Fans of fast cars, muscle cars, exotic cars, and inexpensive-but-exciting cars, don't get too worried that "the new CAFE laws are killing all the fun cars," as one reader wrote yesterday on this blog. When there's government, there are loopholes and exceptions, and where there are loopholes and exceptions — alongside the battle cry of millions of enthusiasts — there will be cars like the 2010 Jaguar XKR Convertible.
Mysterious forces brought this supercharged, 510 horsepower aluminum hot-rod to our parking lot this week, the latest update to Jaguar's brilliant XK range. As if 420 horsepower wasn't enough on last year's XKR, Jaguar bored the 4.2 liter V-8 to a full 5.0 liters, which more than makes up for the muted exhaust tone in the "standard" 2009 XK Coupe we had in March.
Around town, the XKR acts just as gentlemanly as the XK, but full throttle brings forth a brutal, deafening roar with a sprinkling of backfire pops when flicking the downshift paddle. It's everything that was missing from the normally-aspirated V-8, and is probably the best example of bipolarity there is in the automotive world. The XKR tricks passersby into believing it's a polite and quiet luxury car, and then it just rips a nasty one, with all the subtlety of a NASCAR stocker.
The 6-speed automatic is nearly perfect, silky smooth at cruising speeds and smart enough, when sport is engaged, to hold gears all the way to redline. Even downshifting (needlessly) into first doesn't jolt your head that much. Compared to the XK, the steering rack is quicker, the brakes bite faster, and the ride is stiffer but never jarring.
Minor exterior upgrades include LED tail lamps and side markers, new wheel styles (including optional $5,000 20-inch rims on our car), and revised hood air intakes and fascia cutouts. Inside, all 2010 XKs get the rising rotary gear selector that debuted in the XF sedan, and the R adds optional cooled seats. A performance mode that stiffens the active dampers and a winter mode that leaves the transmission in second gear and dials back throttle response (it's rubbish on a fat-tired, rear-drive car) are standard. For track usage, the XKR also boasts an electronic limited-slip differential that prevents one-wheel burnouts during hard cornering.
Aluminum and some sort of glossy black material replace the wood, and the windshield frame is wrapped in a velvety fiber. Aside from the "R" designation on the headrests, steering wheel, and the word "supercharged" on the speedometer, the interior and its stitched leather dash are identical to the XK, which is more than acceptable.
With the front seat pushed back, our six-foot-one tester's knees would certainly be crushed.
Jaguar has kept the running joke of having inhospitable backseats. They are, however, trimmed in the same ultra-soft leather as in front, and on either side are speakers from the Bowers & Wilkins sound system.
Jaguar, like Bentley and Aston Martin, chose to keep the traditional cloth top rather than switch to the retractable hardtop fad, and while the convertible can't match the coupe's graceful curves, it's still very sexy. Opening or closing takes about 20 seconds, and trunk space is limited to a carry-on suitcase when the roof's down. It's raining as I write this (apologies for the lack of proper photos), and had it been sunny all week I probably never would have driven with the roof raised. That said, everything seals tightly and road noise is well-isolated.
At $107,000, the XKR Convertible is downright affordable next to a Bentley Continental GTC or the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster. And with a 17-mile-per-gallon combined EPA rating, there's no gas guzzler tax. Let open-air freedom ring.
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