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Jaguar XKR 75
8/10

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Road Test

Jaguar XK R 75 driven

Driven August 2010

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"Cross," says Mike Cross, as we barrel along a B-road somewhere in Oxfordshire. "Doesn't really have the same ring as ‘Balboni', does it?"

Jaguar's chief chassis engineer, general ride/handling compromise über-guru and TopGear hero is driving ‘his' new Jaguar XKR 75 and he's not hanging around. He knows this road well, and the car even better. And what a car it is. 

Small but significant tweaks to the Jaguar XKR have made this one harder, sportier, faster. It was a project started by Cross and his engineers in their spare time, the objective being a more racy XKR, one that dipped further toward the ‘handling' end of the ride/handling compromise than any Jaguar has done for years. The weekend project has become reality, and we're glad of it.

I'd put it to Cross that, because this machine we're riding in was largely created by him and ‘sold' to the Jaguar marketing guys by him, surely it should be called the ‘XKR Cross' rather than XKR 75 (a moniker denoting the number of cars that will be built in this limited-edition run). And so he'd come out with the line about his name and Balboni's, delivered in a dry Brummy drawl. No, ‘Cross' doesn't have the same ring as ‘Balboni', Lamborghini's famous test driver who had a rear-wheel-drive Gallardo named after him, but boy, any Italian supercar maker would still love to have this bloke on their books. As Mike guides the XKR 75 through another series of medium-speed switchbacks with consummate grace and precision, all minimal input and perfect line, the car perfectly balanced on its tyres, he continues:

"The Italian language is fabulous, isn't it? They can even make ‘four-door' sound romantic..."

Anyway, what do we have here? The standard XKR is no lemon, with its magnificent 5.0-litre supercharged V8 developing a useful 503bhp and 457lb ft of torque. This version has been given a chunk of extra oomph thanks to a throaty new sports exhaust, which liberates a further 20bhp and 26lb ft according to the official figures, though it feels like more than that from where I'm sitting. Cross hints that it might be more, closer to 540bhp, handled by a revised ZF six-speed automatic box with a more aggressive shift pattern.

It is a seriously fast car, nailing 0-62mph in 4.4secs and 0-100mph in 8.9. Top speed is limited to 174mph - it would go close to 200mph unrestricted. There are no changes to the interior, but the 75 gets unique wheels and paint to mark it out from run-of-the-mill XKRs. It's expensive: £85,500, or ten large ones more than a non-75. What price exclusivity? There's your answer. Ten grand.

My turn to drive, and the car immediately feels more keen to change direction than I remember, settles faster, noses in more urgently - it's stiffer, yes, but not too stiff for a Jaguar. Mike asks whether I think it could be even stiffer than it is, to make more of a difference to the standard XKR, and I answer in the negative. Cross is limited by the Jaguar badge - any stiffer and the ride would become uncomfortable, jarring. As it is, that last 10 per cent of harshness is smoothed out by expensive-feeling damping, despite the car running 15mm lower on its suspension than standard. I try the car with the ‘dynamic drive' dampers set to ‘race' and the car stiffens yet again. But it's still not so hard as to jar your teeth, even over fairly harsh mid-corner bumps. This would be the preferred mode if you wanted to take this 1,750kg (approx) car onto the track. I preferred the fluidity and compliance of the car in ‘normal'.

The steering is light but precise, and you soon get into a fast, effortless flow with the car, all easy balance, wonderful throttle response and powerful, progressive brakes - and the gearbox is sublime, too, blipping on downshifts and engaging upshifts quickly. And praise be, if you put it in sport mode it doesn't change up for you, just hits the limiter. No mollycoddling here.

On a road like this, the 75 works with you better than any other GT of its size and weight in the world, feeling like it throws its mass somewhere about two yards outside of its frame through every corner. And all the while you are cosseted by comfortable seats, high-quality leather and plenty of kit. The new exhaust is considerably louder than the standard car's, especially with the ‘sport' mode activated and the baffles opened all the way through the rev range - but it's not so loud as to be droning or tiring. You could drive to the Nürburgring, do a lap, and drive back none the worse for wear. Maybe one day we'll do just that.

It is beautifully judged by a master chassis tuner, in essence. And it has enough extra power to be worth that extra cash, if you're well-heeled enough to consider it. It would give the £88,995 Aston Martin V8 Vantage an awfully hard time in a face-off test, and not only because it has two more seats and about 100bhp more than the little Aston. The big Jag has a certain poise and subtlety on the road that the Aston lacks.

Hmmmm. Maybe we should be comparing this car with the 470bhp V12 DB9. It's a closer match with its four seats, but is still down on power compared with the mighty Jag. OK, so up the tree we go to the DBS, then, with its 510bhp 6.0-litre V12. We're not seriously suggesting the XKR 75 is a rival for that magnificent beast, but in some crucial ways - power, torque, refinement, ride, interior fittings - it beats it. The DBS lists at £170,500.

We shouldn't let the XKR drop off our radar, that's the point, and this special edition certainly helps us remember what's great about the sleekest Jag. Beautiful, graceful, exceptionally fast and inspiring as well, the 75 is an XKR+, an XKR-R, an XKR SS, if you like. But most of all, it's an XKR Cross. Name change required, please, Jaguar - even if it doesn't even if it doesn't have the same ring as ‘Balboni'.

Bill Thomas

On your drive for: £2,108pcm
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.4secs, max speed 174mph, n/a mpg
Tech: 5000cc, V8, RWD, 523bhp, 483lb ft, n/a kg, n/a g/km CO2

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