificed on the throne of performance, with barely enough room for a brief case, let alone luggage.

By contrast, the joy of a great GT is that it truly can be a daily driver. A good one, like a Porsche 911 Carrera S, or this beautiful Jaguar, is so flexible, from easy-to-ply transmissions to cockpits big enough for overnight bags and even a set of golf clubs, that its owner would take great joy in using it as frequently as any Toyota Camry.

This ain't no Camry

Inside and out, the XKR says “sex.” Women, especially, look longingly at this car. I’d like to think they were looking at me, but it was the car. Men, consistently, think it’s something else. Those somewhat in the know are sure it’s an Aston. Those who drive pickups think it’s a Ferrari. Everyone thinks it’s hot. Jaguar  manages a sly dance with the XKR; it’s more aggressive than the XF and has plenty of chrome, for instance, on the window surrounds, but in a dark hue, like a gorgeous midnight navy, the car looks purely elegant, not bad-boy mean. Some might think all Jags are “chic cars” but here the company has found universal appeal. And that’s even before you climb inside.

The cabin is deeply luxurious, with lovely details like knurled roller knobs for vent and steering-wheel audio controls, chromed buttons for the 10-way front seats (or optional 16-way seats), and saddle-stitching on the leather seats and door inserts. White-lit gauges are clean and sharp, like a pair of chronograph watch faces, but the touch-screen nav system is a little fussy and unfortunately the detail level of the mapping on rural roads is poor, which is ironic since this is when you’d most need granular information. Still, these are very fine quarters, elegant and relaxed and very much what Jaguar should be aiming for as it moves away from former owner Ford towards a niche that isn’t quite like its German, English and Italian luxo rivals.

They would seem to have nailed it, making a car that’s as premium feeling inside and out as an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, but one that’s significantly less expensive, more pragmatic and easier to drive and, given a more ubiquitous dealer network, easier to own as well.