Richard Fiennes tries the 2003 XKR. Now is he just being fussy or has he got a point?
The late Geoff Lawson did a fine job styling the XK8 and in many ways the butch XKR coupe looks even better. It is a very feline shape, continuing the great Jaguar tradition of grace. I always feel that it looks as if it’s moving even when stationary. Somehow it looks quintessentially British, especially in darker hues.
To most petrolheads the combined letters “XKR” demands instant desire and respect, even if the person has never driven one. It is that sort of a car; high on people’s lottery win purchase list. But is it really any good and worthy of its £58,113 list price?
That is a lot of money to spend on a new car and there are some pretty capable machines for around this figure. The main competitor on many levels has to be the evergreen Porsche 911 Carrera 2, which happens to retail some £1,483 cheaper! That’s the insurance, tax and some months’ petrol paid for.
Other suitable protagonists might include Honda’s NSX (£60,013), Mercedes-Benz’s CLK 55AMG (£58,865) and the Maserati 4200 coupe at a cool £61,000. This final car seems so close to XKR in character that I am amazed in a way, that it’s not priced much closer to the Jaguar’s list figure.
Well cutting to the chase, I firstly find the car very disappointing when you start using the performance. Why you may ask? The supercharger whine is simply appalling. It has no SOUL whatsoever and does not move me as such a car should. One of the prerequisites of such a sporting GT is that when you start really driving, the engine sings to you. It’s all part of the mystique that you buy into. It doesn’t have to be intruding, but mellifluous yes. The whine is even there under light throttle. Perhaps I was back driving a leather appointed Morris Marina. Or was I on a Japanese playstation. Next demerit is the wind noise at speed, added to which great tyre roar joins in for good measure on poor surfaces. However, the ride is beautiful, even over poor British blacktop. The “CATS” adaptive suspension really lives up to one of Jaguar’s main hallmarks.
Now at this point I'll list my gripes before addressing its strengths.
So…..there’s much evidence everywhere of Ford parentage, including under the bonnet:- plastification, urgh. The slab sided, (dated) black bird’s eye maple dashboard reminds me of a pimp’s 80’s Lincoln town car and it also resembles plastic.
The alloy dial surrounds looks like a “Max Power” teenager got at the interior, along with sprinkling a plethora of red and green “R” badges around. Not discreet looking enough.
The switches have a rather cheap feeling unbecoming of a Jaguar and the very nasty doorsill finisher is also way below par.
There is no retractable leather grab handle to steady a passenger’s nerves. The car seems to mist up easily if two people try and breathe simultaneously. No folding mirror facility...
Main door hinge flexes nicely. Cracking on the cards some years down the line?
“ACC” radar distance cruise control very harsh in extremis. Software needs further tweaking or new pads could be required every 3,000 miles.
Car way too heavy at 1,735 kg, which goes some way to explaining heavy fuel consumption. Roll on the all aluminium replacement.
XKR’s handling compromised at speed, owing to high centre of gravity. Needs to be at least 10mm (maybe 20mm) lower. A well known piece of tight, off camber dual carriageway ‘S’ bend, really caught out the car, exposing the ride height issue.
No electrical boot locking a la Mercedes-Benz.
The shut lines and paint finish are not up to £58,113 standards.
No standard fit park sensors. Why not!? The car is huge and really takes confidence to reverse.
Sexy 20 inch wheels would look even better brake dust or (Jaguar tradition) matt
But it's got its strengths...
Well that’s the character assassination over, now for the praise.
For regular motorway pounding (supercharger notwithstanding) the 4.2 litre, 400
bhp XKR is quite soothing, with a pleasant 6 speed box and plenty of warp factor acceleration when required. Seems they sit at 170 mph quite happily.
The brakes are very good at last, hauling you down repeatedly without fade.
The steering suits the demeanour of the ‘motor’ and is complemented by easy operating cruise control which adds to the calmness that’s part of the XKR’s raison d’etre.
The auto door locking is very comforting, as are the Recaro seats over long periods.
I kept thinking how similar the car is to its XJS predecessor but much more capable.
Its natural environment would be German autobahns, for it loves trotting along at around 130 mph with effortless reserves. Just as you would expect me to say really.
The $64,000 dollar question that I asked at the outset was, is it the best car to spend almost £60,000 English pounds on. Sorry, the answer's no, non, niet.
I so wish to like this car because it is a doddle to drive and looks very lithe and alluring, but it is too flawed at this moment in time. There is simply not enough Jaguar specialness and magic and that frisson needs to be in Jaguars once more. It is in there trying to get out, but the car is way too Fordidised that any Jaguar has a right to be. Ford deserve praise for buying the company and bringing their great experience and money to the table. But they must now retreat back upmarket with Jaguar. If you drive any reasonable spec Ford and you go and look at the XKR you should see what I mean. Remember this is a flagship model in their portfolio and it is not respecting core values. Also at this sort of price buyers can be very discerning and not everyone is a premiership footballer thinking he would like a new toy this month.
You know I am going to say that the Porsche is the sensible choice if you are looking to live with such a car for a few years. It could so easily be the XKR.
Richard Fiennes © 2003
This week, Jaguar have introduced the 2004 model XK series. On the outside it gets a new style mesh grille and deeper front and rear bumper and side sills give a more powerful look and improve aerodynamics. All XK8 models now have a rear spoiler as standard, while the XKR has a new, larger rear spoiler
Spec improvements include bigger wheels (up to 20"), an optional reversing sensor, different veneers and a cup holder! The new options are available in two trim packs: 'Premium' and 'Technology'. Precise spec depends on where in the world the car is being sold.