It’s been a while since Jaguar’s XJ220 debacle, but those involved at the time will never forget it. In 1988 Jaguar showed a very beautiful concept car powered by a 48-valve V12 motor driving all four wheels. In the tertiary stage of Thatcher’s bull market, orders were not hard to find. But when the car went into production in 1993, it and the world were very different. It was not just the economy that had shrunk in the interim: the XJ220 was smaller, had lost its all-wheel drive and dropped half its cylinders. Ugly rumours that its V6 was based on that in the Metro 6R4 rally car abounded. Suddenly the £403,000 list price didn’t look so appealing after all.
It’s been almost 20 years since the XJ220 project turned sour, but it’s only now that Jaguar has felt able to offer a car for sale with a six-figure price tag. The XKR-S convertible is a very different kind of supercar to the XJ220, but, coincidentally or otherwise, has the same 542bhp and, at £103,000, is pushing the Jaguar brand back into a territory in which it has long feared to tread.
As I’ve mentioned before, I think the fast open sports car is a fundamentally flawed concept, but it should be said that this Jaguar has impressive answers for the inherent issues of structural weakness and refinement at speed. Besides, despite being Jaguar’s most sporting open car for many years and its pumped-up appearance, it’s still not a true sports car. It’s a sporting Grand Tourer whose ageing and tonsorially-challenged owners are unlikely to require it to deliver ultimate dynamic finesse. It’s more likely they’ll want it to be comfortable, fast and make a great noise.
Such buyers will not be disappointed. This is one of those rare rapid machines that is actually improved for the removal of its roof: the performance loss is negligible, the gain in automotive theatre palpable. Roof down, you can hear the 5-litre supercharged motor in all its glory. And if I tell you that even in North America, where the noise of a V8 is part of the soundtrack of daily life, that one blip of the throttle is enough to gain the undivided attention of an entire street, you’ll have a good understanding of this Jaguar’s simple but undeniable charms.
Engine: 5.0 litres, eight cylinders, supercharged
Top Speed: 186mph (limited)
Power: 542bhp at 6500rpm
Fuel/co2: 23.0mpg, 292g/km