The subtle whine of the supercharger and the healthy growl of the exhaust motivate you to keep the transmission one gear lower than necessary. The well-damped suspension perfectly modulated the optional twenty-inch wheels over rough sections of tarmac, and the light but communicative steering points you exactly where you want to go. This is a car that inspires you to stop, tap the paddle shifter down to first, and hit the gas for another intoxicating run through the gears, just to experience the blissful marriage of the engine and the fast-shifting manu-matic. Welcome to the new Jaguar XKR.
The addition of 120 hp is the primary difference between the XKR and the normally aspirated XK, but it's by no means the only one. Consider also the stiffer suspension, a new rear suspension brace, larger front brakes, and recalibrated stability control. A bespoke, aluminum-trimmed front bumper, body-color hood vents, unique nineteen- or twenty-inch wheels, and quad tailpipes distinguish the XKR's exterior. Overall, the subtle styling changes are effective, but we'd lose the Pep Boys-style body-color grilles around the foglights.
Like the XK, the XKR is available either as a coupe or as a ragtop. The latter's rigid structure is a welcome change from the old open XK's body, which was as flexible as a gymnast but not nearly as athletic. The new convertible's cabin is free of excess drafts and buffeting even when you hit triple-digit speeds. The XKR coupe is a serious driver's car, more rewarding than either the Mercedes-Benz SL or the BMW 6-series, the cars Jaguar sees as its principal competitors. The insane M6 is faster, of course, but we prefer the more user-friendly, prettier Jag to the BMW. What the XKR has over both Germans is one of the best paddle-shift manu-matics and a more cosseting and fluid chassis.
The XKR isn't a hard-core sports car like the Porsche 911, but Jaguar has retained the sophisticated body control and comfort for which it is famous while still providing enthusiasts with big grins on back roads. And there's still plenty of room in the XK lineup for a rumored, harder-core XKR-R model. Take that, M6.