Jaguar has been no stranger to column inches over the decades. From the 1970s through to, oh, I don't know, somewhere around 2005, it was usually for all the wrong reasons. The cars were always luxurious and usually nice to look at. They were almost always decent to drive and yet the problems experienced by buyers who boycotted reliable German brands for something with some proper English cache almost sank the company. Customer satisfaction surveys must have been read by Jag's top brass through their fingers. If you valued style over substance then a Jaguar was your car of choice but, if you rather liked getting to the office on the same day you set off, you went for a Merc, BMW or anything without a leaping cat for a badge.
That's changed, evidently for good. Apart from build quality issues, Jaguar sacked the stylists who seemed obsessed with making every new model a pastiche of former glories (which bored prospective purchasers the world over) and recruited former Aston design boss Ian Callum. He set about providing Jaguar with a modern design language while the engineers got to grips with build quality, and the results are now quite astonishing.
With the overdue death of the ugly S-Type (replaced by the beautiful XF) and X-Type (replaced with nothing, as it was an irrelevance to a sporting luxury brand), and the introduction of the XK in 2006, as well as an all-new XJ that still shocks two years on with its controversial and futuristic looks, there's been a Jaguar sales resurgence that seemed an impossibility just a decade ago. Jaguar owners are getting younger, and the cars are getting better and better all the time. And the transformation of the company's fortunes started with the XK.I've driven plenty of these cars while in the UK but my time in the UAE has been entirely Jag-free until now. With the recent announcements of planned production of the C-X75 hybrid supercar and the C-X16, which perfectly captures the spirit of the legendary E-Type, Jaguar is riding the crest of a wave and I thought it was high time I got back inside an XK. One with a supercharger, thank you very much.
The XKR is an incredibly versatile performance car and I've been looking forward to experiencing the latest model for some time, but the shock of what turns up at my apartment is palpable. What HAVE they done? The colour scheme on this test car is, let's be kind here, lurid. With massive lime green and silver decals covering the entire length of the car and a Jaguar cat seeming to leap out from each rear wheelarch, this thing is going to turn heads, all right. I just fear for all the wrong reasons.
I'm missing the point somewhat, though, because Jaguar's Middle East team had decided to have a bit of fun with it and I should just stop being a grump. Lighten up, Hackett. I still hate the black painted wheels, though. And turn heads this thing certainly does. On the E11 between Dubai and Abu Dhabi during morning rush hour, I rapidly become conscious of every other road user straining to check it out. The driving standards are mad enough on this stretch of road - I don't want to be responsible for any more accidents.
Handy, then, that the XKR's supercharged 5.0L V8 develops a heady 503hp and 625Nm of twist, because it makes for a fast getaway from the seemingly suicidal drivers trying to invade the Jag's personal space. I'd forgotten just how urgent these things feel - one flex of the right foot and the big cat growls with a bass baritone bellow and instantly shoots toward the horizon with effortless pace.