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We drive Jaguar's 375kW XKR

2009-06-03 09:18

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Jaguar
Model XK/XKR
Engine 5l, V8 supercharged
Power 283kW @ 6 500r/min, 375kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 515Nm @ 3 500r/min, 625Nm @ 2 500r/min
Transmission Six-speed auto
Zero To Hundred 5.5-, 4.8 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Tank 71l
Fuel Consumption 11.2- (12.3l/100km)
Weight 1 710- 1800kg
Boot Size 330l (313l convertible)
Front Suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, active dampers
Rear Suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, active dampers
Service Intervals 24 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
Jaguar's quintessentially British blend of style and performance is now a touch more contemporary with the latest LED embedded, direct-injected XKs now available locally.

Although XF saloon is the company’s poster child for the brand’s modernising image, the XK series still headlines Coventry’s product line-up. This year sees the second generation XK benefit from a mild facelifted, receiving XF ergonomic updates and Jaguar’s stupendous range of new direct-injection V8s.

GT Looks

When the original XK debuted in 1996 (replacing the ungainly and ageing XJS) it unleashed a flood of E-type nostalgia.

Although the V8 engine configuration was odd for a Jaguar grand tourer (GT), the long-nose styling proportions and sumptuous interior ensured XK was an uncannily apt incantation of traditional E-Type values for contemporary consumption.

The second generation car was launched in Cape Town during 2006. Nearly four years later, its facelift now takes position as Jaguar’s standard bearer.

Jaguar's new XKR in British Racing Green, an axiom of tastefulness in a world mostly out of balance with regards to automotive style.

Aesthetically, changes are minor - mostly an embellishment of the XK’s exterior with vogue elements, like LED illumination details.

The elongated bonnet’s styling lines are now balanced by a redesigned front bumper, framed by elaborately dimensioned vertical air intakes. A chrome lower mesh grille distinguishes supercharged XKRs from their naturally aspirated siblings.

Inside the most profound change is the XF transposed Jaguar drive controller, supplanting the traditional J-gate gearbox – which I suspect hardly anyone will miss. Instrumentation is white accent illuminated with red pointers, and the three-spoke steering wheel now features a leather clad vertical spoke.

If you are an absolute Jaguar acolyte you’ll notice some of the new Oak veneer hues and combinations, which fuse surprisingly well with the more contemporary XF sourced bits.

The peculiar lower door carpet trim is confounding though. A generously carpeted  footwell is all fine and well, but why have it running up the bottom third of the door?

Direct injection V8s

As subtle as the styling changes are inside and out, dynamic enhancements for this year’s XK range are a veritable mechanical engineering tour de force.

Firstly, the engines are all new, which is a big deal for a niche manufacturer like Jaguar who build well under 100 000 cars a year.

Employing direct-injection, the range is now powered by 5l V8s, featuring nearly square architecture with a slight stroke bias of 0.5mm.

Material composition is a neat blend, with an aluminium block and heads housing a forged-iron crankshaft driving steel conrods. Despite being 800cc larger in terms of swept capacity over the engine line it replaces, the new V8 is 25mm shorter, thanks to clever relocation of the oil-pump within the engine architecture.

Featuring an improved variable camshaft timing system, enabling 62-degrees of inlet and 50-degrees of outlet adjustment on all four camshafts independently, the new engines produce outstanding rotational force numbers at low engine speeds, whilst being able to pander to the whims of dynamic driving requirements at higher crankshaft speeds too.

Direct-injection has enabled Jaguar to raise compression ratios on both supercharged and naturally aspirated engines to 9.0:1 and 11.5:1 respectively. Central positioning of the multiple outlet injectors (running at 150bar) ensures optimal air-fuel mixing and lower charge temperatures.

Jaguar has always prided itself on machining smooth-revving engines with a surfeit of rotational force at low engine speeds, instead of building hysterically rev-orientated engines, which can be decided temperamental off-cam.

New V8 are more powerful and efficient, featuring direct injection and delicately tailored variable valve timing augmented by an adjustable intake manifold. Eaton’s 'Twin Vortex' supercharger has four lobes per rotor instead of three and a high helix rotor design which has practically banished supercharger whine.

Naturally aspirated XKs peak 515Nm at 3 500r/min, with XKRs cranking 625Nm at an enviably low 2 500r/min. Power figures are impressive too, peaking with 283kW at 6 500r/min (XK) and 375kW at 6 000r/min (XKR).

Jaguar coyly admitted it could have raised the XKR’s numbers even higher, yet was constrained by the torque threshold of the ZF six-speed automatic gearbox, which forms such a smooth shift regime with the new V8, it was deemed irreplaceable and worth the slight sacrifice in output.

Jaguar’s Adaptive Dynamics adjusts the Bilstein dampers continuously,which is much better than the previous dual-setting system. Features selectable modes like Dynamic and TracDSC too – with the latter allowing plenty of hooliganism within acceptable safety parameters. Double-wishbones at all four wheel corners render a near perfect ride/handling balance.

With the new V8s channelling such significant outputs to the rear wheels, Jaguar commissioned British engineering giant GKN to find a solution providing the most dynamic blend of traction and safety possible with regards to rear axle torque distribution.

XKR models now feature GKN sourced prop- and side-shafts, which work with an ingenious electronic limited slip differential (eLSD). Although eLSDs have become a euphemism for ABS actuated traction control (jargonised to levels of performance incommensurable with reality by most manufacturers’ PRs) XKR’s system is quite unique, and all the better off for it.

