AutomobilesExtra

[REVIEW] 2014 Jaguar XKR – Ferocious, Flawed, Fantastic

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A lot of people say that you can’t have emotional relationships with cars. They say that cars are inanimate objects. Machines that get you from point A to point B. How can you possibly have a relationship with a machine?

But with every car, there are pros and cons. Good times and bad times. Beauty and flaws. Aren’t those the same qualities we use to describe our partners, our spouses, our soulmates? Aren’t these the very things that we consider “human”? How can one NOT have a relationship with a car with this in mind?

Over the course of my week with the Jaguar XKR, I would be frustrated over certain simple shortcomings that one would expect in a car today. Especially in a car with a chassis that is engineered to be this good and at this lofty price range.

But the more I drove the XKR, the more I would grow to love its character and put up with its flaws. Like a fine wine it only got better with age.

Keep reading to find out why I would ultimately want to keep this car in my garage permanently, and why I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone shopping for a $100,000+ hot rod grand touring sports car.

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First, the looks

Jaguars have always been gentlemen’s cars. You can be driving down the South of France or on the streets of Vancouver, and you’d still equally feel like a “right ole English gentleman” behind the wheel of a Jag.

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Designer Ian Callum was reported as saying, “Kate Winslet is my ideal woman. She is naturally a very shapely woman, very British with an underlying integrity and ability. Like a car, she has got substance, she is not just a pretty face”.

“I designed the new XK body with her in mind. The interesting thing is that so many woman find sensual cars more appealing as well”, Ian said.

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And it’s not difficult to see what Mr Callum is on about. The XK’s shape pure automobile pornography.

I think it looks absolutely spectacular especially in profile from the side, and from the three-quarter rear angle.

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With its muscular bulging rear fenders, it looks like a cat poised alert on its hind quarters, ready to pounce on its prey at anytime.

“I’m Pussy, Pussy Galore” indeed!

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With its long hood and body lovingly painted with Polaris White paint, and the huge gloss black 20” Kalimnos wheels as part of the optional Black Speed package (which swaps all of the exterior chrome for gloss black bits), the XKR looks like it just drove out of a James Bond movie set in Monaco.

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I normally don’t like black wheels, but with the gloss black finish and exposed silver rivets, it certainly looks the part. Surprisingly, the ride quality is very good despite the low sidewalls and huge rims. Credit to Jaguar’s suspension engineers.

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I mentioned in a previous review of the Ford Fusion that the Ford was a car that made me think “damn that’s a good looking car” upon approaching it every morning.

The XKR kicks that up one notch further, beckoning to me like a desperate sailor to the mythical siren’s song. But unlike with the Greek plays, there is no tragedy here.

Upon first sight of the XKR each time, I could not resist saying yes to getting into the cockpit for a drive, long or short.

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A real crowd pleaser and head turner

In my Ford Mustang GT V8 review last year, I likened driving that car to that of an excited 5 year old boy drooling over the newest sports car on the block.

When walking up to the XKR for the first time, I certainly felt like that 5 year old small boy again. Except this time, that little boy had gone through a private school’s etiquette lesson (or two).

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And this analogy wouldn’t be too far from the truth either as the XKR appealed to 5 year old school boys and senior citizens alike.

Bringing smiles of delight everywhere I went, the white Jaguar turned heads whether it be in the mall parking lot to the high streets in downtown Vancouver.

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If people didn’t see the Jag approaching, they certainly heard the roar of the meaty V8. But more on that later.

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So what is it like to drive a 510hp car everyday?

The XKR is all about touring around, not trashing about. Driving around with its 510hp powerplant in everyday traffic is surprisingly very normal. Really!

It’s amazing what properly engineered and tuned electronics can do these days to change the character of a car. You can tell that this is what you’re paying the extra money for. The chassis engineering and drivetrain technology.

The XKR feels equally comfortable being a loud hard-edged V8 sports car or a comfortable and quiet grand tourer that you can take on a 1000 kms weekend trip.

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With Jaguar’s advanced Dynamic Stability Control system and selectable Winter/Normal/Dynamic modes, with just a simple push of a button, the XKR can be made to be as docile as a floor feline, or a ferocious wild cat.

