The Jaguar XKR is gorgeous,is one of the most important Jaguars ever. The next-generation car will initially only be offered in naturally-aspirated form, with a further-developed version of 4.2-liter AJ-V8 engine found in current XK8 models.
The first Jaguar developed under Ford’s ownership of the company, the XK8 heralded the marque’s rebirth when it was released in Europe in 1996, and the US a year later. Ford only supplied development money and expertise, and the odd small part - the engine and chassis structure were pure Jaguar. As impressive as the mechanical specifications were and are, what made the 1996 through 2006 XK the fastest-selling Jaguar sports car ever was a style that blended elements of the company’s heritage in a manner that paid respectful heritage yet was fresh and not at all "retro." It was offered from the beginning in both coupe and convertible form. The supercharged XKR debuted in 2000.
Commemorative editions of the XK are nothing new, but the Victory, named for Jaguar’s four championships in SCCA Trans-Am racing, is the last of the line. Modern race cars, including the Trans-Am XKs, are built primarily of carbon fiber, and so that material replaces burled wood as the interior trim in the XKR Victory. Unique interior trim and badging, 20-inch wheels and tires, and cross-drilled Brembo(tm) brake discs with red calipers complete the package.
The wheels and tires, brakes, and CATS suspension with adaptive damping are performance as well as cosmetic upgrades, and with the Victory model, the XK goes out in style. I’ve been driving a Victory coupe for the past week, and there is nothing old about it. The body style still turns heads, the interior is the lap of luxury, and with nearly 400 horsepower on tap, performance is like a land-bound executive jet. I should age so well.
The words "sleek" and "sensuous" seem made for the XK. Its proportions and general contours trace their lineage directly from the Jaguar D-Types that dominated European endurance racing in the 1950s through the still-born XKSS and classic E-Type of the 1960s for a classic British look that is timeless. It is truly style, not fashion. The XKR has a bright mesh grille and subtle lower cladding and a small ducktail spoiler on the trunk, and the Victory has 20-inch BBS alloy wheels and ultra-low profile tires that show off its huge cross-drilled Brembo brake discs, and a special version of the Jaguar "Growler" hood badge with checkered flags.
Open the doors, and the checkered flag motif again shows on the Victory’s inside door sills. No one does leather and burled wood interiors like Jaguar , but here the wood, symbolic of tradition, has been replaced by carbon fiber, today’s high-performance material of choice. It does not look out of place at all. The Jaguar XKR is designed for fast, long-distance motoring, and so has wonderfully-comfortable seats for the two front occupants. The rear seat, in the manner of classic 2+2 sports cars, is best thought of as a place for two very lucky children under five feet tall. The coupe’s trunk is large enough for a couple to travel light (and fast) for a long weekend. Only in some of the interior entertainment technology does the XK’s age show. It starts with an old-fashioned physical key, although said key is of an unusual design. There is a cassette deck in the audio system, and no MP3 player, and the CD changer is the old-style magazine type in the trunk, not a single-slot in-dash unit. The XKR does come standard with a DVD-based GPS navigation system, which is available in the regular XK8.
Front and front side head and chest airbags, powerful four-wheel vented antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control systems, and a driver-settable automatic speed limiter are standard safety equipment in the Jaguar XKR. An adaptive cruise control system that automatically resets speed to keep distance in traffic is available.
It’s been said since the XK8’s introduction almost a decade ago - it is not a sports car in the manner of the E-Type. The XK8 and XKR are considerably larger and heavier, and more luxuriously appointed. Coupe versions of both are lighter and more rigid than convertibles, making a coupe the choice for highest performance. The XKR has the same suspension design as the XK8, fully independent with double wishbones in front and halfshafts serving double duty as top links in the rear as originally developed in the E-Type. But the XKR has the "Computer Active Technology Suspension" (CATS), with real-time variable-rate shock damping. CATS gives a supple ride at low or moderate speeds on smooth surfaces, with firmer control of the wheels at higher speeds or in hard cornering. And the massive contact patches of the Victory’s 20-inch wheels and sticky Pirelli tires allow plenty of cornering power. The huge Brembo brakes stop very, very well.
The XKR’s supercharged variant of the 4.2-liter AJ-V8 is very different in character from the naturally-aspirated version found in the regular XK8. This is not particularly noticeable at low speeds or part throttle, where it is poised and quiet, befitting a luxury automobile engine. But mash the throttle, and, well, there are reasons the cat’s-head emblem on the hood is called "the Growler." First there is a guttural growl, and then a high-pitched scream over that when the supercharger kicks in. It sounds much like the engines of a small executive jet, and the acceleration is similar to a jet on takeoff. It starts a bit slowly, and then builds. And builds. And builds, getting happy at speeds best not attempted on public roads. Even more than raw horsepower - and 390 horses is not at all weak - the engine’s character is defined by torque. As in 399 lb-ft of torque, which is so much that there is little need to manually shift the six-speed automatic transmission even in spirited driving. The XKR is a pleasant car to drive quickly, and just as pleasant at sedate touring speeds.