Motoramic

How a Jaguar XKR’s engine salvaged an otherwise miserable day

I couldn’t have been more fed up. Even if a meteorite landed directly in front of me, I wouldn’t have cared. In fact, I’d barely of noticed, such was my mental awareness. Unicorns could have pranced alongside my car, singing Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me,” and it wouldn’t have resonated. This day was simply a bust.

But as my right foot, like my eyelids, became heavier, I discovered something quite potent: A 5.0-liter V-8 engine, so ferocious it roused me out of a near coma, and salvaged an otherwise miserable day.

Let’s rewind: Earlier that morning, I was sat on a plane travelling from Indianapolis to Newark on route to drive a McLaren 12C Spider. I was excited to wrestle a 616 hp supercar on the Monticello racetrack, a venue I had yet to see and a machine I had yet to pilot. I’d planned to arrive early, perhaps going for a short run prior to imbibing beers with a fellow journalist who was there too. But as I boarded my connecting flight in Charlotte, those aforementioned plans took a decided change.

For two hours I sat at the gate as a bunch of incompetent halfwits attempted to fix the plane. Eventually, after realizing they could not, we were told to deplane. “That’s my run out the window,” I thought, annoyed at loading my carry-on with heavy running shoes I’d needn't of brought.

With a new gate and a new plane, the aircrew, the mostly content passengers, and myself, tried again. The monotone pilot repeated his foreword, and the airhostesses did their best at smiling amicably as a wealth of creative passengers said, “fancy seeing you here. AGAIN,” laughing uncontrollably at their uniquely not-so-amusing joke.

As we taxied to the runway, the pilot cued up the radio: “We’re number two for takeoff, please prepare the cabin for…. Wait, no. We’re heading back to the gate.” The cabin let out a piercing groan.

So there we sat, for another two hours, as weather in Newark had apparently grounded all flights, and the pilot feared that if we left the plane, we'd lose our spot in line. Eventually, we deplaned anyway, and we were told to seek alternative arrangements. “Not only are my beers going warm, my whole trip is likely ruined,” I mused.

I did, however, manage to get on a later flight, one that was already delayed an hour for maintenance, presumably in the same capable hands as my first flight. No sooner had I switched, however, the gate agent announced they were actually not canceling my original flight after all, and we were ready to board. “Hoorah,” I thought, only to find the airline had already given up my seat and could no longer accommodate me. This happened to a number of now very angry passengers.

So, I eventually took off on my heavily delayed alternate flight, arriving at Newark around midnight—over 12-hours since I first left Indianapolis. I took a bus to a parking lot where I was told a pre-arranged vehicle would be waiting. I still had a 90-minute drive to the hotel. By this point, the will to live was all but gone.

The car in question was a 2013 Jaguar XKR Convertible, a machine I expected to be great, although not as great as the available XKR-S. Just as the man at the parking lot yawned and threw me the keys, I got a glimpse of the British cat. “Very nice,” I thought, “Although the convertible aspect is rather useless.”

It was useless because it was raining. And it was cold, too, given that it was now 12:30am.

The start of my journey was bland, navigating out of Newark and onto the highway. I was beyond tired. Beyond miserable. I actually wanted to go home and forget about the quarter-million dollar McLaren that awaited my arrival.

I’d been driving the Jaguar XKR in Comfort mode, and the car, excuse the obvious analogy, behaved like a pussycat. The interior was nice, but felt dated, unlike the latest XF and XJ models. The navigation proved almost illegible, and after missing several turns, watching my estimated time of arrival getting later and later as my blood boiled hotter than lava, I switched to my iPhone’s navigation instead. I was enjoying the car, but my day had been so painful, I found myself not particularly caring.

That is, until I switched to dynamic mode:

The throttle sharpened, the suspension stiffened and the steering wheel pulsated through my fingertips, as if life was returned to the dead following vigorous resuscitation. That life seeped through my blood, and I immediately felt like I'd been slapped in the face by Alec Baldwin. I hit the gas on a slow on-ramp and all 510 hp burst into action. Despite traction control, the rear tires spun in fury, requiring lightning reactions to correct the intoxicating slide.

The noise exuded was something special: it sounded like a massive lion playing the world’s largest bass drum, deep in a canyon somewhere in Utah. The boom from the V-8 excited, but it reverberated, growled, popped and spluttered; yet screamed like someone’s flesh being torn by a 14-foot Grizzly. It was everything I needed in that dark, dark moment to entirely change my outlook.

The active differential, offering torque vectoring in both the XKR and XKR-S models, did its best at taming the beast. In the rain, however, it could not. The 6-speed automatic’s ratios are so short that, in the first few gears, you can’t help but get sideways, exactly the combination I enjoy. 0-60 mph should, if you can get the power down, occur in 4.6 seconds.

As I neared the hotel, tiredness, once again, returned. I parked up and glanced at the clock, reading 2am. As I grabbed my overfilled bags and wandered into the hotel, I couldn’t help but take a parting glance. While the handling, even when dry, remains solid, and the interior, too, plenty pleasant, there’s nothing that truly spoke to me. Except that motor. And what a motor it is. It can get better, too, if you opt for the 550 hp XKR-S.

But could you really pay over $100,000 for an XKR that, while externally beautiful, remains primarily all engine? If you'd asked me that night, I’d say absolutely. And even now, rested and primed, it’d be high on my list. After all, it turned a truly crappy day into something of a wild adventure.