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The in-dash display also serves as the primary interface for all the XKR's entertainment and communications features. For music playback, the system supports regular CDs and MP3 and WMA-encoded discs, providing a useful interface for navigating folders and tracks for the latter. Sirius Satellite radio is available as an option, but there was no evidence of an auxiliary-input jack for hooking up our iPod, nor does Jaguar provide an option for an intelligent iPod connector.
On a more tech-friendly note, the 2008 XKR Convertible does come with Bluetooth hands-free calling as standard. With a phone paired, drivers are presented with an onscreen keypad to dial outgoing calls, which is accessible even when the car is moving along. Incoming calls can be answered and all calls can be ended using the voice button on the left of the steering wheel, which also doubles as a useful one-touch means of muting the audio system.
The other notable tech feature of the XKR's cabin is its secondary LCD display located between the speedometer and the tach in the instrument panel. This rectangular, full-color display gives helpful--and very visible--information on the car's systems, such as open doors and engine notices, as well as trip information and figures on average mileage.
Under the hood
A few logos, some boy-racer cosmetics, and some minor luxury features may be the only things to differentiate the XKR from its XK sibling while the car is standing still, but on the open road, the difference is startling. With the addition of a supercharger, the XK's all-aluminum AJ V-8 gets an upgrade from 300 to 420 horsepower. This is enough to catapult the XKR to 60 mph in 5 seconds, and sufficient to justify the car's specially bolstered seats during cornering.
With the top down, the most striking thing about driving the XKR with gusto is the sound of the engine, which, to borrow a phrase from Jeremy Clarkson's scriptwriter, sounds like the god of thunder gargling with nails. The only real way to maximize the potential of the XKR's sequential shift transmission is to use the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. These give drivers the advantage of being able to hold the gears longer as well as a useful throttle blip during each gear change. In fast acceleration, this extra squirt of juice during upshifts leads to a satisfyingly linear acceleration, while in downshifts it makes torque instantly accessible.
A byproduct of the throttle-blip in city driving is that the XKR Convertible announces itself with a throaty snarl when pulling up to a stoplight, grabbing the attention of those few passersby who had failed to notice it from its stunning looks alone. For those who don't want to drive the XKR like a sports car (who are you?), the gearbox can be left to its own devices in either regular drive or sport mode.
To make the most of our early Christmas present, we took the XKR Convertible through its paces on some of the straightest and most deserted roads in central California, with our particular favorite being I-198 between 101 and I-5. There, amid the tundra and the craggy mountains, we managed to do justice to the Big Cat's whirlwind acceleration and handling prowess. While the performance stats of the XKR Convertible are undeniably impressive, the car's power arrives without the brute force of the Ford Shelby GT-500. Gunning the throttle from standing results in a whine from the supercharger as the XKR's hood rises up and the car rears back on its 20-inch wheels, but the forward momentum is smooth and the speedometer can arrive in extra-legal territory with worrying ease.
Our favorite aspect of driving the XK was its consummate handling and balance, and the XKR Convertible delivers an equally razor-sharp ride. Front and rear springs and dampers are enhanced on the XKR to the tune of 38 percent and 24 percent, respectively. Added to the model's 52/48 weight distribution, Jaguar's eCATS two-stage damping system, and the XKR's monocoque body structure leads to a delightfully surefooted ride.
Apart from our canyon carving, we put in a good deal of freeway time in the XKR Convertible, covering more than 400 miles in our time with the car. Over this distance, we observed an average gas mileage of 18.4 mpg. Nothing to boast about, but much better than our observed average in city-only driving, which came in at a dismal 12 mpg.
Outside of the United States, the XKR Convertible is equipped with Jaguar's innovative Pedestrian Deployable Bonnet System (PDBS), which fires a pyrotechnic charge underneath the hood in the event of a frontal impact to provide a cushion between the hood itself and the engine underneath it. The system takes less than one-tenth of a second to deploy and is aimed at reducing the impact of a collision on pedestrians. Bizarrely, the system is not available in the United States, according to Ford, because of "U.S. safety regulations."
Our 2008 Jaguar XKR Convertible came with a base price of $92,035. To that we added $5,000 for 20-inch Senta wheels, the $2,500 Luxury Package (soft-grain leather seats, soft-grain leather-wrapped instrument panel, doors, and center console, power fold feature on exterior mirrors, 16-way power-adjustable seats, heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, and leather-trimmed gearshift knob), the $2,450 Advanced Technology Package (Adaptive Cruise Control and Front Park Control), and $1,875 for the premium sound system. All told, our Big Cat prowled off the lot for an eye-watering $104,275. Well-heeled prospective customers might also want to consider the Mercedes-Benz CL550 (for a bit more cabin tech), or the BMW M6 (for a bit more performance hooliganism). For a combination of comfort, luxury, performance, and styling, however, the XKR Convertible is about as good as it gets.