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2010 Jaguar XFR and XKR Convertible

This isn’t so much a car review as it is the story of an engine, and two of the cars that it powers.

Aside from the visages of open-maw cats in the center of their grilles, the Jaguar XFR and XKR Convertible couldn’t look any more different if one of them was a piano. The XFR is a butch and bulky 5-passenger sports sedan, the XKR a sleek and topless 2+2. It’s the “R” in their names that give the two a common bond.

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For 2010, Jaguar has heavily updated its decade-old V8 engine, enlarging it to 5.0 liters and adding a direct fuel injection system for more power and better fuel efficiency than the motor it replaces. In the case of the R models, it also gets a supercharger and two intercoolers stuffed in-between the cylinder banks to give it a muscular output of 510 horsepower. And while combined fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg and 18 mpg won't be putting any fear in the Toyota Prius, they're good enough numbers to avoid the dreaded gas guzzler tax.

In both cars, a 6-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the rear wheels where a unique electronic differential apportions it side to side, as needed. Traction control kicks in when the 465 lb-ft proves too much for the wide, low-profile tires to handle.

Despite being built on entirely distinct platforms – the XKR mostly aluminum, the XFR good old-fashioned steel – the two cars also have the same computer-controlled suspension. It’s an active damper setup that monitors body motion and wheel position hundreds of times a second and constantly adjusts stiffness and rebound levels between comfort and control, reacting to how the car is being driven.

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Pointed in a straight line, foot to the floor, you’ll likely be too distracted to remember any of that. With the throttle and pressure-triggered valves in the mufflers wide open, each car on its own sounds like a 20-bike strong Harley gang, and feels just as powerful. The big beasts are thunderously quick, both from a standstill and at speed. Zero-to-60 mph times are about four and a half seconds, and highway passing acceleration is kick-you-in-the-pants quick. If you can find a situation where the engine is lacking, you deserve a citation from The Explorer’s Club.

Start downshifting while braking, or just let up on the gas, and you’re treated with supercar-like bangs from the exhaust pipes that leave you torn between running for cover, and saluting. This is especially true in the convertible, which shouldn’t even come with a roof in warm-weather climes because, for the aural assault alone, it will never be used.

Since (for the weak like me) it is impossible to write a Jaguar review without making at least one limp feline reference, here it is: like the big cats they are named for, the XFR and XKR are also as good at being lazy as they are quick. Few cars with this much horsepower are so easy to live with. The throttle isn't at all jumpy, and, unless you ask for it, the power sits in quiet reserve waiting to be summoned to attack the passing lane and dispatch of unsuspecting prey (ok, two limp references).

The gearbox, controlled by Jaguar's signature erectile rotary knob which rises from the center console on startup, offers Automatic and Sport modes that alter its personality greatly. Lamentably-cheap plastic paddles behind the steering wheel are used to change cogs manually, and downshifts in Sport are accompanied by racy rev-matched throttle blips. Press the button in front of the gear selector marked with a checkered flag and things get even more exciting.

Doing so puts either car into Dynamic Mode, which switches the transmission to its most aggressive setting, stiffens the suspension, and loosens up the stability control to allow the cars to slide noticeably more through turns before it intervenes. Drive like this and you start to discover that differences between the XFR and XKR go much deeper than their bodies.

On face value, one (aka I) might assume that the $100G two-door would be more hardcore than the $80G family car. On a track against the clock it very well may be, but in the real world it's hard to tell. The XKR's body seems to move around quite a bit, a feeling enhanced by light steering feedback and a cigarette boat-sized hood that twists, rises, and falls in the bottom of your line of site. The apparent motion enhances the Grand Touring experience somewhat, giving you the sensation of performance even at sensible speeds. But on a tight two lane it also offers the impression that the XKR is much larger and more cumbersome than it really is.

On the other hand, being executive transport, it's perhaps not surprising that XFR is very businesslike in the way it attacks tarmac. Compared to the low-slung seating in the XKR, the more upright, forward-positioned chairs in the sedan bring you closer to the action. Body roll is replaced with a rigid compliance that keeps the cabin composed, yet comfortable. Blasting along an undulating road, it feels as if the car is running on rails coated in a thin layer of Tempurpedic foam. The word ‘serene’ could’ve been invented to describe this very thing.

In both cars, only sharp, unmatched bumps hitting each side out of sync defeat the nearly perfect ride, the firm dampers roughing things up like a football player running the tires in practice. Wide, 20-inch wheels (standard on the XFR, optional on the XKR) don't help any more than they would out on the field.

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The XKR is the older of the two cars, with a design that dates back to 2006. Indisputably sexier, its look is dated only because it is familiar. If this car was new today it would be as much of a standout as it was 4 years ago. A few tweaks for 2010 - mostly some added swoops and curves in the front fascia - freshen things up for good measure. Inside, the mix of leather, mesh aluminum, and piano black trim (see?) is a mélange of simplicity and stylish detail. The seams that make up the door inserts are so attractive they are nearly a distraction. The only thing that lets it all down is a dated infotainment system that is due for a trip to the computer lab.

Visibility is good for a convertible, with large side glass and a wide, tall rear window presenting a better view out than some sporty hardtops do. The roof itself is a thickly insulated piece that keeps things coupe-quiet, with just a hint of the wind rushing over your head where it meets the header. Back seats are a mere suggestion, but the trunk is a pretty healthy size. However, when I picked up a nail and got a flat tire, I discovered that the shape of the opening is literally just wide enough to squeeze one of those huge tires through, with a good deal of scraping. Good thing Jaguar includes roadside assistance with all of its vehicles.

The interior of the XFR shares the clean-cut look of its little, but pricier sister, right down to the dual gauge instrument binnacle, but since it starts its life as a $52,000 car, it doesn’t quite have the overall panache of the two-door. There’s a little less artistry in the design, and a bit more plastic, but who can argue with triple front cupholders in three different sizes? Overall, it’s a very nice place to be, and the quality of materials is largely excellent. The rich, alcantara headliner is particularly elegant. Rear seat legroom is about as good as a mid-size sedan can manage, but while the bench is plenty wide, headroom is a touch tight for those over six feet tall. Outside, deep rocker panels and large, chrome-ringed air intakes up front add some menace, while air extractors on the hood engraved with the word “supercharged” serve as a constant reminder of what’s under it.

As if you could ever forget.

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2010 Jaguar XFR and XKR

Base price: $80,000 (XFR), $102,000 (XKR)

Type: 5-passenger, rear-wheel-drive, 4-door sedan (XFR), 2+2 passenger, rear-wheel-drive, 2-door convertible (XKR)

Engine: 5.0L supercharged V8

Power: 510 hp, 461 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 16 city/21 hwy (XFR), 15 city/22 hwy (XKR)

What do you think of the XFR and XKR?

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