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2003 Jaguar XKR: One Sweet, Supercharged, Gran Turismo Coupe
By: Michael Cooney

When a particular car rings your bell just so, it can be difficult to focus on such mundane issues as whether or not the cup holders are the right size. And the Jaguar XKR Coupe, with its sensual lines and DOHC 4.2L V-8 harnessing 390 supercharged ponies linked to a new ZF 6-speed automatic transmission, qualifies as a bell-ringer in my book.

Jaguar’s XK series is available in variations to suite a range of tastes. Pick the XK8 coupe or convertible with the 4.2L 294 horsepower normally-aspirated V-8, or the supercharged XKR version of either body type. My favorite is the coupe, with its sleek roofline and more ‘of a piece’ feel. In convertible form, the boot sticks up when the top is lowered, detracting from the smooth lines.

This unit’s metallic black paint, “Midnight,” added a serious, almost sinister, tone to the car. Rather James Bond-ish. In fact, an XKR convertible is featured in the new Bond movie, Die Another Day (although I couldn’t find that Gatling gun on the options list).
Jaguar has a long tradition of combining wood and leather to form stunning interiors, and the XKR meets that expectation. The glossy wood along the dash adds a touch of luxury to this sporting machine. Multi-adjustable Recaro seats felt great even for hours at a time, and possess substantial side bolsters to hold you in place on winding roads. Adding a tilt/tele wheel made it easy to find the perfect driving position.

Due to a lack of both headroom and legroom, the rear seats are suitable primarily for grocery bags or children.

Driving the XKR
Simply put, this car “rocks.” While carrying a lot of weight—3,827 pounds—its slightly over-boosted steering and huge power reserve made it seem lighter. That higher steering boost and initial softness in the brake pedal are perhaps concessions to Jaguar’s luxury side, but are easy enough to get used to and may be preferred by the typical Jaguar client. Overall, enthusiasts should find it rewarding to drive.

When asked how it felt, I told several friends it was like a very expensive Corvette. Its zero-to-60 time of 5.2 seconds is equal to an automatic-equipped Corvette with the standard 2.73:1 rear-end gears. And its handling felt on par with that of a Corvette with the standard suspension. The comparison ends there, however. The XKR’s interior has a far more solid, quality feel to it, both in materials and assembly. This you would expect for the price. Also absent was the harsh tire noise that enters Corvette cabins on concrete freeways. Instead, the XKR cabin is fairly quiet. You’ll enjoy a throaty but subdued exhaust note accented by that beautiful supercharger whine when you put your foot down.

I had the opportunity to drive this XKR flat-out at Willow Springs Raceway, 75 miles north of Glendale. Capabilities hinted at on the street became fully evident on the track. Tire grip and suspension composure were up to any task I had the nerve to request. Taking Turn 8 at 100 mph? Easy as pie. Brake hard for Turn 9. Then it’s a “pedal to the metal” rush from 60 to 125 mph down the front straight while enjoying the delicious roar from that supercharged V-8. Mmmmmm…sweet!

With the XKR’s front 255/35 and rear 285/30 Pirellis mounted on optional 20-inch aluminum wheels, turn-in felt reasonably precise and cornering limits were considerably high. One thing needed, though, is a tire pressure display on the dash (ala Corvette). These 20-inch wheels lacked a built-in stem for adding air. Instead, you must remove a screw and install a stem to measure pressure and add air. Then repeat for each wheel. If you’re fanatic about tire pressures like I am, this may become an unwelcome chore. On 30-series tires, pressure can be 10 pounds low and you can’t tell by looking. Frequent pressure checks are important.

The XKR is EPA rated at 16-city, 23-highway mpg. My 430-mile mix of city, freeway, and mountain driving netted an average of 18.4 mpg, excluding the racetrack. Based at $81,975 including destination, the $6,000 20-inch wheel/tire option brought the sticker to $87,975, while giving the XKR killer looks.

Oh…in case you’re wondering, the XKR failed my standard cup holder test. While engaged in some spirited driving on winding mountain roads, my half-liter bottle of Arrowhead flew out of the holder. To which I say… “Who cares?” With the intense driving pleasure the XKR delivers, cup holders will be the last thing on your mind.