The throbbing heart of the Jaguar XKR lies underneath what some in the trade call the “plastic beautification panels”, which in turn lie beneath the lightweight clamshell aluminum hood.

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Performance is, in a nutshell, ferocious. The supercharged 5.0L V8 pulls relentlessly like a locomotive until its redline. Between 1800-1900 rpms, the big V8 elicits an intoxicating powertrain moan that resonates throughout the entire cabin. Sublime!

It’s truly one of the greatest automotive sounds of the 21st century.

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With 461 ft-lbs of torque on tap, a heavy right foot mid-corner will provoke the XKR into eagerly stepping its rear end out sideways, especially on wet roads.

People who have the money to spend $117k+ on a car like this generally have more than one vehicle in their garages for the foul weather months. So the XKR is likely to be a fair weather weekend plaything anyway.

But as luck would have it, my year end loan with the XKR included 4 days of clear weather, 1 day of rain, and 1 day of snow. I definitely had the opportunity to put the XKR through all sorts of Vancouver weather conditions!

In summary, keep the traction and stability control systems in Winter mode and you will almost never get in trouble on wet roads. In this setup, the computers dulls the sharpness of the throttle pedal, softens the suspension for more tire grip, starts the car off in 2nd gear, and lowers the threshold at which the traction and stability control activate.

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With only summer tires fitted to my test car though, all four wheels remained firmly planted on my driveway on the day where the white stuff fell. It was only until the snow had fully melted (thankfully within 24 hours) and the temperature had risen above 5 degrees Celcius that I drove the XKR.

With dedicated performance winter tires though, you can probably manage just fine in most winter situations that don’t involve steep hills. The traction and stability control systems are that good!

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Conversely, one press of the Dynamic Handling button does the opposite to the Jag’s driving dynamics. Think of it like uttering the words “want to go for a walk” to your dog and you’ll get the idea.

In Dynamic mode, it’s almost as if the car sits up and goes “alright, about damn time we have some fun. Come on govenor”! This selection firms up the CATS (Computer Active Technology) Suspension, sharpens steering feel and throttle responses, and opens up the valves in the active exhaust system. In typical British formality, the dashboard indicates “Dynamic Handling Confirmed” when activated.

With this setting in play, the V8 exhaust note sounds truly glorious, cracking and popping like a 1960s American muscle car. But the noise is always sporty and performance character building. Never unrefined. It’s purposefully aggressive, but never loud or droning.

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As a special note to all of you track drivers out there, I wanted to mention that unlike modern Mercedes-Benzes or BMWs, you can actually turn the DSC fully off in the XKR.

Hold the DSC button down for under 10 seconds, and the system goes into Trac DSC mode, shutting down traction control but still allowing for stability control intervention (albeit at a much higher threshold) if things go pear shaped.

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But hold the DSC button down for more than 10 seconds and the system gives you a warning chime before turning off both traction and stability control systems completely. Use this tip at your own risk!

Handling-wise, the XKR doesn’t disappoint. This is still a big car after all. But with a highly advanced lightweight aluminum body architecture, it weighs a relatively svelte 3770lbs allowing for surprising agility on the road.

Weight distribution seems to be relatively even, with the car always feeling light on its feet for its size. It’s an easy car to drive fast, perhaps a bit too easy.

With its active suspension and meaty 285/30R20 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rear tires and 255/35R20s up front, the car impressed with its levels of grip on the twisty bits.

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If things do get leery, the absolutely massive brakes are there to haul you down from whatever speed to naught. With 6 piston Alcon front calipers and 4 piston rears, the clamping force is certainly proportionally matched with the large diameter rotors (which are as big as the wheels on cheap subcompact cars) all around.

Last but not least, the 6 speed automatic transmission is nicely sorted with its balanced gear ratios making the best of the vehicle’s full range of horsepower and torque.

I liked that the tall 6th gear reduced engine and exhaust noise when cruising at highway while increasing fuel consumption (relatively speaking).

In sport mode, up and downshifts via the steering wheel mounted paddles are very fast, raising the question as to whether one needs an expensive double-clutch gearbox with a slushbox this good!

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The interior…beautiful but flawed

There is no oldie English gentlemen’s club feel here. No wingback chairs sir!

