By Alex Taylor III
September 10, 2008

As Ford Motor burns its deck chairs so that it can stay afloat, Jaguar, along with its

British stable mate Land Rover, has been sold off to India’s Tata Motors.  But Jaguars continue to be built in Coventry, its ancestral home. So the special qualities infusing Jaguars that the come from the air, water, and heritage of the English Midlands continue to be integral to the Jaguar experience.

Jolly good, I say.  None of the late 20th century Jaguar sedans were particularly appealing, inasmuch as they appeared to be a combination of backward-looking design and insufficiently forward-looking ergonomics and packaging.  Not so the XK coupe and roadster that went into production in 1996 and continues on to this day.  Whatever they may have lacked in benchmark engineering, they more than made up for in presence and panache.

The highest and best expression of those qualities can be found in the 2009 XKR convertible in which I spent a thoroughly enjoyable late-summer week. Everything one would hope for in a car of this specification – style, performance, and comfort, along with a surplus of je ne sais quoi – was delivered effortlessly by the leaping cat.   Such pleasure does not come cheaply, and the Jag is doubly burdened by the economic restrictions of its low production volume as well as the muscular (if declining) exchange rate for the pound sterling.  But in an era when a fine watch can set back an affluent buyer $35,000, three times that amount for an ultra fine automobile like the XKR does not seem excessive.

For mine was the Portfolio model, a limited edition with special paint, wheels, brakes, and interior.  The leather, oak veneer and other fittings in particular were executed with exquisite taste and discretion (aside from a few bits of misplaced plastic) that I viewed as comparable to the work in Jag’s higher end cousin, Aston Martin.

All that extra finery carries a price premium of $7,500 over the base XKR.  The powertrain, on the other  hand, is identical to that in the base XKR and that is all to the good. The supercharged 4.2 liter V-8 produces an abundance of power at the tap of atoe – delivered smoothly and effortlessly. Should you be in a real hurry, it will launch you to 60 miles an hour in five seconds flat.  At nearly 4,000 pounds, the Jag is a grand tourer, not a sports car, but it still feels nicely balanced and responsive to all the critical  driver inputs.

For those who find themselves less buffeted by today’s economic cross-currents than most of us,  the Jag will make a handsome second or third car in nicer garages, where it can serve as a symbol of one of the the high points of the rapidly shrinking British auto industry.  The folks at Tata have pledged to leave Jaguar in the UK  for the foreseeable future.  Let’s hope they live up to that promise and Jaguars continue to benefit from it.

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Note: I also write a column for Fortune.com called MotorWorld. In a recent story, I got hold of  an internal analysis for Renault-Nissan when it was talking with General Motors about an alliance in 2006. I criticized GM’s top executives for backing away from the proposal and for failing to take bold action, partly to protect their jobs. GM declined to comment for the story, but has subsequently submitted a response. You can read it here and my column here.

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