By Alex Taylor III
August 11, 2009

Jaguar is at another turning point in its storied and eventful history. It is operating under a new owner, Tata Motors of India, while it launches models developed under its old owner, Ford.

The global economic downturn hasn’t been kind to Jaguar but it hasn’t impacted its product cycle either. Coming soon to dealers is the XF-R, a supercharged version of the midsize sedan, and an all-new XJ — the Jaguar flagship.

The model under review, the XK-R, has also been reworked for 2010. The spiritual, if not functional, successor to the historic XK-E, this two-plus-two features a new supercharged V-8 engine that puts out 510 horsepower and hustles the coupe to 60 miles per hour in a reported 4.6 seconds — should you have an opportunity to exercise it in that fashion.

The interior has been made over as well, with instruments and a silver rotary gear selector adapted from the XF. The gear selector has been criticized by some as too gimmicky, but I found it more ergonomically suitable than the dashboard mounted switches that the German luxury car makers have been experimenting with.

Historically, Jaguars have been among the most esthetically-pleasing (if not mechanically accomplished) cars on the road, and, for me, the XK-R is one of the Jag’s greatest hits. There isn’t a false note or awkward line on it, and the overall shape, with the long hood and suavely tapered rear, is enormously appealing.

The car drove the way it looks, smoothly and effortlessly. The level of intensity it required entirely depended on the demands made by the driver. All of its power and dynamic capability waited unobtrusively until it was requested.

The price for this élan is not insignificant. With 20” wheels and special paint, the total suggested retail price on my car came to $102,000. For those whose lives can accommodate what is basically a two-seat hatchback, and have the means at their disposal to afford it, the XK-R is a worthy investment.

Jags are still made in the U.K. and still source most of their parts from the British homeland. So those who turn up their noses at the idea of this fine old marque under Indian ownership have no substantive issues on which to base their bias.

Yet, as Tata, which bought Jaguar in 2008, enters Western markets for the first time, it is faced with a significant challenge. It has inherited a piece of automobile history that has been buffed to a high sheen by its previous owner. It remains to be seen what Tata make of the automotive heritage with which it has been entrusted.

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