Friday, December 2, 2011


The people who keep track of these things say that fuel economy has become more of a factor for car shoppers these days went it comes to deciding what to buy.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just think of all the car ads you see on TV touting fuel mileage of their cars.
So, does that mean horsepower wars are over?
Not necessarily. At least not in the luxury segment.
Take Jaguar and its XK line of coupes and convertibles.
That standard out-of-the-box XK (coupe or convertible) is a powerful performer in its own right. Its 5.0-liter V8 engine pumps out 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque, resulting in zero-to-60 times of 5.2 seconds for the coupe and 5.3 seconds for the convertible.
Apparently, it was a bit annoying to the Jaguar folks to have those digits added to the five-second time, so they came out with the XKR, which adds supercharging for boosts to 510 hp and 461 lb.-ft. of torque and a zero-to-60 clocking of 4.6 seconds.
But they didn’t stop there.
Introducing the 2012 Jaguar XKR-S.

For a price tag of $132,875, or about $50,000 more than the
XK and nearly $38,000 over the MSRP of the XKR, you get what the company is calling “the most powerful production car Jaguar has built.”
The XKR’s 5.0-liter V8 power plant has been tweaked to put out 550 hp and a whopping 502 lb.-ft. of torque that will move the XKR-S from zero-to-60 in a hiccup -- or 4.2 seconds, according to the company.
And the fuel economy -- if “economy” is the right word here -- is the same as the XKR, or about 15 miles-per-gallon city, 22 highway. (I’ll pause for a moment here to allow you to go revive any tree-hugger who may have stumbled on this.)

Just recently, the German motoring magazine Auto Bild Sportscars named the XKR-S its “2011 Sports Car of the Year” after polling more than 70,000 of its readers. It beat out the Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG and Audi RS5. So much for home-field advantage for the Teutonic competitors.
It doesn’t take more than a slight tapping of the accelerator to get the XKR-S moving. You can virtually feel the rear wheels clawing at the road as all that power propels you forward, leaving others behind so quickly you would think they weren’t aware the light had changed.
Though tuned for the track with a slightly stiffer suspension, the XKR-S with its sport front seats provides a comfortable ride in a street environment as well, though it consistently seems to beckoning you to hit the open road where it can roam free. Unlike say the Dodge Viper, which I love on the track but grow weary of muscling around town, the XKR-S is at ease in both locales.
It rides low, which means you want to take care when you enter a parking lot with curbs separating the rows of spaces. Unfortunately, drivers before me had already made their marks underneath the front air dam, and a huge vertical scratch marked dead center of the splitter. What’s with these people?

I love the way the XK series looks from the outside, from the catlike headlight configuration down the sleek profile to the rear taillamps. The wide, 20-inch wheels on the XKR-S give it a solid, muscular stance
Inside, you’ll find the usual luxury refinements for the class, lots of leather with contrasting stitching throughout. 

The front cabin is spacious for the two occupiers of the frontseat, no so much for those trying to squeeze into the back. In fact, I didn’t even try it. But then, if you buy one of these, you’re going to be behind the wheel, not riding in the back, so what do you care?
A lot of people don’t, but I like the way the rotary dial gear selector rises like a Phoenix from the center console when the engine is engaged. It raises in me a feeling of anticipation as I think about all the power is going to be sent through the automatic gearbox when I push the start engine button.
You can set the gear dial on automatic or move it to “S” for sport mode and select gears with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Frankly, with South Florida’s flat roadways I find little need for that, though if I am looking for some sporty performance I’ll use those shifter every once in a while.
You can also adjust the driving dynamics (sportier or more comfort) with the push of a button on the console.
If I have a complaint -- and you know I do or I wouldn’t have brought it up, it is with the operation of the audio and navigation systems, particularly the latter. The map screen is not very big, and the system is on the fussy side to operate.

At a time when even the Germans, who seem to love complexity when it comes to technology, are making such systems easier to operate, it might behoove Jaguar designers/engineers to take a closer look at their navigation system, maybe bring in someone who isn’t familiar at all with them to find out how to make them more intuitive to work.
My motto: If you have to consult the owner’s manual to find out how to change the map scale, you need to consider some changes.
But that shouldn’t be a discouraging factor.
What is discouraging is this: Jaguar is bringing only 100 XKR-S coupes and 50 convertibles to the U.S. for the 2012 model year, and, according to the company, the coupes have already sold out. The convertibles, which were introduced at November’s LA Auto Show, just went on sale.
Who’s buying?
I asked that question of Wayne Kung, Product Communications manager, who noted that the demographics of the typical car buyer these days are “often hard to pin down.”
When I suggested rich guys as the answer, he sent this email reply:
For some, this is the culmination of a life of hard work, and sort of personal gift for their success and decades of raising family and working. Some may be wealthy, while others may just be serious car nuts.  Like most luxury manufacturers, we lease and finance most of our cars, so our customers come from many places in life, and buy for many reasons.
Not to pick on Jaguar’s former parent company, but I don’t think you’re going to find many Ford Fiesta buyers stopping by the Jaguar showrooms any time soon, no matter how big a car nut they are.
Like I said, rich guys.
More power to them, I -- and apparently Jaguar -- say.

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