For the most part, the Jaguar XKR’s interior is a very nice place to be. With the softest full grain Charcoal leather adorning the dash/doors/seats, Ivory contrasting French stitched seams as far as the eye can see, black gloss piano wood trim, it is fully modern. Fully luxurious and expensive.

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To cap it all off, the headliner and pillars are finished off with sumptuous black Alcantara suedecloth. There are 4 star hotel rooms that could seek to learn a lesson or two.

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I especially loved the knurled gungrip textured Jaguar DriveSelect gear knob that was the show of the centre console. Watching the knob rise up like a phoenix upon start-up never ceased to amuse me.

While it seems a bit gimmicky at first, it’s the little touches that are needed and expected to make a car feel special in this price range.

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The front seats are both heated and cooled, with adjustable side bolsters that will grip you tighter than your 6 year old on his or her first day of school. The back seats? Don’t even bother unless they’re small kids or backpacks.

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I thoroughly appreciated the heated steering wheel as well as the $300 optional heated windshield on the frosty mornings. What I didn’t like was how the system would automatically turn on the front and rear windscreen defrosters if the ambient temperature was low enough. Fortunately there is a way to turn this setting off.

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There is a surprising amount of trunk space in the XKR. Due to its hatchback design, the liftgate makes the entire space accessible in just a pinch.

Since this car is likely to be purchased by a successful real estate agent or two, I thought that it would only be fitting to test out the available space with a standard 24 x 36” sandwich board sign holder. Guess what? The cavernous space swallowed it up with no problems! Golfers need not worry either!

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However, not all is well in the cabin I’m sorry to say. There are a few cheap parts and ergonomic flaws that let down the otherwise beautiful and functional interior.

My main complaints revolve around the navigation system head unit. While all the modern conveniences are there and the system has a relatively large 7” touchscreen, the software all seems very 2006. The system is slow, low resolution, and unbecoming of a vehicle in this price range.

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In this day and age where the latest Audi’s head units integrate NVidia computer graphic chipsets, 3D Google Earth maps and stunning high resolution screens, the Jaguar unit with its animated menus just seem old and antiquated.

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There isn’t even Bluetooth audio streaming, something that one can find in a basic Toyota Corolla these days. This is a disappointment in an otherwise nice place to be.

It’s a good thing that the V8 soundtrack was far more amusing than anything in my music library or this would’ve been a bigger issue.

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But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I had the opportunity to test drive the 2014 Jaguar F-type S as well (for an upcoming review), and the head unit was centuries ahead. So there is hope for future XKs!

Fortunately, once you get over the fact that you have to manually dock your iPod within the centre console or use a CD (gasp!), the Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system will blow your socks off.

With the Jaguar’s quiet cabin, there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy the 525 watt surround system equipped with various DSP settings including Dolby ProLogic II. This system is specially tuned by Bowers & Wilkins for the cabin of the XK and includes high output, low distortion Kevlar mid-range speakers and specially designed aluminum-dome tweeters that deliver superb mid-range and extended high-frequency responses.

However since I’m not a professional audiophile, I’ll leave the audio review to the experts at Hometheatrereview.com. Needless to say, they too were very impressed, and not just by the yellow cones in the door speakers.

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My other minor interior foibles include the window switches and wiper control stalk that seem to have come from the era where Ford used to own Jaguar.

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Summary – Parting is such sweet sorrow

They say that grief is the price we pay for love don’t they? This is a sentiment that definitely rang true as I reluctantly turned in the keys to the XKR.

Jaguar has always prided itself on building cars that are spacious, comfortable, fast, and easy on the eye. The XK is no exception to the rule. It is almost the complete package with a great blend of performance, luxury, and image.

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It is a full-on hardcore sports car when you want it to be, arguably approaching supercar levels. But cleverly, it never loses sight of the fact that it can be a serene grand tourer.

As perhaps a bonus, this is also one car that you’ll want to drive alongside mirrored windows all day long just to admire its profile.

And it’s certainly a car that anyone would be proud to have on his or her driveway.

With Jaguar slated to release more vehicles, including a SUV in the near future, I can’t wait to experience what else this brand has to bring for years to come!

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Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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