There is a reason the vast majority of convertibles sold in North America are found in rental car fleets across the south. Driving a convertible is a joyous experience, whether you are a car enthusiast or not.
When we think of relaxing and enjoying the elements, that experience is made even more attractive behind the wheel of, or in a topless car.
But there are some convertibles that take that experience to a new level – those from prestigious marques. Yes they can be rented, but most are purchased by people who can not only afford to live a suitable lifestyle, but also want to announce to the world they have the means to do so.
Within this latter segment are high performance models that have not only the prestige but some serious suds beneath the bonnet. Like, for instance, the Jaguar XKR.
Whether in coupe or convertible format, this is one of the most sensuous shapes on wheels, stuffed with the full array of British luxury and craftsmanship, powered by a supercharged V-8 engine producing in excess of 500 horsepower.
The letter "R"
Does it require that much power? Of course not! The Jag XK is primarily constructed of lightweight aluminum and thus quite capable of breaking all known traffic laws within seconds, even when equipped with the “standard” 385-horsepower V-8.
But if you are an enthusiast, wish to impress enthusiasts or simply want it known that you can afford the best you’d probably spring the extra $10,500 to have that extra letter, the “R” designation.
For an additional $23,000 you can add a fourth letter and take home an XKR-S with an additional 40 horsepower and a stiffer suspension. But it will probably be too late by the time your read this because only 12 XKR-S coupes and eight convertibles will make their way across the Atlantic to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and points west for the Canadian market.
You can spend a fraction of that extra $26,000 on an optional exhaust system – more on this further on – and have virtually the same experience. Few, if any will ever drive this car hard enough to appreciate the extra power and they will have to find a race track in order to do so.
Impressive on the road
While it will be at home on the track, this cat is built to impress on the road.
Like most true beauties, the XK has remained attractive over the years. The long hood/short deck shape harkens back to the original XKE of the sixties and seventies, a car that remains one of the most beautiful shapes in automotive history.
Penned by lead designer Ian Callum in 1996, the current XK received a minor makeover for the 2012 model year with a new front end and the brand’s signature “J-blade” Xenon headlights.
That stunning body is wrapped around a four-seat interior, but those are only numbers. There are two comfy front seats and a tiny little space behind suitable only for briefcases, purses and packages.
There is, however, a useful “boot” as the British are wont to call it, capable of storing larger items – up to 314-litres of them on a flat well-finished floor.
That space is reduced when you lower the roof and the designers have provided a convoluted apparatus that defines that reduced area and prevents you from squishing luggage of other valuables when stowing the top.
Luxury to the fore
Despite that amount of power and the capability to exploit it, the XKR is primarily a luxury car and few do luxury as well as the British.
While Jaguar and its sister Range Rover are now wholly-owned subsidiaries of Tata of India, the company has left the design, development and manufacture of these cars in England, being well aware of the heritage and image attached.
One of the changes for the 2013 model is the ability to custom-build your XK by choosing from a wide selection of “Special Order” exterior and interior finishes at no additional charge.
Soft leather in a variety of colours, with contrasting stitching, real oak and walnut veneers and plush wool carpets are the norm. But if you prefer something more current you can opt for “Ebony” and “Knurled Aluminum” trim to go with the leather and wool.
The fabric roof is triple-lined and can be raised or lowered in less than 18 seconds when the Jag is moving – at speeds up to 32 km/h.
While the shape harkens to the past, the experience is definitely current. There is the usual array of features and assists expected at this price point, including 16-way power heated and cooled seats with the “R” logo stitched into the head restraints.
All controls are logically arranged and presented. The 18-cm navigation screen that also shows the view to the rear when reverse is engaged is very slow to react but there are few other quibbles.
Push the “start” button and a large knurled knob rises majestically from the centrer console. Turn the cast alloy knob to select a gear and you are off. Shut off the engine and it lowers slowly back into the console.
When you twist the knob, you engage a six-speed automatic transmission. From that point on you can let it select gears on its own, or use paddles on the back of the steering wheel to do it yourself.
Which brings me to a very worthwhile option – the $1500 “Performance Active Exhaust.” It incorporates valves within the exhaust system that open under heavy throttle application or at high engine speed, resulting in an awesome, deep bellow while accelerating and bark during rev-matching downshifts.
The system includes an additional aural treat – a special acoustic filter at the rear of the engine, tuned to “tenor C,” it feeds some intake sound to the cabin under hard acceleration.
While a 525-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system with Kevlar midrange speakers and aluminum tweeters is standard, you will rarely experience its abilities if you opted for the trick exhaust system.
Engine a jewel
The all-aluminum, four-cam engine is a jewel. The third generation AJ V-8, with a supercharger and two intercoolers nestled between its cylinder banks, produces 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque.
With maximum torque available from only 2500 rpm this cat will leap from rest to 100 km/h in less than five seconds and reach a terminal velocity of 280 km/h.
Thank the powers that be for electronic traction and stability control systems as the XKR has trouble finding grip on less than perfect surfaces. A slight prod of the throttle and those giant rear tires loose contact with mother earth.
Another change for 2013 is the adoption of 20-inch alloy wheels as standard equipment. My test vehicle also had the “Dynamic Pack” option which included revised suspension settings and aerodynamic enhancements to accommodate the added power of the supercharged engine.
Jaguar cars have a reputation for excellent ride quality and despite its stiffer sports suspension, the XKR meets these expectations. Thanks to an adaptive system that monitors body motion, steering input and road conditions up to 500 times a second, the potent cat stays flat in the turns and comfy on the straights.
Luxury, refinement and attitude in one extremely attractive package