The Jag roadster: The finest sound on the planet
Many years ago I knew a chap who owned a 1954 Jaguar XK120 roadster—back then people who owned Jags were all chaps, while those who loitered around the beachfront in Datsuns, Fords or Chevs were known as okes.
Jack Baker never let me drive his car, probably because I was about seven-years-old at the time, but I remember being squashed into the passenger seat alongside his son, John, and listening to the glorious howl of the 3,4 litre straight six engine as we set off for St Albans racetrack in Port Elizabeth.
That was, for me, the finest sound on the planet, and I’ve never forgotten it.
The XK120 got its name from the fact that it was good for 120 miles per hour (193km/h), which made it the fastest standard production car in the world when it was launched in 1948.
The XK evolved into the famous race-winning XK120-C, or C-Type, that in turn led to the D-Type and eventually the famous E-Type Jag.
Fast forward almost half a century, and I’m sitting in the latest Jag roadster, the most powerful production car ever built by the factory. This time I’m behind the steering wheel, and the sound when I open the taps is even more awesome than my memories of all those years ago.
Where the original XK’s dual overhead camshaft six-cylinder motor produced a healthy 119kW (160bhp), the 2010 model year XKR’s supercharged 5.0 litre V8 has more than three times that—there are 510 horses champing noisily at the bit under that long bonnet.
Equally importantly, there’s a whopping 625Nm of torque on hand from just 2 500rpm, and that’s what gives you a memorable kick up the backside when you hoof the volume pedal. There’s a lovely six speed auto gearbox that really does behave like a proper manual shifter when you hook the next cog by flicking the steering wheel mounted paddles, and the computer blips the throttle automatically when you bang the box down a gear.
Add the splendid popping that accompanies high RPM up-changes and you have a virtual symphony orchestra at your disposal.
The aluminium-bodied Jaguar XKR is one or the very few cars I’ve driven that feels almost like a superbike when you pour on the coals. Nail it off the line and hit the shift paddle when appropriate, and the thrust carries on pretty well without respite till around 250km/h, where the electronic nanny has been instructed to pull the plug on the loud music. I eased off at 240 or so, and the car seemed disappointed that the fun had come to an end. Top end, unrestricted, would probably be around 280 to 300km/h without the computerised spoilsport. From a standing start you’ll find yourself topping 100km/h in about 4,8 seconds, with the standing 400m elapsing in under 13 seconds, according to factory claims.
It is, of course, impossible to explore the performance limits of a car like this on a public road, but you can gain an inkling of whether the car is a well-balanced thoroughbred that responds well to a touch of the whip, or just an stylish lump of plastic and steel with a powerful engine that looks cool but doesn’t encourage a bit of boyish exuberance now and again.
The XKR falls clearly into the first category. The steering feels direct and the handling taut, while the engine and gearbox combination is superb. If you have R1,17-million to spend on the hardtop version or R1,25-million for the convertible get yourself down to your nearest Jaguar dealer and let the salesman there tell you all about the countless luxury and comfort features included in the package.
There are also naturally aspirated versions of the same V8 engine with 283kW power and 515Nm of torque available for about R180 000 less, but by my thinking, if you’re going to spend a million bucks on such an outrageously gorgeous car, why not go the whole hog and get the quickest one available? If you really can’t sell off some of the family silver to pay for the supercharger, you probably won’t be too phased by the 0,8 second slower 0-100 time of the unblown version or the standing 400m time of 13,7 seconds (13,8 for the convertible. You can also take some satisfaction from the fact that top speed (limited to 250km/h) is exactly the same as that of the blown model.
Also new from Jaguar is the latest XF saloon, that comes with any of six engines.
There’s a three-litre petrol V6 offering 175kW and 293Nm, and two very strong three-litre turbodiesel V6s developing 177kW/500Nm and 202kW and 600Nm respectively, as well as the same naturally aspirated or supercharged five litre V8 engines used in the XK series. Pricing meanders from R565 000 to R965 000, depending on the engine and spec level, and they deserve to do well for the money.
Like the XK models, build quality is superb. Whether the knowledge that the brand is now owned by Tata will prevent existing BMW and Mercedes-Benz buyers from migrating to Jaguar remains to be seen, but the cars are, in their own right, as classy and desirable as anything German I’ve ever driven.