Review: 2011 Jaguar XK-R Coupe
By Kevin Miller
Back in 2008, Autosavant’s Brendan Moore drove the then-new XK Convertible and was unimpressed by the interior space and the design that didn’t seem to live up to Jaguar’s new styling direction. Three years later, the XK hasn’t gotten any younger-looking in that regard; it boasts the most-stale design in Jaguar’s three-car portfolio.
Tracing its coupe lineage from the iconic Jaguar coupe of the 1960s, the modern XK is in its second generation, which entered production in 2006. At that time, the “regular” XK coupe was powered by a 300 HP version of Jaguar’s venerable 4.2 liter AJ V8, with a supercharged version that provided 420 HP. For 2011, the XK got a powertrain update to the 5.0 liter AJ V8, rated 385 HP, while the XK-R’s supercharged version has an output of 510 HP. The powertrain update for implemented in 2010 also included a change to the use of the JaguarDrive six-speed automatic. These powertrain configurations mimic those in the XF and XF Supercharged.
The XK coupe has a classic “large luxury coupe” profile, though a gracefully curved daylight opening on the bodysides and amazing curves around the rear fenders and wheel arches truly give the XK-R an aggressive and nearly-exotic appearance. While the shape of the headlamps’ trailing edge gives those units a droopy look, the XK-R’s new-for-2011front fascia features wire mesh-look grilles, extra openings that give it an almost-tacky aftermarket look in an attempt to diminish the appearance of the somewhat long front overhang.
My initial impression of the XK after climbing inside is that car is showing its age as far as interior ergonomics and layout. My first logbook entry describes the feel of the XK-R as “old school.” While Jaguar’s newer XF and XJ models have more modern features and layout, the XK is seemingly stuck in the last century. The combination of an old, unexciting steering wheel with fussy controls, an unoriginal dash layout, dated-feeling hard points, and pedestrian-looking dash vents and window switches don’t do the XK any favors, though the JaguarDrive rotary shifter lends a modern touch.
Materials inside the XK-R were mostly nice. The car boasts a stitched leather dash, perforated leather seats, carpet lining the small door pockets, and an Alcantara headliner. Carpets were soft/h, though not to the degree of those in the 2008 XJ Super V8 tested a few years ago. Front seats were comfortable, with three-position memory and power adjustments that include bottom cushion length and side bolsters, which made it easy to find a comfortable seating position. During my rainy week with the XK-R, I unfortunately found that water will usually drip from the roof on to the front seat cushions or seat belts when the door is opened in rain; perhaps this is a consequence of the XK’s frameless door glass.
Once comfortably seated, visibility out of the XK-R was OK, though the high beltline and thick doors made it tough to judge where the far-side of the car was: an especially nerve-wracking proposition when piloting the $101,000 coupe in tight parking garages. There is very little interior storage, though there are two useful cupholders in the console between the front seats.
The XK line is technically a four-seat coupe, and I was actually able to get two elementary-school-aged girls in back for a 10-minute trip. The girls had to squeeze back there without booster seats, and their heads were low enough that they couldn’t see out of the short side windows. It required the two of us in the front seats to motor our seats fairly far forward to give the girls legroom, since there was normally only about an inch between the front seatbacks and the leading edge of the back seat’s bottom cushion. The back seat does have LATCH connectors for installing a car seat, but neither a booster seat nor a forward-facing carseat would actually fit back there. The seat (and its LATCH connectors) are essentially pointless. A handful of family trips during the week saw the XK-R sitting at home because it couldn’t accommodate our family of four.
The XK and XK-R coupes are actually hatchbacks, a very long hatch opens at the back of the car to reveal a surprisingly shallow luggage compartment. The trunk is oddly shaped, and has a poorly-fitting plastic cover over the navigation system’s DVD player; I had to re-fit this cover several times, as it came loose during spirited driving.
