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Click for pictures“The supercharged
 XKR Convertible really
 is the cat’s whiskers!”


FOR MOST PEOPLE, £65,000 would be a useful sum of money — and a very useful amount if you're planning to spend it on a car. Certainly for that kind of money you'd expect something gorgeous that goes like stink. So how does 400bhp and 408lb ft of torque from a supercharged 4.2-litre V8 grab you? Hooked? If they've thrown in a sexy body that looks great topless, then you've just bought yourself one of Jaguar's slinky XKR Convertibles.

Launched in 1996, the XKR may have been around for a few years now but — even so — we always knew exactly where we'd parked our test car because of the knot of admirers taking a closer look. Finished in an eye-catching shade of metallic blue and riding on the optional, but seriously 'must-have', satin silver 5-arm 20-inch 'Detroit' alloy wheels it really did look sensational.

Jaguar has always been defined by its sports cars — from the original XK launched in 1948, the iconic XKE (E-type) in '61 and then in 1996 the current XK8 and XKR range. From the outset the current XKR rapidly became the fastest-selling sports car in Jaguar's history — coveted not just for its seductive looks but also for the way in which it blends luxury, thrilling performance and grand touring ability.

Recent enhancements to the XKR's exterior styling include revised front and rear bumpers complemented by new side sills for improved aerodynamics, a new mesh grille supplemented by a restyled lower 'mouth' air intake in the front bumper, a bigger rear boot spoiler and new quad tailpipe finishers. While the XKR has always looked classy, the result of the latest cosmetic makeover is a more aggressive, contemporary stance for a sports car that — seen from any angle — remains uniquely Jaguar.

In addition to its potent 400bhp V8 engine, the latest XKR comes with sport-tuned CATS adaptive damping with revised settings and uprated springs, mighty cross-drilled and vented Brembo disc brakes (355mm front and 330mm rear) with bright red callipers plus re-tuned steering and extremely comfortable and supportive Recaro sports seats. Upholstered — naturally! — in soft leather.

Think Jaguar and you inevitably also think leather, so long has the brand been identified with luxury sporting performance. Few cars exude genuine classic opulence in quite the same way as the big Coventry Cat. Swing open the wide door and drop into the contoured, 10-way electrically adjustable heated sports seat and you'll find yourself in the lap of luxury. The electric lumbar support is efficient, too. Setting the perfect position is easy thanks to the four-spoke leather steering wheel adjusting electrically for tilt and reach.

There's a welcome function that moves back the seat and lifts the wheel away for a dignified entry/exit. Large, businesslike chrome-and-rubber pedals fill the footwell, and the only thing you need to remember is that the handbrake is on your right alongside the outer edge of the seat. It's of the fly-off type and works fine, dropping neatly out of
the way.

The wood and leather cabin exudes a very masculine air, and the full-width glazed wood fascia — finished in a smart silvery-grey wood — is a defining Jaguar touch. Three large separate dials (rev-counter, speedometer and a third combination dial for fuel/temperature) are recessed side by side in the one-piece fascia in front of the driver, with the colour SatNav screen placed centrally to their left. A digital readout in the central speedometer displays range, average mpg, etc. Ahead of the J-gate and immediately below the SatNav screen is an orderly cluster of switchgear that includes those for automatic climate control air-conditioning, heated seats and audio/telephone. There's useful space for oddments including sunglasses, as well as a large, padded armrest/lid for the transmission tunnel cubby.

The front passenger is equally well looked after, enjoying the same 'every which way' range of electrical seat adjustment. Other standard creature comforts include one-touch open electric front windows, auto door locking as you move off, an 320 watt Alpine Premium sound system with 8 speakers, a 6-CD autochanger in the boot, remote 'phone and audio controls on the steering wheel, cruise control, a 2-position driver's memory function for seat/exterior mirrors/steering column, auto lights and rain sensing wipers, auto dim rear view mirror, heated fold back door mirrors, xenon headlights (these piercing beams make night driving a real pleasure) and headlight powerwash. Key optional equipment takes in a reverse parking aid system (just £320), SatNav and Adaptive Cruise Control with Forward Alert.

Effectively, of course, the Convertible XKR is a two-seater, but then just about every other soft-topped coupé on the market is generous to those travelling up front at the expense of those who could be riding in the back. (If it's four seats you want there are always the S-type R or XJR saloons!)

The two rear bucket seats are strictly for little people — unless you can persuade either the driver or passenger to give up some of their leg room — but are handy for carrying extra luggage. That said, the 10.8 cubic feet carpeted boot is a useful rectangular shape and surprisingly accommodating — we managed four medium sized cases.

With masses of supercharged power and torque and an exceedingly smooth 6-speed auto 'box, the XKR is delightfully quick off the mark: 60mph comes and goes from standstill in just 5.3 seconds — for the record, the V12 Aston Martin DB7 we tested a while back packs a similar bhp/torque punch and takes 5 seconds to hit 60mph from standstill, so you're in good company! Left to its own devices in Drive it's a peach.

