Jaguar XKR convertible
Jaguar excels at convertibles. Ever since the XK120 of 1948 and the 1961 E-type (models which lasted for 13 and 14 years respectively), the company has acquired an unassailable reputation as purveyors of sporting open-topped Gentleman's conveyances, lithe, sleek and classically beautiful. The XKR certainly has the visual cues down pat. But when it comes to driving it, it quickly becomes clear that this is no septuagenarian's sober post-golf club conveyance. Instead, it's an exhaust popping screamer, thanks to a 5.0 litre V8 producing 510 bhp, snappily responsive automatic gearbox (mated to paddles on the steering wheel) and mercifully efficient brakes.
See more of Jaguar's latest, exhaust-popping convertible
Introduced in 2006, the current XK series was given a serious piece of automotive cosmetic surgery a couple of months ago to keep it fresh and bring in key design details from the XF range. Although the financial fall out of Jaguar's sale to Tata Motors in 2008 has yet to settle, the handover didn't divert Ian Callum's design team from rolling out the new XJ, unveiled at the Saatchi Gallery last week. Although this new flagship doesn't go on sale until early 2010, it means that XK is now the third oldest model in Jaguar's line-up.
Happily, it wears its years well. Jaguar's heritage is full of long-running models, incrementally improved. That doesn't quite cut in today's fast-moving marketplace, where buyers impose tautological demands for new designs with a strong sense of history. The XK, then the XF and now the new XJ all ably demonstrate that you can create stylish, sleek sports cars without having to ape a glorious past, but without completely disregarding it altogether.
Although the purity of the original design has been slightly compromised by the deep spoilers, vast wheels and various go-faster fripperies that characterise the swiftest model in the range, the XKR is still handsome and bold, with a sense of individuality missing from Teutonic and Japanese rivals. Inside, things are even better. Although with the hood down, the burbling exhaust is your constant companion, many will happily live with the noise of the supercharged V8. Happily Jaguar have created the ability to shift the hood up or down while the car is still in motion, an absolutely must-have in this age of sudden showers.
At times, the XKR Convertible feels rather like Jekyll and Hyde. It's simplicity itself to change the fundamental character of the car by flipping the rotary gear selection to 'Sport': gear changes speed up, revs increase and the car leaps forward at the slightest provocation. And yet all this controlled aggression seems very slightly out of place in such serene surroundings. The raw potential is there, buried just beneath a smoothly sculpted surface. Whether you chose to use it is another matter.