A drive in Coventry’s latest proves that there’s a lot to be said for the cobbler sticking to his last
If there were a single rule that all car manufacturers interested in survival should follow it is simply: stick to what you’re good at. Examples abound of those which forgot what made them great in the first place, only to find the ice cracking around their feet. Lotus stopped making lightweight, affordable sportscars in the 1970s and suffered accordingly. Renault, Citroen and Peugeot have always struggled to make their large cars sell because the public sees them as small-car manufacturers. Mercedes-Benz built its formidable name by over-engineering its cars, so when it started building cars to standards no better than its rivals its customers soon gave it the kicking it so rightly deserved. And then there’s Jaguar: whoever had the idea of turning it into a volume manufacturer spinning unworthy cars off a Mondeo platform has done so much damage to a cherished marque that time alone will tell if the situation can be recovered.
The only good news in all of this is that, at least so far as emotive marques like Jaguar are concerned, the public has both a long memory and rose-hued specs. How else could Alfa Romeo have made it into the 21st century? Moreover, history in general, and the Lotus Elise in particular, tells us that if a marque sees the errors of its ways and goes back to making the type of car on which its reputation was founded, said public will tend once more to queue down the street for it.
Which is exactly what they’re already starting to do to get their hands on the new Jaguar XKR. Quick, light, equally great when driven hard or at a steady cruise, it is an XK120 or an E-type for the modern generation. It looks great in the flesh and has a phenomenal presence on the road: you’d need blue flashing lights to materially improve its ability to clear an outside lane.
At its heart lies the same 4.2-litre supercharged V8 motor found in the last XKR, but with its output tickled up some 20bhp to 415bhp, and with the XKR’s all-ally frame reducing weight by 80kg, performance has taken a significant step forward, taking it to 60mph in less than five seconds despite the traction limitations of its front-engine, rear-drive configuration and its auto ‘box. Its acceleration is more imperious than apocalyptic but with a power-to-weight ratio superior to that of an Aston Martin DB9, few are likely to find it inadequate.
Indeed the real appeal of the XKR is that it is an everyman without ever seeming a jack of all trades. If you want to waft calmly down to the South of France, few cars will deliver you in better condition, while should you for some reason wish to burn your rear tyres in an orgy of oversteer, it will be obliging and tolerant when other cars would have planted you in the nearest hedge.
It’s not perfect: the interior is a little cheap-looking, I hate its tacked-on rear spoiler and the supercharger has an awesome thirst when pushed, but on the whole, and as a car to return Jaguar to the sunlit uplands, I can think of few better, more appropriate ways of getting there than this.