The navigation/infotainment system that the DVD supplies has no place in a $100k car. While I’ve complained about the MyFord Touch system being laggy, the Jag system is just plain slow. The XK-R itself may be fast, it is too bad Jaguar couldn’t fit a touchscreen system that would be able to keep up with the car. Used for control of audio, navigation, phone, climate control (including heated seats and steering wheel) and trip computer settings, the system is slow to start up, slow to change screens, and slow to refresh.
What isn’t slow is the XK-R’s powertrain. Sitting down in the driver’s seat and pressing the pulsating engine start button, the supercharged V8 comes to life with a beautiful exhaust sound. On the road, power is nearly always present; the XK-R is seemingly never out of its power band. The sound of the engine is intoxicating, but the real star of the powertrain is the six-speed automatic transmission. While I prefer rowing my own gears, the gearbox in the XK-R (shared with the XF) shifts smoothly and quickly. When shifts are manually commanded using the steering wheel paddles, they are seemingly instantaneous. Downshifts are rev-matched. The powertrain really is a work of art; truly the XK-R’s raison d’être.
With 510 HP on tap driving the rear wheels, you might expect easily-induced oversteer. My week with the XK-R was a very wet one in Seattle, and I learned just how tricky it can be to pilot a powerful RWD car on rain-slicked streets. Corners in the suburbs taken even with minimal vigor resulted in the back tires trying to pass the fronts. There were some dramatic moments, as well as some times I selected the Jaguar’s winter mode to assist in setting off without excessive wheelspin in the wet. The stability control was quick to step in when it felt the back of the car coming round in uncontrolled oversteer; when that happened the system effectively stopped the car’s rotation, though it did so with a sideways jolt abrupt enough to cause my daughter in the backseat to hit her head on the hard rear interior trim.
Suffice it to say that Seattle’s February weather kept me from testing the XK-R’s handling limits, or even its capabilities. What I did find is that the ride is choppy and road noise plentiful on Seattle’s freeways, surely not in line with expectations of a $100k luxury performance coupe.
Obviously the XK-R is meant for performance rather than economy, a fact that is borne out by its 15/22/17 MPG city/highway/combined EPA fuel economy rating. Over the course of my 300 miles in the powerful coupe, I saw a return of 15.1 MPG according to the XK-R’s trip computer. The fact that I didn’t get the rated ‘combined” economy likely has to do with the fact that I LOVED the sound of the V8’s exhaust under brisk acceleration, so I freely used the accelerator.
When I had to refuel after 240 miles, I found that the fuel filler neck shape cause the automatic-shutoff of the gas pump to shut off immediately. I finally had to pull the filler nozzle way out of the filler neck, and manually pump the gas very slowly, in order to fill the tank.
The Jaguar XK-R has an MSRP of $95,150. That includes a well-equipped vehicle, with features such as heated and ventilated seats multi-axis power adjustment, the (slow) touchscreen navigation/infotainment system, 525 W Bowers & Wilkins sound system including Bluetooth phone connection, active differential control, dynamic suspension, and adaptive six-speed automatic transmission. The price doesn’t include optional adaptive cruse control, and there is no sunroof available. The only option on my test car was a pricey $5,000 wheel/tire package to replace the 19” wheels with 20” units; I was incredibly careful not to curb those extremely expensive wheels. Including the $850 transportation charge, total price was a substantial $101,000.
In addition to the nicely-integrated powertrain, I found plenty of flaws in the XK-R. Why, then, did I slowly find myself falling in love with it? The same thing seems to happen to me every time I review a Jaguar. I build it up in my mind before it arrives, and the car simply cannot live up to my anticipated idea of it. The previous-generation XJ Super V8, modern XF, and now iconic XK-R have all delivered the first bit of initial disappointment, followed by appreciation for the entire package as the week progresses. I came to be intoxicated by the combination of style and power by the end of my week with the XK-R, which is what owning a personal luxury-sport coupe is all about. Who needs practicality when you have a 510 horsepower Jaguar coupe?