Cadillac XLR, Jaguar XKR, Maserati Spyder, and Mercedes-Benz SL500

Ian Dawson

Fourth: Jaguar XKR

Front Drivers Side View

You can't be too rich, and you can't be too thin. But you can be too old, and in this company, Jaguar's XKR shows signs of being just that. (Not that it's so thin, either.) Its late-'90s good looks have aged gracefully enough, but the old stager harks back to an earlier era of motoring with a chassis and body structure related to the XJ6 of the late '60s. One can't help appreciating all its power-390 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 399 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm make for a wicked fast automobile. According to numbers gathered by technical editor Don Sherman at the California Speedway, the XKR is the second fastest of our crew, despite its 4040-pound weight, with 60 mph coming up from rest in a mere 5.8 seconds and the quarter-mile dispatched in 14.1 seconds. The SL500 weighs more, with 4120 pounds to move around, but it's the general floppiness of the XKR (and the XK8 from which it is derived) that you notice the moment the road starts winding.

The Jaguar is not only the oldest of our quartet, but it's also the most expensive (except for the Maserati, which is slapped with a $3700 gas-guzzler tax), which is not usually a promising combination. One might want to consider the ordinary XK8, at $74,975, but it comes minus the supercharged engine that is the XKR's best feature. Spooled up, Jaguar's AJ-V8 comes on like a runaway freight train. But when the situation calls for anything more sophisticated than stomp-and-go, the XKR becomes harder work. It is not an easy car to drive smoothly when hard-charging.

Interior View Dashboard

In less frenetic driving, the Jag has its charms. Ride is nice; steering feels about right. But when you come out of the throttle, the engine stays hung up; when you get back into it, you're greeted with lunch-boltingly aggressive tip-in. Add a weird, springy brake pedal, an unruly suspension tuned for mellow, and the imprecise J-gate shifter found in all Jaguars for too long, and it's very hard to get a rhythm going. It's time for someone to take the J-gate out back and shoot it.

The vestigial rear seats offer a place to toss your briefcase, and the trunk actually will hold some luggage even when you're driving al fresco-the big upside of a soft top over a retractable hard top. The downside is that with the top up, you have to trust your mirrors completely, because vision is compromised.

Entering its eighth year, the XK8 still looks good, but its styling hardly sets the heart aflutter as did the unbeatable E-type to which it pays homage. Uninspiring as ever, its interior deploys a veritable raft of wood veneer but manages to look plastic anyway.

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