When Jaguar was sold to the Tata Group by Ford, the sceptics shook their heads, and predicted that the iconic British brand would soon adorn little more than a fleet of dodgy taxis in Delhi. But nothing could be further from the truth. Without Tata, Jaguar would be in deep, deep trouble. And without Tata, Jaguar’s most convincing sports coupé would almost certainly be a thing of the past.
Let’s face it: the credit crunch that came perilously close to forcing the global economy to its knees has not been kind to the makers of big-ticket luxury goods, cars included. And Jaguar is no exception – despite the fact that the brand currently presides over one of its strongest model line-ups ever.
That line-up includes benchmark products such as the much admired, and highly talented, XF sedan, which continues to woo luxury car buyers away from the more conventional, German luxury brands. And then there is the XK – a sleek and sophisticated sports coupé with strong dynamic appeal.
And it doesn’t get much stronger than the XK-R Coupé. It’s the supercharged flagship of the latest XK range, and it certainly looks the performance part. Don’t be fooled by the smooth contours and the classic proportions: the XK-R is an adept and even brutal sports coupé.
Given its British lineage, it should come as no surprise that the XK-R is an understated machine. But take a closer look, and there are plenty of clues that point towards the true performance potential of this sports coupé.
Yes, the curves and contours of the XK are smooth and slippery enough to ensure a decent drag coefficient. And those huge alloy wheels so resolutely planted at each corner of the car indicate a determined approach to road manners.
In the case of the XK-R, the bodywork has been widened, and the wheel arches subtly flared, not only to accommodate those large-diameter wheels, but also to add vital grip and control while on the move.
The result is a coupé that looks poised and ready for action, but still exudes a certain aristocratic dignity – even when it’s being smoked off the line. There’s nothing in your face about the styling package, but the overall effect remains, well, desirable. No wonder it turns heads.
But there’s another reason why the Jaguar XK-R attracts attention – the throaty roar of that supercharged V8 engine. Its intoxicating growl at lower speeds smartly gives way to an enthusiastic yell at redline levels. And yes, the reserves of power and torque match those aural delights. This supercharged, five-litre V8 is credited with a massive 375 kW of maximum power and a crunching 625 Nm of torque.
That’s a lot of muscle for a two-door coupé weighing 1,700 kilos. But it does ensure that the car has instant, reassuringly feline reactions. And fortunately, the chassis is well up to the task of taming all that power.
Its rigid construction and sports-tuned independent suspension allow the XK-R to deliver a thrilling and involving driving experience, without the hardcore harshness of a supercar. Nor does it feel too soft to be taken seriously – through the twisties, the XK-R’s composure makes it a joy to pilot.
Part of the reason is some clever trickery. The suspension damping is active, and adapts continuously (we’re talking a hundred times per second) to best suit the road conditions and driving style.
I expected to be disappointed by the conventional six-speed automatic gearbox at a time when dual-clutch transmissions seem to offer quicker shifts, and greater efficiency in an altogether more advanced package.
But this six-speed unit swaps cogs so quickly, and so smoothly, that you’d easily mistake it for a DCT design. Use the F1-style shift paddles behind the steering wheel, and gear-to-gear progress is snappy and incisive, and the engine management system even blips the throttle on downshifts. Glorious!
For those seeking to explore the XK-R’s full performance potential, a button-activated dynamic mode tautens the active damping and optimises gear shifts, throttle response and engine mapping, while the stability control can be partially switched off. In this mode, the Jaguar becomes a hooligan tool that will burn rubber at the slightest provocation.
The braking system, complete with Brembo callipers and ABS anti-locking control, does a good job of matching the Jag’s performance potential to equally important braking capacity. Big discs front and rear provide vital stopping power – especially considering how quickly the two-door gathers speed.
Talking of which, just how quick is the XK-R? Well, the zero to 100 km/h sprint can be despatched in about 4.8 seconds, while top speed remains limited to 250 km/h. The quarter-mile requires 12.9 seconds, while the power-to-weight ratio comes to about 218 kW/ton.
Despite those supercar-league statistics, Jaguar claims that the new XK is more fuel efficient than its less powerful predecessor – and those claims appear to be borne out by the combined-cycle fuel consumption of only 12.3 litres/100 km.
But in reality, much depends on real-world driving style. Who wants to pussyfoot around when the lure of the mighty shove in the small of your back every time you floor the throttle is just too tempting to ignore? We couldn’t get the consumption below 18 litres/100 km – but we got to all our meetings early, despite the traffic!
And if you do get stuck in a traffic jam, the good news is that the XK-R has a superbly crafted cabin with all the mod cons. The hide-trimmed bucket seats are comfortable, the switchgear is first class, and the touch-screen display works a treat.
The aura of old-world craftsmanship is very apparent, but never clashes with the coupé’s contemporary technology. Instead, it adds greater depth and authenticity to the XK-R’s appeal, while emphasising Jaguar’s proud sports car heritage.
The tan upholstery and carpeting of the test car wasn’t the most practical, and showed scuff marks all too easily. And while the XK does offer two rear seats, you may as well ignore them for all practical purposes – there simply isn’t enough room for adults.
Everybody desires a sports car. But in reality, very few of us are prepared to accept the compromises in terms of refinement, equipment levels and overall practicality.
The Jaguar XK-R offers the best of both worlds, linking red-hot dynamics to luxury car sophistication. Styling appeal and that all-important heritage ensure that this is Jaguar’s most desirable, thrilling – and convincing – sports coupé since the E-type.
By Deon Schoeman
Jaguar XK-R Coupé 5.0 V8 Supercharged
5,000 cc V8, supercharged
375 kW @ 6,000 rpm
625 Nm @ 2,500 rpm
250 km/h (governed)
18.3 l/100 km (tested)
Carbon dioxide emissions