"What's new pussycat?" I cry. "Don't you mean big cat," I hear you retort, puzzled, knowing I'm referring to the XKR Convertible; after all, Jaguars the world over are known for their feline qualities. But I'm not referring to a beast - in a sense. I am referring to the Tom Jones of cars: one that makes sweet music, waggles its hips with wild abandon and exhibits an extraordinary thrust. If the XKR - in particular the convertible - were a singer, it would be from Wales and be wrapped in leather on the outside as well as in.
It is often a source of entertainment to give a car a personality as I drive, lost in whimsy. I try to find where the vehicle in question would find its place within a given theme. And then it all becomes clear. Just like humans, cars exhibit their own distinct personalities. In the past, I've had the Ford Focus clocked up as a naughty schoolboy, the type that is cocky in class but always remains the teacher's pet. I have likened the Renault Mégane to a Parisienne temptress and the Hummer H2 to a Cypriot underworld businessman. And on a musical theme, the Maserati GranTurismo S is clearly a Pavarotti, albeit without the girth.
But from my first moment in the company of the 2010 XKR, it was clear this epitome of the grand tourer, as red as the great man's face, was Tom. More on this in a moment, but for now a little background on the latest edition of the car that was awarded Car of the Year by so many juries in 2006, the year of its birth (when Tom would have been a stately 66). Crammed into the bonnet, like Tom's meaty legs into their tight leather sheath, is a brand new 5.0-litre V8 supercharged engine that boosts output to 510hp - that's a whopping 125hp more than the naturally aspirated XK variant. In addition, the 461 lb-ft of torque applied en masse to the rear wheels really allows this rocket to take off.
In a nutshell, it's considerably faster than the version it replaces, with a 0-100kph time of 4.9 seconds with a 250kph limit on its top speed. Apparently, this power belies the XKR's level of economy - aided by its lightweight aluminium build - which has improved considerably, as have emissions. All the power and torque make themselves known immediately as the Jag fires off the line, wiggling from side to side as if dancing to It's Not Unusual.
Like Tom, the XKR is a live, untamed beast when it's asked to perform, something to consider in an urban setting; putting on too much power at, say, a tight right turn could easily cause the rear to drift away. This much power requires time to absorb and read, but with a little concentration and application it becomes part of the real joy of this car. With the power under control, it is easy to make the most of the joy that is the initials ZF. The previous model's gearbox is retained and why would you change it? Changes are quick and precise in automatic mode, but it's far more fun to take on the paddles and work that brute of an engine hard.
Another source of pleasure is the delicious sonic quality it exudes from its newly tuned exhaust. Imaging Tom leading a chorus of Delilah at a Wales rugby international and you have some idea of the two-tone hubbub the car will emit. In cruising mode, the XKR burbles away with a throaty V8 blare. But once on the throttle, the muffler opens up to broadcast all sorts of heaven-sent chords of sweet cacophony.
This is a signature that epitomises the golden days of 1960s motoring, something that Jaguar, even though it has of late brought its designs into the modern era, has encapsulated within the bowels of the XKR. Not only does it look like a grand tourer but it feels and sounds like one in the traditional spirit. The ride, too, is nothing short of sublime with generous cushioning that is tremendously befitting of the marque. Taking out the raw power of the engine for a moment, the handling is lithe and supple at moderate revs and the steering is precise. Sat at a low altitude a distance back from the lengthy bonnet, the Jaguar gives the impression that you first manoeuvre its tip and sooner or later the rest will follow, albeit with the utmost meticulousness.
Given the Jones-like fleshy dimensions of the XKR's flanks, this is a car that looks as good with the top down as with it up, and the strong air conditioning and well-placed vents will see you well even in Dubai's midsummer. The only trouble, at least in the test car, was that the mechanism didn't deliver the hood housing flush into place. Which brings us back to Tom. No matter how Jaguar have worked to modernise the look and the feel of the XKR, it is still an old-timer wrapped inside a modern façade. The interior is handsome but it still exhibits old-fashioned traits in its design and materials.
In spite of the carmaker's stated aim to bring Jaguar forward into a new era, there is still so much of the car's DNA rooted in its heyday of the swinging '60s that the bold, new looks that arrived in 2006 are not enough to convince. And just as Tom Jones is a musical treasure always to be associated with that era, maybe Jaguar grand tourers are destined for the same greatness. firstname.lastname@example.org