The Jaguar XKR Coupe's feline grace suggests awesome performance - and that's what you get, writes Calum Gordon
Launched in 2006, the Jaguar XK was a coup for the marque's design director, Scotsman Ian Callum. Tasked with creating Jaguar's next generation of 'beautiful, fast cars', for the Ford-owned marque, Callum has received some high praise for both the XK's style and performance.
My first test drive in an XK took place in Edinburgh. The Scottish capital provided a picturesque backdrop for a car that still shows its 1960s E-type pedigree, picks up the mantle of the rakish 1997 XK and dresses it up in some handsome contemporary contours.
But the new XKR takes the concept one step further, and the chance to test drive Jaguar's latest supercharged 420bhp beast around Hong Kong is too good to miss.
Whichever way you look at it, the XKR is a bonny car. Yet for all its palpable silver-screen poise, its styling is a powerful statement of intent, more than matched by the car's throaty V8 performance and reinforced by styling cues such as bonnet louvres, aluminium grilles, side vents, a four-barrelled exhaust and special 20-inch Senta alloys.
As quintessentially British as Jaguar remains, there is something of the 1970s American muscle car about the XKR, perhaps reflecting its target market - and that of its arch-rival, the Aston Martin DB9.
The XKR's all-aluminium monocoque construction makes it a remarkably lightweight car with a very rigid body. At 1,665kg, the coupe is 70kg lighter than its predecessor, and the 1,715kg convertible is 100kg lighter than its earlier incarnation. Its uprated, supercharged V8 engine packs a full 100hp more oomph than the standard XK, and the XKR has a hi-tech, six-speed automatic transmission designed to deliver performance worthy of a US$200,000-plus sports GT.
All the marketing hype seems justified. Hit the fighter-plane start button and the XKR gives a hearty thrum that turns heads immediately, thanks to Jaguar's active exhaust system. At low speeds the big cat's 32-valve V8 has an engine note that's more honeyed than Winnie the Pooh's paws. At cruising speeds the cabin is suitably refined, with crisper engine sounds breaking the virtual silence when you jab the accelerator. There's a no-nonsense V8 roar when you accelerate harder, a reassuring declaration of the extra power and performance on tap.
With gearing that's 8 per cent shorter than the outgoing XK series, there's no lack of power and speed on a run out to the airport and a blast along the highway to Sai Kung. The new R corners beautifully, too, with uprated springs and dampers keeping body roll to a minimum in tight corners with the recalibrated computer active technology suspension (CATS) providing handling superior to that of the standard XK.
But what impresses most is the seamlessness of the six-speed auto box. Whereas an automated manual gearbox interrupts the flow of torque during gear changes, Jaguar's auto system maintains the flow of torque throughout the shift. This results in very quick gear changes (less than 600 milliseconds) that are remarkably smooth.
So it's styled beautifully and drives like nothing else around. Perhaps Jaguar scrimped on the interior? Not at all: the cabin is a plush, all-leather affair that is as sophisticated as you'd expect in a HK$1.6 million car, with clear information displays on the instrument panel and main dashboard and sports seats bearing 'R' insignias on the headrests.
Keyless entry, electronically adjustable front seats with driver's-side memory, an adjustable leather steering wheel and an Alpine six-disc audio system with Bluetooth offer added comfort and refinement.
The XKR is an outstanding blend of supercharged performance, up-market luxury and dynamic ability. It's hardly faint praise when British motoring journalist John Simister says the XKR rides and handles better than the Aston Martin DB9. And does it matter if it looks a little similar?
AT A GLANCE: Jaguar XKR
What drives it? A supercharged 420bhp 4.2-litre V8 linked to a reactive 6-speed automatic transmission.
How fast is it? The coupe hits 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds, the convertible in 5.1 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.
How safe is it? It has ABS, emergency brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, dynamic stability control, computer active technology suspension and four airbags (front and side). It also has the world's first pedestrian deployable bonnet system, which cushions pedestrians in the event of an impact.
How thirsty is it? It sucks 12.3 litres of fuel per 100km on a combined cycle.
Hong Kong friendly? Er, no. It belches 294 grams of CO2 per kilometre, the equivalent of 2.3 Smart ForTwos.
Available: HK$1,598,000 for the coupe and HK$1,698,000 for the convertible at Jaguar Hong Kong (tel: 2520 0989).