A week in a Jaguar XKR
We’ve all had that dream… Owning your own supercar. Blasting down a country lane in a big rumbling V8, parking it up in a crowded street and soaking up the admiring glances and turning up at friends’ houses in style.
But what is it really like to live with one every day? Grudgingly, motoring journalist Gareth Butterfield borrowed one for a week in an attempt to find out.
The Jaguar XKR arrives. There’s something that’s usually always been true of Jags. They’ve always become more beautiful with age. The XK, with its recent visual freshen-up, is at its most beautiful in the supercharged XKR trim and I certainly like its shape more now than when it superseded the previous XK – which I’ve always thought was one of the most beautiful cars ever made.
The assault on your senses makes a comeback when you climb in and reach for the starter button. Hold it down a second or two and you’re under no illusion that you’re about to spend a week in something very, very special.
Initially there’s the prominent mechanical sound of the huge starter motor, stirring the 5.0 supercharged V8 into life, and an instant later the beast is awake. It growls and snarls at first, starting with an enthusiastic if somewhat angry bootful of revs. My neighbours are going to love me at 7am tomorrow morning.
Time to take the Jag on its first outing. It’s not been raining but the roads are covered in that horrid, dirty perma-grease that builds up in early winter so I approach the task of threading the XKR through our housing estate with the delicacy of a brain surgeon.
Tiny presses on the throttle and accurately measured steering inputs all the way – ready at all times to react if I become too over-enthusiastic.
Funnily enough, it’s remarkably civilised at low speeds. Its huge sports seats are extremely comfortable and there’s plenty of adjustment. The steering wheel raises and lowers electrically so I’ve got that bang on too.
There’s fairly good visibility and, even though it’s obviously a big car, the accuracy of its steering and the security of its strong brakes ease you into a sense of security.
As I reach the first stretch of straight road I decide, purely in the interests of research, to see what 510bhp feels like when it’s served up in one go.
This was a mistake. The car responded instantly to my heavy-footedness by slipping down a few gears, sinking its back end into the greasy tarmac and going absolutely bonkers.
In an instant, the gears are dispatched and the automatic box has caught up ready to respond to what it’s being asked to do, with the engine’s revs rising accordingly and now sounding like a top-fuel dragster.
The sound is astonishing. It goes from growling and rumbling to absolutely frantic in a heartbeat but, unfortunately, you don’t get much time to enjoy it at this time of year because the rear end will inevitably lose traction and the car simply snakes along the road, revs frequently interrupted by the traction control which, frankly, is a godsend.
The wife and I are off for the weekend to Hertfordshire. A familiar jaunt down the M1 with a load of stuff in tow to ditch with the in-laws. Firstly, the boot appears quite small, despite the size of the opening left by the enormous rear hatch. It has a false floor, however, which reveals a handy compartment for all those annoying little bits that always roll around. If you do need more space, there’s always the two rear ‘seats’ to dump stuff in too. It’s actually surprisingly practical on the whole.
Lumping all the functions – including stereo, heated seat, air distribution controls and the like into the single LCD display does make for a less cluttered dash but this is the first car I’ve driven where flicking back and forth through menus hasn’t annoyed me.
The interior, on the whole blends sportiness and luxury beautifully. Little has changed in this newest version of the XK and, in truth, there are some aspects of it that are starting to feel quite dated against some of its siblings, but it still looks fabulous and everything is placed well.
It’s a huge fan of motorways too. For the first time, on the journey south, the indicated fuel economy has ventured meaningfully into the 20s. I manage to coax 23mpg out of it by being very delicate with my right foot. Ouch.
It’s time to head back to sunny Derbyshire. I’ve had a late night, I’m slightly hung over and not in the mood for a 100-mile drive. But, thankfully, it’s absolutely effortless in the Jag. The tedious and never-ending M1 North is a doddle in a car with more than 500bhp. Accelerating up to ’70’ for an overtaking blast up the outside lane is instantaneous. In fact, it feels as quick surging from 50mph to 70mph as it does rocketing off the line. The engine is beautifully flexible.