The active differential uses GKN software to continuously monitor traction requirements, and provide a torque vectored (not ABS strained) locking rate of up to 90% on either of the rear wheels when necessary.

When road surface imperfections – or severe throttle and steering angle applications - compromise traction on one of the rear wheels, an electric motor directly rotates the cam gear of a unidirectional ball-ramp mechanism, which actuates a multiplate clutch, correcting torque distribution.

GT Dynamics?

With its trick diff and outlandish, direct-injected blown V8, is Jaguar’s latest XKR a stupefying swift GT or an oversized, sumptuously appointed, sportscar?

After driving the XKR around Gauteng’s roads (which look like a huge civil engineering final year university tutorial currently) for a day my judgement is at a loss.

In judging the virtue of XKR, it’s of little consequence to dwell on the looks. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful cars, exquisitely proportioned and deftly detailed – no argument. Convertible versions have a proper fabric top too, none of this perverse, folding metal the Germans are so fond of.

Cabin is a thoroughly cosseting driving environment, enabling 1 000km jaunts without strain. During 10/10ths driving passengers could do with a vertical grab-handle to brace themselves with against the door. Bowers & Wilkins 525W sound system is acoustically peerless.

The interior, despite the XF bits, is showing its age in term of detail and packaging. Those token rear seats are capable of accommodating a garden gnome each at best, yet they’ll still have their journey ruined by fearsome claustrophobia thanks to the high rear third window line.

Driving position is superbly adjustable even for 1.8m plus drivers, and the sliding seat squab enables one to set up a very dynamic command position when keen to press on.

Aston Martin, Maserati and Ferrari were viewed with scorn when they started fitting active exhaust valves to their cars in order to comply with EU noise regulations, yet retain full throttle acoustic appeal for customers. Jaguar has now followed suit.

Although the long-travel throttle pedal takes some getting used to, an increasingly acute angle of engagement to the firewall when pressured invariably causes the XKR to gather momentum at a staggering rate.

Jaguar’s renowned ride quality and the XKR’s overall refinement takes some edge off the sheer violence of this blown V8’s accelerative verve.

The active exhaust valve addled acoustics (which are incomparably glorious) and peripheral motion blur from the driving position irrefutably remind you though, performance now rivals a whole new class of competitors.

Hardly the a car to indulge in undignified 0-100km/h traffic light antics, XKR is still good for a sub five second time of only 4.8 seconds. A truer reflection of the supercharged XK’s pace is 80-110km/h in only 1.9 seconds.

GKN's 250 year engineering heritage and British craftsmanship comes to the fore with the XKR's best-of-both worlds eLSD rear differential, which means 375kW and rear-wheel drive has never quite been this playful.

Perhaps the XKR’s most endearing character trait is the manner in which it harnesses the new engine’s formidable power in such an unflappable manner.

I am not simply referring to the purity of its signature V8 engine note (which is noticeably devoid of supercharger whine) or the Aston Martin Vantage quashing straight line performance. I have never driven a car in which 375kW, a six-speed autobox and rear-wheel drive are as commensurable as ends dynamically.

GKN’s eLSD is simply the stuff of genius, allowing just the requisite quantity of rear-wheel drive oversteer hooliganism at low speeds, whilst instinctively counterbalancing possibly dire traction vexing moments mid-corner under power - especially on broken surfaces.

The confidence with which you can power towards virgin B-road apexes, safe in the knowledge Mr eLSD is watching your back axle, is hugely reassuring.

Operating as a standard open differential most of the time there are no mechanical LSD understeer characteristics at low speeds either.

No car is perfect, and if we're nitpicking, having the induction system configuration monikered around the wheel centres is out of step with XKR's gravitas. Improved efficiency notwithstanding, the 71l tank truncates range. Considering local geography and distance it's too small, especially compared to Maserati's GT with 86l capacity.

XKR’s appeal is then, is staggering rear-wheel drive performance without the peripheral drama usually assoctiated with 375kW and rear-wheel drive.

You have 375 gloriously delivered kilowatts, in a chassis which might lack a little mid-corner lateral loaded steering feedback, yet counters with foolproof traction properties and uncannily resolved ride characteristics - especially considering the straight line stability on offer.

In short, the XKR now has engine performance to rival BMW’s M6 without being as frantic as the Bavarian. It should also be less tiring than Maserati’s GT or a Porsche 911 on the Gauteng to coast run too.

A trackday toy then? No, the steering is not true enough.

Sportscar perhaps? Not really, ride quality is too good.

A crushingly accomplished, absurdly swift GT, with an overdose of style and sense of eLSD engaged playfulness? Well, yes.

One assumes chief engine engineer, Malcolm Sandford, and his team will be the toast of Jaguar’s Christmas party this year, for their achievement with regards to the tidily efficient and hugely powerful line of new engines. Mike Cross though, is the man I would propose a toast to.

As Jaguar’s chief engineer for vehicle integrity, Mike’s job was to ensure the new XK drove like a car proper to Jaguar’s heritage. Well it does, and then some...


XK 5.0 V8 Coupe                                     R990 000
XK 5.0 V8 Convertible                             R1 070 000
XKR 5.0 Supercharged Coupe                R1 170 000
XKR 5.0 Supercharged Convertible        R1 250 000


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