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Click to view picture gallery“Forget that Jaguar’s
  new XKR costs £70K.
It looks gorgeous,
  delivers a fantastic
  driving performance
  and is a lot of car
  for the money...”

NOW THAT THE CLOUD on whether Ford is to sell Jaguar or not has been lifted — it is Aston Martin that's on the
block — there
's a new found energy and bullish confidence from Jaguar.

Just this week comes heartening news that Jaguar's XJ saloon sales have rocketed by 155 per cent in September and that the new XK sports car sales are up 74 per cent for the year. Not only that, but advance orders for the new supercharged XKR are booming — with 1,500 global orders of which 800 are in the UK and, more tellingly, in advance of deliveries beginning next month. For markets outside the UK, the initial order bank for the XKR shows that 80 per cent of customers want the Convertible as opposed to 52 per cent of home-land customers who want the Coupé.

Fuelled by the new products and the company's strategy of niche premium business, Jaguar's UK dealers are reporting increased sales momentum.

Clearly the XJ — especially the fine 2.7-litre twin turbo diesel variants — and the elegant XK range of Coupés and Convertibles are what Jaguar customers want. And things could get even better once the ageing X-Type and S-Type ranges are replaced and the S-Type has
its facelift.

Evidently niche Jaguar models selling in the executive sectors in limited numbers has to be the way forward, rather than trying to compete for volume sales with the much stronger German brands of BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

As an illustration of Jaguar's drive for quality and profitable sales for the new XKR, the company is currently holding a series of 15 nation-wide 'first drive' test days on racing and test circuits for over 700 potential customers and a few motoring writers — all of them eager to try the right-hand drive models ahead of its November on-sale date. Should the XKR not fit the bill for a customer, then S-type R and XJR models are also on hand for evaluation at these events.

With a lightweight 155mph high-performance sports Coupé (or Convertible) like the supercharged XKR, it is vitally important for
would-be customers to sample the product, to see what it will do and how it performs in conditions that cannot be replicated on our speed restricted roads.

My XKR 'adventure' was at Jaguar's proving ground at Gaydon, War-wickshire, on a wet and windy day. In truth there could be no better real-life conditions to try out this storming car — after all, what is the point of having 420bhp and 413lb ft of torque available if a car is not designed to handle such power in low grip conditions.

Jaguar says their design brief for the XKR was XK plus 30 per cent, making it the ultimate sports GT for the real world. The new XK models, incidentally, were introduced seven months ago.

The XKR's aluminium bodyshell is 70-100kg lighter (depending on model) than its predecessors that went on sale in 1998. The 4.2-litre, super-charged V8 engine has 30 per cent more power and the uprated and lowered suspension is around 30 per cent stiffer than the latest XK. And the computer-activated ride and handling system has been recalibrated to accommodate the extra performance.

The six-speed automatic transmission with a 'Sports' mode has also been strengthened to cope with the increase in power and torque, and the paddle-shift gearchanges are said to be quicker than the XK — should you be able to measure the reaction times. The final drive ratio is 8 per cent shorter than the XK's to improve acceleration further. The brakes are 26 per cent larger and the steering settings are revised to provide a sharper response time. There are external R styling details ranging from a sporty grille, louvred bonnet, revised front bumper, two new wheel designs and quad tailpipes.

Inside there is a different facia finish with customers free to choose either aluminium weave or veneers, a unique XKR steering wheel and sports leather seats. On the subject of seats, just a reminder that the XK and XKR models offer 2+2 seating so the rear seats are really too cramped for adults.

The price of the Jaguar XKR Coupé is 67,495 and the Convertible costs 73,495 — both around 12.5 per cent more expensive than the normally-aspirated XK models.

The character of this big cat is best described as a spilt personality.
In the nicest possible way, of course! Leave the XKR in the automatic transmission's Drive setting and it is a very smooth and responsive GT cruiser that will pass slower moving traffic in a split second. In this mode it is fast and quiet on the motorways, and really smooth around town.

Select the Sport setting and you unleash a wildcat that sees the supercharger forcing its fuel/air mixture into the eight cylinders for a real kick in the back. The re-programmed transmission allows inter-mediate gears to be held longer for better acceleration, and the changes between gears are just a shade quicker. Downshifting results in rasping blips from the throttle that are a joy to hear, as is the distinctive bark from the V8's exhaust system under acceleration. Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph and the 0-60mph dash is covered in less than five seconds.

Even in the wet conditions of our test drive, there seemed to be
no limit to the amount of grip provided by the XKR. And only extreme cornering on a slalom test triggered the traction control system.

The computer controlled suspension and the superb chassis deliver a supreme driving experience over poor surfaces, keeping the XKR totally settled at really high speeds. In fact, I do wonder just how much more power the XKR can accommodate given it needs to compete with Mercedes' new AMG 6.2-litre V8 — which musters a whopping 514bhp.

The XKR's bigger brakes gave me every confidence on the soaking wet test track surface. The steering has also been revised, and gives a weightier feel and better feedback. This was the case during cornering, although in the straight-ahead position it still felt dead: more executive car than an out-and-out sports car.

For the record, the XKR's official average fuel consumption figure, at 22.9mpg, is only marginally less than the non-supercharged XK. How-ever, really hard prolonged driving during the Gaydon test drive saw 12.7mpg displayed on the on-board computer.

Overall this is a great car, both as a GT Coupé or Convertible. It has great looks, delivers a fantastic driving performance and is a lot of car for the money. Few owners will care about the 'only adequate' boot space. Even fewer will lament the very limited rear seat space.

My only real criticism would be, given the XKR's fuel consumption when driven hard and fast, the small fuel tank. So, please Jaguar, rather than going for volume sales with less flamboyant saloons and estates, let us have more distinctive premium sports models — Big Cats like the XK and XKR! — David Miles

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Jaguar XKR Coupé
| 67,495
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 4.9 seconds
Overall MPG: 22.9mpg | Power: 420bhp | Torque: 413lb ft

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