As a consequence of having what is essentially a tornado under my right foot, I’m quickly discovering one of the downsides of life with a five litre supercharged V8. The Jag arrived with a full tank but already its range indicator suggests it will be empty in less than 90 miles and that’s not enough to get us home. So I call into the services.
Because petrol at motorway service centres costs nearly a million pounds a litre I decide to just spill £20-worth in and hope it gets me to a cheaper source of Esso’s finest. When I get back in the car and alert everyone to my presence with the Jag’s start up ‘roar’ I notice the range indicator has now risen to 135 miles.
Let me do the maths for you… £20 of admittedly very over-priced petrol has given me the gift of less than 50 miles of motoring, according to the digital readout. Ouch.
Still, it’s enough to get me home and, it’s fair to say, I’m a lot more careful with my right foot from now on.
In reality, I think I got a bit more than 135 miles but my daily commute to work is still playing havoc with my fuel economy. I’m back down to around 21mpg now. What’s admittedly not helping is obliging to all the people that ask for a look round it. Every time I rev the engine, as lovely and exciting as it sounds, it probably costs me about £2. So I’m back to the nice people at Esso with my tail between my legs.
This evening the wife and I are off to a meeting and we have to pick a friend up on the way. She’s short so has no hesitation in jumping in the back to allow our 6ft friend to ride up-front.
As I return from his front door a very forlorn-looking wife cranes her neck, which is pushed forward and buried in the roof, to utter: “This isn’t going to work”. We can’t even fold back the front seat. The rear seats, even for short people, are basically useless.
I notice they have child seat anchors and I don’t know much about them but my mother suggested they might be too narrow for most modern child seats. They’ll have to remain as leather-clad parcel shelves for most people, I suspect.
On the bright side, as we climbed in to my thoroughly disappointed friend’s Skoda Octavia, it struck me that not having to drive is probably saving me about £15 in petrol. Every cloud and all that.
I have a day off today so I decide to take the Jag on a tour of some of my favourite haunts in the Staffordshire Peak District. Routes I regularly covered in my beloved first car, a Fiat Uno. Unlike the one litre, 45bhp engine in my Uno, the Jag demands a bit more care as you thread it through greasy single carriageway country lanes.
In fact, following a few ‘moments’ over the last few days I’ve learned that carefully handling all this power in what is essentially a supercar is not just about being careful. It’s about respect. There are opportunities when you can unleash it and enjoy the instant response from the throttle and that phenomenal sound from the exhausts but it’s a two way street.
If someone asked you to wake a sleeping lion, you’d much sooner gently stroke its back than prod it in the privates. The same self discipline needs to be applied to driving an XKR.
Most of the time the Jag is ready and willing to chew you up and spit you out but if you respect its huge capabilities you’ll establish a rapport with it and it’ll let you have some fun – but only on its own strict terms.
In fact, on the greasy, narrow Moorlands roads, it’s difficult to have any fun with the Jag. It’s a lovely chariot in which to take in the stunning scenery but in all honesty I might have been in my rusty old Fiat. I’d have definitely been able to drive more quickly.
The XKR has to go back. Sad day but, to be honest, I can’t afford another fill-up this month.
A lot of people asked me, during my time with the Jag; if I could afford it – would I own one? For a moment, my head popped up an image of a Porsche 911 but then my heart waded in with its misty-eyed vision of how much prettier the Jag is, how it sounds far more exciting and how it’s so wonderfully British and, without any further hesitation, I answered: “Of course I would”.
In the real world though, I’d have it as a second car. Even if it meant I had to trudge round in an old Ford Escort as my daily driver I’d leave the Jag until it was the right day – a day when I don’t need to put people in the back and when I can afford the petrol and have the time spare to take it somewhere where I can properly stretch its legs.
As good as it is as an every day runabout I’d buy a Jaguar XKR because I wanted a car that would give me the time of my life whenever I fancied it. And I know that’s something this amazing machine will always be able to deliver.