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So Bad, Yet So Incredibly Good

2005 Jaguar XKR Convertible

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2004; Page G01

Lust has a way of corrupting the senses, of transforming the blatantly impractical into the acceptable, and turning the ridiculous into the sublime.

And so it is with the 2005 Jaguar XKR convertible, an automotive bauble if ever there were one, and a flawed bauble at that.


2005 Jaguar XKR Convertible

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: The XKR's automatic convertible roof is inferior to that of less costly rivals. The car has an obsolete, uncomfortable, floor-mounted and hand-operated service-brake lever on the driver's side. Gas mileage is lousy, and the rear seats are a bad joke.

Upside: The XKR has an exquisitely beautiful, well-crafted body, a splendid V-8 engine and an excellent suspension system (fully independent with stabilizer bars front and rear, computer-adjustable for harder "sport" ride or more comfortable "normal" ride). Kudos also to the large Brembo power-disc brakes front and rear. The car stops with authority.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces. No complaints. Yes, folks, the XKR can get down and boogie!

Head-turning quotient: Imagine Halle Berry, Salma Hayek and Jennifer Lopez entering a room at the same time. If you are a woman, imagine something else. Point is, the XKR gets and holds attention.

Engine/transmission: The XKR's 4.2-liter, supercharged V-8 engine develops 390 horsepower at 6,100 revolutions per minute and 399 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm.

Body style/layout: The XKR is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-door cloth-top convertible with two real seats up front and two phony seats in the back.

Capacities: The XKR has seating for two people. Cargo capacity is generous by convertible standards -- 10.8 cubic feet. Fuel capacity is 19.9 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: The Environmental Protection Agency says the XKR gets 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 miles per gallon on the highway, or an average of 19.5 miles per gallon city-highway. I barely got 19 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving. Fuel economy decreases as speed increases.

Safety: Standard side air bags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control and electronic brake force distribution.

Price: Base price on the test car is $86,330. Estimated dealer invoice price is $84,000 on base model. Price as tested is $96,695, including $8,700 in options, a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax and a $665 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: The XKR is a limited-edition toy. The dealer invoice price is irrelevant because dealers are pricing according to perceived demand. Bargaining room, at this writing, is relatively narrow.

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Some of its shortcomings are obvious. Here is a nearly $97,000 car that includes $9,000 in options and a $1,000 federal gas-guzzler tax.

The options do not include a fully retractable convertible roof of the type found on the splendid little Chrysler Crossfire roadster and the Saab 9-3 convertible for a third of the price.

The XKR's cloth top does come down with the push of a button. But there is no tonneau cover automatically rising to greet and enfold it and stow it neatly out of sight.

Instead, in slavish devotion to tradition, Jaguar offers a snap-on tonneau cover to keep the lowered roof from fluttering in the wind. Thus, a mistaken notion of elegance triumphs over efficiency in an unhappy contest that does violence to the concept of luxury.

Like too many other sports cars and convertibles, the XKR has two rear seats that are about as valuable as a Confederate dollar in a euro economy. I've always been bothered by such richly upholstered fakery, but in a car this costly, I find it particularly egregious.

I mean, what the heck? Ford Motor Co., Jaguar's corporate parent, offers four real seats in its Mustang convertibles, which are the sun-worshipping chariots of the working class. Why can't the XKR provide comparable accommodations for premium behinds?

I might have been less disturbed by those rear seats had the XKR gotten better than 19.5 miles per gallon in city-highway motoring. It's one thing to get 19.5 miles per gallon in an SUV that seats five or seven people. It's quite another to get it in a car that swallows premium gasoline while transporting two people. It makes little sense.

But that is the point and the beauty of the XKR. It is passion, love and lust. It's Don Quixote tilting at windmills, Paris Hilton in search of meaning, Jennifer Lopez in pursuit of matrimony. It is a character in Ntozake Shange's beautifully written theater piece, actually a group of choreographed poems, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf." It is not supposed to make sense.

The 2005 Jaguar XKR convertible, only modestly retouched for the 2005 model year, is the car for rich people who have considered suicide when a regular convertible wasn't enough. You have got to be crazy to love it and wealthy to buy it.

I'm not wealthy. But many people have accused me of being certifiably insane. So, perhaps you'll understand why, despite its painfully obvious weaknesses, I'm wildly in love with the XKR.

I am a sucker for beauty; and there is no car, in my estimation, more beautiful, more sensuously shaped, more seductive or romantic than the XKR. It is the motorized devil in a blue dress. I'm drawn to it although I know that, in the end, it's probably more trouble than it's worth. But when I get behind its wheel and crank its 390-horsepower, 4.2-liter, supercharged, 32-valve, V-8 engine, have mercy! I forget all of my complaints.

That engine emits a deep-throated moan -- not a growl, not a burble. It's an honest-to-goodness moan that is as exciting as it is intimidating.

I ease down on the accelerator and the rear-wheel-drive cat leaps, then settles down, then runs so very fast, moving its 4,021 pounds with force and grace.

Who cares about the lowered cloth top arguing with the wind? Who cares that the rear seats are gimcrackery, or that the cost of filling the car's 19.9-gallon gasoline tank with top-flight fuel will be $43 in Northern Virginia? I don't. I want this moment, this ride, to last forever. I want magic. Maybe the gas prices will have fallen below $1.50 a gallon by the end of my trip. I want beauty and speed, to be lost in it, to remain a part of it. I want this car.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company