Test Driven: 2013 Jaguar XKR Convertible (9.5/10)

Sunlight falls gently on the forest floor, a slight breeze rustles leaves on the trees, birds chirp, bees buzz, and the temperature can only be described as perfect. This serenity of nature was disturbed while the echo of mechanical torment emanated from the exhausts of my Jag as I flew past. The beauty of the setting was but a blur as I was catapulted forward by a stampede of 500 angry mares. Rapid acceleration, then all the opposite as I get on the brakes for an upcoming bend. I click the left paddle for an aggressive downshift into 2nd, and as the engine roars up near redline, a series of crackling explosions erupt from the exhaust. It is a symphony that could shake the strongest foundations, and it was so moving from the driver’s seat that I burst out laughing like a giddy little girl. This was my favorite moment during my recent drive in this XKR convertible; one that I feel exemplifies the car’s specific appeal.  

The XK is one of the core Jaguar models, one that can trace its lineage back to the legendary E-Type, as well as the original XK120. There have of course been some ups and downs between the great cars of old and the current model you see here. In that time Jaguar has become much more focused on luxury than on sports cars, and to the dismay of many enthusiasts no Jag has had a clutch pedal for some time now. In recent years Jaguar’s sporting nature seems to have made a resurgence, likely due to their severance from Ford and Aston Martin. Last year I was fortunate to drive the XKR-S, the most powerful Jag since the XJ-220, and I was thoroughly impressed with its surprisingly sporting dynamics. This XKR is quite similar to that R-S, but obviously it has a bit less power and the lack of a roof. The R-S is a limited production car though, and the XKR is the model that is continually available to most customers. This made me want to try the XKR and see what it was like on its own, as well as see if the R-S was really worth the extra money.

Obviously Jaguars have unique sort of appeal, as Top Gear so accurately portrayed a few years ago with their “Jaaaaag” routine. As a sleek, open top sports car this XKR is the very essence of that famous appeal. Yes you will look good in this car, because Jaguar has actually added an extra helping of sex appeal into every material that the car is made of; it is their secret ingredient if you will. The only catch is that the type of sex appeal used in the car’s construction only works on married people. There are actually some very interesting psychological effects at play here. Something changes in the brain when a person get married, and the car’s “mojo” works to counter act this effect on their limbic system; thus undoing their monogamous tendencies. Needless to say this Jag is probably one of the sexiest cars on sale today from a visual perspective, far better looking than the new Mercedes SL, which looks like it was kicked in the face multiple times. If vanity is your concern, the Jag is an obvious choice.

 

The interior of the car I drove was blue, and with the silver paint it actually was a pretty good looking. This is one of the few combinations where a blue interior would work though, so anyone building their own Jag please use caution when selecting this trim. As far as quality goes, I found the XKR had a beautifully crafted cabin with loads of attention to detail. It feels like a proper interior for a car costing a hundred grand, and that is nice in a day and age where many expensive cars don’t offer complete quality in their package. The seats, while impeccably trimmed, are definitely sport focused with hard side bolstering for corners. They are still plenty comfortable though, and I would say they are a little bit softer than the seats in the R-S.

  

Fine wood and metallic surfaces are abundant, which adds a nice touch of class to the cabin.  The leather is also very soft everywhere you touch in the car. This is major plus for when you inevitably find yourself having to leave your mistress’ house in a hurry, taking with you nothing but your bare ass and the pride of her enraged spouse. The XKR features the expected level of technology for a car in its price bracket, including a hands free phone system so you can call your wife and tell her you wont be home for dinner…again. Yes, this Jag’s cabin offers pretty much everything you could want, or need, in any situation you might get yourself into.

While driving, the XKR offered very pleasing dynamics. The chassis was well setup and the car felt nice and chuckable on tight, winding back roads with lots of elevation changes. It was very good fun carving corners in this car, and the brakes felt solid and inspired confidence when I need to scrub off the speed. The steering was quick and precise, but also quite light and lacking in road feel; rather typical for luxury cars these days. Overall, Jag has done right by those who actually want to drive this car rather than just be seen in it.

