Kingdom’s editor took the 2012 Jaguar XKR to the desert in search of answers to some of life’s most probing questions. He returned refreshed and exhilarated—and in record time,thanks to the Jag. What did he learn? That enlightenment can happen when you least expect it, and that 510 horsepower is a lot of fun on empty desert roads…
There’s a school of Zen Buddhism in which students meditating in peace might suddenly be struck over the head by their teacher. The idea is that a violently abrupt awakening can shock one into enlightenment. As it turns out, the idea isn’t so crazy.
I picked up the 2012 Jaguar XKR on an otherwise uneventful Monday in Los Angeles. The sun was shining, the air was warm and my head was somewhere closer to the beach than to the job at hand, namely: reviewing the latest incarnation of Jaguar’s supercharged sports coupe. Even the roar of the formidable engine coming to life didn’t help me focus. I was thinking of the coming week in the desert, trying to remember if I’d packed all my camera gear and considering if I needed anything else. In short, I was distracted. But how quickly my state of mind changed when I hit the accelerator.
Anyone who’s pushed himself on a cross-country trip has experienced the riveting horror of momentarily losing touch while driving and then suddenly “awakening” and snapping back to attention at speed. The experience of leaving the parking lot in the XKR was not dissimilar. I’ve had the privilege of driving some excellent automobiles for Kingdom magazine, so I’m no stranger to powerful cars, but I almost caught a wheel out of my parking space and only just got things under control by the edge of the lot. Like getting whacked over the head with a cane, the XKR’s acceleration and power shocked me awake—I don’t know that I achieved enlightenment, exactly, but I did find utter bliss with a jolt of adrenaline, and that’s good enough for a Monday.
The XKR looks positively aggressive: low, lean, hungry and mean. Crouched in the corner of the lot before I fired it up, it looked downright angry. Unleashed on the road, it changed my day—and that’s a good thing.
Let’s start with the paint.The XKR I was given to test came in black, but it was so much more than just black. Upon close inspection, flecks of red and green in the paint shimmered under the desert sun outside of Palm Springs, while after sundown the car seemed darker than the unlit world around it—more black than black at night, radiant like a dark diamond during the day. Unusual, and beautiful. The interior aesthetics make a nice first impression as well, with hand-stitched leather seating and a sumptuous headliner, plus elegantly intense touches throughout.
Likewise, the power is real. Holding the third generation of Jaguar’s 5.0-litre Supercharged AJ-V8, the “R” trim of the XK pushes the output to a fantastic 510hp with 461 lb.ft. of torque—one of only a few cars to best the 500hp mark at anything near this price point. The engine is constructed from high-grade, lightweight aluminum, which in the cylinder heads is recycled. Weight-wise, the whole package comes in at a relatively trim 3,770 pounds (curb weight), all of which is rocketed forward thanks to a 6-speed automatic transmission with Jaguar Sequential Shift™. Whether you let the computer do its thing or take over manually via the well-placed paddle shifters, the dance through the gears is fast and seamless throughout the range.
The car’s 52-inch height means the XKR wouldn’t be allowed on many of the rides at most theme parks, but with a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 174mph (as tested, with the optional Speed Pack) it holds thrills enough on its own. The “Dynamic” mode, engaged via a quick turn of the JaguarDrive Selector on the center console, takes those thrills to another level. Sophisticated electronics sharpen the focus of most driving dynamics, increasing reaction from the already crisp accelerator, quickening shifts and tightening handling and overall feel, which makes you appreciate the supportive, race-inspired seats all the more. An Adaptive Dynamics System keeps things on the ground with continuous adjustments to suspension dampening, while the Dynamic Stability Control system will help overly enthusiastic drivers save face (and perhaps more) by ensuring traction and power are being laid down where needed. Everything is brought to a halt thanks to Jaguar’s High Performance Braking System, which we found to be more than a little effective.
Impressively, all of this power is relatively efficient when it comes to thirst, claiming a 22mpg EPA Highway estimate.
Despite its assertive nature this cat can be quite comfortable thanks to 16-way adjustable heated seats with driver memory. One adjustment we particularly liked: A little wheel that stiffens or reduces side support. If you want to throw the XKR around in the twisties, you’ll be bolstered in racecar fashion. For more casual driving, the seat relaxes its grip. The soft grain leather in the car—which extends throughout—is sumptuous and tight, as it should be in a sports car. Visibility is surprisingly good for such a low and lean monster, the front windshield giving a broad view of what’s ahead while an ample ramp of glass in back gives you plenty of rearview to work with. We found the backseats unusable for all but the smallest of children (there’s a baby seat hookup, in case you have to get your infant to daycare really, really fast) but they did provide a nice place to stow some overnight bags. The proper rear storage area (we hesitate to call it a trunk) is a broad mini cabin of sorts, certainly big enough to hold enough luggage for a decent road trip, with room for a few souvenirs along the way. For a performance car, it really is an impressive amount of storage space.
The now-expected-as-standard in-dash touchscreen computer is here to handle navigation, climate control and other car functions. Audiophiles (count the editor in) will delight in the excellent sound system from Bowers & Wilkins, which wraps you in crisp highs, well-defined mids and wholesome lows. Whether you’re blasting Mahler or Hendrix, you’ll be thrilled. Accordingly, satellite and HD radio are here, along with a USB hookup for charging an array of toys and devices, and there’s iPod/iPhone connectivity. Your Bluetooth phone will pair nicely with the car for hands-free calling, with a well-placed microphone and quiet cabin ensuring conversations can be held at normal speaking volume. Climate controls are quick to respond and more than effective. Things cool down or heat up in a hurry, and both front-seat passengers can set their own preferences.
All of these conveniences and comfort-ensuring electronics are great, but they’re really just the icing on the cake. You don’t buy a sports car for the heated seats, after all. With the XKR, Jaguar continues its legacy of speed and performance, reminding us that for all of the incredible luxury found across the brand’s various models, the heart of the marque beats to the sound of big engines and the rush of tires heating up the pavement.