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Fast Cat

By Hannah Wallace February 29, 2008

Ford has announced it is in negotiations with Tata Motors of India to sell its money-hemorrhaging Jaguar Cars division. No price has been agreed upon, but Ford likely will lose massive amounts of money after having bought the British automaker for $2.5 billion in 1989.

(Reports are that Tata will pay about $2 billion combined for Jaguar and Land Rover, both owned by Ford as part of its Premier Automotive Group. Ford spent more than $3 billion in 2000 to buy the troubled Land Rover from BMW after that company lost about $5 billion during its ownership.)

With the purchase of Jaguar, Tata Motors would become custodian of a precious history of British racing cars like the D-Jag; of immensely popular consumer designs like the XKE; and of modern luxury cars like this month's tested 2008 Jaguar XKR coupe.

Tata Motors? That's the company that in January announced it will sell a $2,500 new car in India called the Nano. If Tata buys Jaguar, it will also sell a car for $98,060. That's what this Jaguar XKR costs. Think of it this way: A buyer could have this stunningly beautiful Tata Jaguar—or 39 Tata Nanos.

And if you're a buyer strapped for cash, the Nano will get 50 mpg of gasoline—while the Jag XKR delivers 15 mpg on crowded urban Indian streets.

We're only half-joking here. The fact is the Nano is little more than a motorcycle with a hard shell over it. It cannot meet U.S. safety standards and likely never will be sold in this country. And if it has the low quality of the Yugo—a brief sensation at $8,000 in 1986—then buyers would spend its purchase price for repairs in no time flat.

With the Jaguar, a buyer is getting one of the world's top luxury cars. With a Nano, a buyer will get...transportation.

So let's talk Jaguar. Anyone spending nearly $100,000 for a vehicle should expect it to testify to the buyer's good taste and intelligence. The Jaguar XKR will do that. Everywhere I drove, the XKR drew rave comments about its appearance.

The Coke bottle shape is both elegant and functional from an aerodynamic standpoint (returning a sportscar-worthy 0.31 coefficient of drag). The sleek body rests atop special 20-inch wheels that tack $5,000 onto the base price of the car. The monster tires are among the biggest I've ever seen on a road car. They look wide enough to give a dragster maximum grip at launch.

As is typical of Jaguars, the interior of this car is a work of art. The leather seats have large wings left and right of the back and base. These are designed to hold driver and front passenger in place during fast cornering. The seats are of a type designed to minimize whiplash injuries, something pioneered by another Ford acquisition: Volvo.

Finding a comfortable driving position is easy with multiple seat and steering wheel adjustments. Visibility is somewhat compromised, however, by the steep front and rear windows. Headroom is insufficient to wear even a cap, much less a gentlemanly hat.

As is expected at this price, there's a GPS navigation system with a touch-screen map display mid-dash. A problem? Bright sunlight streaming through the front windshield can "wash out" the display.

The XKR is more than merely beautiful. Under the hood is a big 4.2-liter V8 with a supercharger atop it. It produces 420 horsepower and enough torque to pull your local courthouse off its foundation. Full acceleration is controllable as traction control catches any wheel spin from the powerful engine. Sixty miles an hour is reached in 4.9 seconds from a standstill. Brakes are up to the task of stopping this fast cat.

The engine drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted from paddles on the steering wheel. I never found any road safe enough to fully unleash this beast, but can tell you the XKR performs with the best.

All expected safety features are present as standard equipment. This includes vehicle stability control to correct course if cornering becomes a slide.

The XKR features keyless starting and stopping via a button on the dash. Our tester also had a premium audio system that added $1,875 and an advanced technology package of unspecified gizmos for $2,450.

In practical use, it was the XKR's headlights that impressed me most. Headlights have jumped in quantum excellence in the past few years. These lights are automatic, of course. Press the "start" button and, at night, the lights come on with bi-Xenon brilliance. They sweep left, right, up and down, coming to rest at an auto-level position that prevents them from blinding drivers of oncoming traffic.

When a turn is signaled, a separate little headlight comes on to illuminate the signaled direction close to the car; the main beams swing that direction during the turn. Every pedestrian and pet is safer because of systems like this. They should become standard for many cars in years to come.

Just don't expect them on a Tata Nano any time soon.

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