 

Continuing along the line of good dynamics is the transmission. I have to say that it is probably the best automatic transmission I have ever experienced. I believe it is the same one from the R-S, but this drive just reminded me of how much Jag has nailed it. It honestly behaves like a dual-clutch, shifts are instant and revs are matched on downshifts, but it is also very smooth in its action; something many DCTs tend to struggle with. What’s more, in manual mode the car won’t upshift for you when you hit redline, so you can stretch gears as needed for speed. I drove mostly in manual Sport mode, but I did do brief stints in Drive and automatic Sport mode. Drive is smooth and pretty standard, and automatic Sport mode behaves like it’s on a racetrack, holding gears to the bitter end. This is a very good gearbox for a car like the XKR, a nice mix of aggression and restraint to suit different buyers and situations. Everything you do while driving a car goes through the transmission, so it needs to be good, and somehow Jaguar has nailed it with a slushbox of all things.

The engine is the party piece of the XKR through and through. At 510hp the speed of the car should be apparent to anyone reading the brochure, and it does kick you back in your seat quite a bit. The acceleration is especially brutal if you ease up to about 3500rpm in 2nd gear and then mash the gas pedal into the carpet. It gains speed quite rapidly, breaking any speed limit at more than an alarming rate. This is especially true on back roads like the ones I drove on. Practically, this means that you should have no trouble outrunning any enraged husband who chases after you in his car; which will likely be a Porsche of some kind. Anything south of a 911 Turbo and you should be in the clear. Just be careful if you decide to turn the traction control off, as I found it wanted to get a bit squirrelly with minimal provocation.

 

The other aspect of the engine is the noise, and what a sound this car makes. The first time I opened it up I was surrounded by its savage crackle echoing off the trees, it was glorious. This is where having the convertible XKR adds the most to the experience, just having that epic sound engulf you is captivating. For me the aural experience means a lot in a car like this, and this jag had both the deep V8 thunder and the high whine of its supercharger. In the real world I would say this sound is even better than the power, simply because it can be easily exploited almost anywhere. The power, while great fun, will get you arrested if you are caught, but I can’t imagine much more than just a wag of the finger from the police over a short burst of V8 fury. Everything you get in the convertible is lacking in the coupe because it still has luxury-style sound-proofing. The convertible is a no-brainer for me because if I am going to spend $100k on a car, then it had better be as much fun as possible.

So where does this put the XKR as far as actually buying one is concerned? Well, I can tell you that this is a fantastic GT car by any standard, and it must be looked at as a GT car for it to make sense as a purchase. If you want the ultimate track car or purist thrill ride, then the Corvette, GTR, Viper, or host of used GT Porsches are better options. However if we look at the XKR only against other GT cars, then it becomes quite a fabulous bargain.

Brand new this XKR costs $103,000, add a few options and it climbs a bit; but overall we are talking $120,000 at most. The XKR offers the same power as an Aston DBS, but at 1/3 the price. It also has the performance to rival a used Ferrari Maranello at a similar price, but the Jag has a warranty and is far cheaper to fix. Against a used Aston DB9 or Vantage, the XKR stands head and shoulders above their performance and will again be cheaper to maintain. The same rings true for the XKR against the Maserati Granturismo, although the Maser may be the only new car in this range that could drop the Jag in styling. Finally there is the Mercedes SL. I stated above that the new one is butt ugly, and for that reason alone I would go with the Jag, despite whatever fancy AMG models there may be. I am not usually a vain man, but the current SL lies past where I draw my line. As GT cars go the XKR is very competitive with both new and used options, and for me that shows a great value in any market segment.

 

As for the comparison with the XKR-S, the differences are fairly simple at most. From what I can tell the R-S consists of an engine chip, some springs, a hard set of seats, and a rear spoiler over the standard XKR. If you are into having the “exclusive” model and you can afford another $30k, then go for it by all means. Overall though, the XKR felt very sporty, and it’s at least 9/10 the car that the R-S is. If all you want is more power I can promise you that 600hp –worth of upgrades for an XKR will not come close to the price premium of the 542hp R-S. The R-S was a fantastic car, but after trying the standard XKR, I can tell you that it is mostly a gimmick.

The XKR definitely offers what people want from the Jag experience. Whether that means picking up lonely housewives, or attacking corners like you’re in LeMans, the XKR has you covered. After Jaguar’s rough stint with Ford, I am happy to say that Tata seems to have fixed any issues. This Jag is a modern Jag in every sense of the word, but it is also a true “Jaaaag” in every sense as well. I loved the XKR as a convertible, and I wouldn’t have mine any other way because losing the roof adds so much to the experience. Either version of the XKR is a solid buy though. So if you’re in the market for a GT car, I strongly recommend that you check this out before you go commit to something that will bankrupt you with maintenance.

WoM Score: Jaguar XKR Convertible

Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(1), Practicality(2): 1.5……. rides hard
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 9.5/10

-Nick Walker

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