When I sit at home and fantasize about driving a Jaguar, the star of the scene is a circa-1967 cream-white E-Type piercing the back roads of a dewy green British countryside. Brown-leather kid gloves are always included. So when I learned that I'd get an opportunity to test drive the XKR, the great-grandson of the E-Type, I planned to realize the dream and started scouting stand-ins for England. Mulholland? Coldwater Canyon? What backdrop would suffice?
But then I saw it. No matter how many times you've caught a glimpse of the new Jaguar whirring by, your brain experiences a profoundly different sensation when someone's actually handing you the keys to a metallic black 2011 XKR coupe, with black rims to match. (Not that you even get to insert a key -- ignition requires you only to press a button for start-up, upon which a cylindrical knob rises out of the center console to act as the gear selector. It's like The Jetsons … if the Jetsons had Jaguars.)
My first observation was that the XKR is in no way like the E-Type from my Devonshire dream. Sure, they're both elegant, but the 510-horsepower XKR is not to be treated with kid gloves. The second I laid my eyes on this luxury grand tourer, I nixed my dreams of romantic rolling hills and wanted to get that supercharged V8 on a straightaway, stat. Thankfully, I had a date to meet its predecessor, the 1965 E-Type, owned by a gentleman who lives deep in the Valley off the 101. I set out late so I had an excuse to attack the freeway.
With "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes blasting, I merged onto the highway to test this machine that boasts a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds. What I learned: No matter how sexy the car is, rush hour sucks. After an hour and a half of stop-and-go traffic teasing me all the way to Woodland Hills, I was rewarded with a jaunt in the gorgeous E-Type. While nearly 50 years old, the E-Type has impressive torque and an exhaust note that would make you blush. It was a joy to drive, albeit an anxiety-filled experience considering the car was being taken to the Pebble Beach Concours the next day.
Back in the XKR, I was blessed with a wide-open highway, where the Jaguar showed off its Sport Mode, delivering effortless pick-up and eager power. It's as if a supermodel and a jet had a baby. At the end of my three-day test drive -- on which I may or may not have flirted with two speeding tickets -- I can report that four-wheel dreams do come true, and sometimes reality is better than fantasy.
Bell, THR's car correspondent and the daughter of a race-track owner, next appears in the feature A Good Old Fashioned Orgy and on HBO's How to Make It in America.