Sales are off for the British automaker's compact and midsize sedans, and the Ford-owned company has been hemorrhaging losses during the past few years against stiff competition from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
Jaguar recently closed its historic Browns Lane plant in Coventry, England, and ditched its Formula One racing team.
But there are still significant bright spots. And here's one of them: the XKR sport coupe.
XKR is an example of what Jaguar does so well. Taking the classically beautiful XK8, Jaguar engineers added supercharging and a sport-tuned suspension that boosts performance into true supercar territory.
Although its curvaceous styling evokes the XK-E coupe of the 1960s, XKR is more of a fast touring car than a sports car. Acceleration is brilliant, the shrill whine of the supercharger adding to the thunderous roar of the V-8.
A quick run on curving Arizona 71, which runs uphill between Winkleman and Globe, demonstrated the power and finesse of this tasty coupe.
In a shrieking tone of salsa red, XKR's curvaceous form accented by stylish 20-inch Detroit wheels and foot-wide tires turned many heads. Those wheels, by the way, are a $6,000 option, which sort of illustrates the exclusive nature of this grand touring machine.
The fully loaded XKR, which starts at $81,330, nudges up close to the six-figure mark.
There are "R" versions of Jaguar's sedans, with the big aluminum XJR derived from the XJ8 and the S-Type R built on the midsize car. Those are also performance machines of the first order.
But the feline form of the XKR coupled with its soaring capabilities really hits the mark. This is Jaguar as it's meant-to-be, beauty and brawn in one desirable package.
What it is The high-performance version of Jaguar's XK8 coupe, XKR exemplifies the British marque's rich heritage of racing and premium road cars.
Performance The 4.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine churns out 390 horsepower, nearly 100 more than the normally aspirated engine found in the XK8. Even for a coupe weighing nearly two tons, that's enough pull to accelerate to 60 mph in just over five seconds, according to Jaguar's figures.
For the uninitiated, a supercharger is a belt-driven pump that forces the air-fuel mixture into the engine's combustion chambers, boosting horsepower and torque.
With a maximum 399 pound-feet of torque, the XKR feels muscular at any speed, roaring into action from a standstill or from 70 mph.
Of course, all that power takes its toll on fuel mileage, rated by the EPA at 16 city and 23 highway, so the XKR carries a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax.
A six-speed automatic is the only transmission available, as it is on all XKs, the lack of a stickshift accentuating the touring nature of these cars. The automatic is nicely calibrated for performance and includes Jaguar's unique "J" gate for manual shifts.
Drivability Equipped with a handling package for more stiffness and control, the XKR feels ready to romp, with solid cornering and precise response. The package also includes a set of mighty Brembo disc brakes.
Standard on the XKR is Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension ( CATS - get it?) that continuously adjusts the shock absorbers depending on road conditions, speed, hard braking and cornering forces.
The ride can get jostling at times, especially over city streets, but the firm compliance on the highway or back roads makes it worth the occasional stiff jolt.
The adaptive cruise control, which uses a radar sensor to adjust the speed automatically to traffic ahead, was abrupt and annoying. The car would rush up behind a slower vehicle, then drop speed harshly while applying the brakes. I hated it.
Styling A classic form that looks sleek and refined at any angle, evoking the XK-E without being retro, the coupe is truly a gorgeous car. The coupe's roofline is right on target.
All the R Jaguars get bright mesh grilles to differentiate them from the standard models, which is especially effective on the XKR. A louvered hood also sets it apart from the regular XK8.
Interior Lush and fragrant with wood and leather, the XKR interior continues the tradition of nicely tailored Jaguar interior, in the British style. However, the controls and gauges look like they came straight off the Ford assembly line, lacking the refinement of the rest of the car.
Though listed as a four-seater, the coupe is really for two humans only. The back seat is pathetically small, lacking both headroom and legroom. Consider it upholstered luggage space.
The front seats fairly tight and the ceiling is low, so that anyone with extra height or eight weight may feel cramped.
The interior is loaded with standard luxury equipment, including a navigation system standard on the XKR model.
Pricing Base price on the XKR is a lofty $81,330, with the test car trimmed out with that $6,000 wheel package; $3,000 for the handling package; $2,200 for adaptive cruise control; $300 for leather steering wheel and shift knob; $250 for red brake calibers; and shipping, $665.
And let's not forget the $1,000 gas guzzler tax, all of which push the price tag to a lofty $94,745.
Bottom line XKR is a lovely and powerful coupe priced out of range of most people but carrying on Jaguar's sporting tradition.