For manual changes simply flick the gear selector across to the left — useful if you want to utilise some extra engine braking when you're charging hard. Not that the powerful Brembo brakes need any help in shrugging off speed — to the contrary, they have the ability to deliver reassuring stopping power without effort even when subjected to repeated braking.

Refined as this big cat undoubtedly is, it's all too easy to forget just how devilishly quick it can be — top speed is 155mph. Regular scans of the speedometer will keep your feet firmly on the ground even if the XKR feels like flying. Coincidentally, standard on the latest XKs is a useful electronics feature in the form of ASL, or Automatic Speed Limiter, which automatically prevents the car from exceeding a pre-selected maximum speed.

ASL constantly monitors the throttle inputs and engine speeds and when the selected maximum speed is reached ASL will maintain the limit speed even if the throttle pedal is depressed beyond that point. However, in the interests of safety, ASL is automatically cancelled if the driver applies full pedal kickdown via the automatic transmission.

Helped by massive Pirelli P Zeros (285/30 rear and 255/35 front) the XKR has huge reserves of grip, ably backed up by the ubiquitous ABS and Emergency Brake Assist, plus the standard traction control and Dynamic Stability Control. It seems strange that some drivers regard traction control as unwelcome interference — you only need to hit some slimy mud on a country lane or a patch of wet autumn leaves at speed to appreciate this function. Not that there's anything to stop you switching off the traction control. If you must.

On the subject of safety, Jaguar's Adaptive Restraint Technology System is fitted as standard. A.R.T.S senses the severity of a crash, the position of the driver and front seat passenger and if they are using seatbelts to determine the most appropriate airbag deployment energy levels during a frontal crash. Also standard are front, side and head/chest airbags for both passenger and driver.

The XKR's CATS computer-controlled adaptive damping system delivers sharp and well-balanced handling that lets you storm out of bends with startling vigour, thanks to the XKR's ability to carry high levels of speed through the bends — far more than you expect from such a big car. Even then you can get a shock when you check how far round the speedometer the needle has gone because the XKR has a knack of not feeling as fast as it's actually going. Speed freaks beware! And while the CATS system stiffens the Jaguar's sinews to minimise roll through the twisty bits, it's intelligent enough to provide a ride comfort on the straight stretches that contributes to the XKR's real forte which is, in spite of that impressive 400bhp punch, the manner in which it gets you from A to B. Civilised.

Top up it's a quiet, refined ride with wind, road and mechanical noise all very well-suppressed — even at autobahn speeds, in the XKR the driver and passenger remain cosseted. At an unstressed 80mph the V8 is hardly working, spinning at a lazy 2,000rpm. But get the top down and the throaty burble from the supercharged 4.2-litre at work is music to the ears. There's no fancy lid to cap off the folded hood such as you get on a Porsche or Audi. There is a cover that can be quickly fitted manually but the lowered soft-top is tidy enough in its well behind the rear seats.

Anyway, it's always ready to raise should the weather change as suddenly as it so often does in this country. Fortunately the well-finished and smartly lined hood is a fast mover — 10 seconds to fully closed and a further 6 for all four windows to rise — and can be lowered while you're rolling at up to 10mph. And unlike some expensive convertibles, the hood is all-electric. A one-button, one-shot operation with no irritating stops to release a manual lock. All four windows drop along with the top, so that's it. With the top in situ you can leave all four windows down and you have a classy pillarless coupé.

The XKR is only available with a 6-speed automatic gearbox with Jaguar's trademark J-gate. The auto 'box is central to the XKR's soothing ambience with the type of performance that is so easy that you'll often find yourself well into your journey before it suddenly dawns on you how much distance you've covered, so much have you been savouring the unruffled performance.

There's also a finger-light manual sequential manual mode — move the lever to the lefthand side of the gate — for those drivers keen to be more involved with the action. Pressing the button for Sport mode and pressing the accelerator hard will send the XKR hurtling up to three-figure speeds, holding each up-shift longer, on a seamless wave of torque that requires nothing more from you than to you sit back and steer. Talking of which, the speed-proportional variable-ratio power steering is more than up to the job with a useful 11-metre turning circle.

Give in to the delicious high-pitched hum of the supercharger at full pelt too often and you'll pay for your sins — not in the hereafter but at the pumps. That said, we were pleased to find that driving around town matched closely Jaguar's official figure of 15.6mpg. And several long motorway trips saw close to 30mpg showing on the trip computer. In fact, over 700 miles of testing our XKR averaged 23.9mpg — better than the official figure of 22.6. And we weren't playing 'economy runs' either. This makes the 16.5 gallon tank good for 400 miles between top-ups with a possible maximum touring range of around 470 miles.

So, back to that £65,000. These days there are even faster cars. And there are cars that cost ten times as much. But they're not Jaguars. Anyone seen my black cat…?

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Jaguar XKR Convertible | £64,920
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 5.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23.9mpg | Power: 400bhp | Torque: 408lb ft
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------------------------------------------------------- Jaguar XKR Convertible