FREDRICKSBURG, Tex. -- A romp through Texas Hill Country, zipping along crooked ranch roads across a rugged landscape scored with limestone embankments and fuzzy evergreen cedars, shows off the wily manners for a new iteration of XKR, a sensuous 2+2 sports coupe from Jaguar geared for performance with a huge posse of horses hitched beneath the exaggerated hood.
Our tester XKR -- rolling on optional 20-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels with ultra low-profile tires linked to gigantic brake discs and red-tinted calipers -- packs a supercharged version of Jaguar's big V8 engine and a sophisticated ZF electronic automatic transmission with six forward gears.
Twist the console's rotary shifter dial one notch to the right for Sport mode to activate shifter paddles on the steering wheel and you can play the upshift/downshift game when slicing apexes on the twisty ranch roads.
Or put your foot into the pedal on rare straight stretches in the Texas hills only if you dare -- this awesome machine rips to arrest-me speed in eye-blink time.
It's so quick off the line, capable of charging from a standing start to 60 mph in only 4.6 seconds.
And -- if you have the courage on a straight stretch of pavement -- you'll discover that the maximum potential speed (electronically limited) climbs to 155 mph.
Despite its sporty manners and the potential for triple-digit speed thrills, the XKR for 2011 is so beautiful we want to park it and simply treat our eyes to all of those slinky body shapes.
Long in the prow and low in stance, the GT-style coupe presents a tightly sculpted body and muscular fender bulges rippling around enormous low-profile tires with a low arching line of the roof drawn across a snug and sporty 2+2 cockpit.
A drop-top version bereft of the hardtop lid is also available, with the primary difference between coupe and convertible occurring with the latter's power-motivated retractable lid, which is fully lined and contains a rear window of clear glass.
We slot the XK series into the prestige luxury sports segment, those beautiful but rare supercars which seat only two -- plus occasionally two more -- in the lap of luxury while fully capable of hurling everyone aboard into warp-speed nirvana.
XK cars resurrect styling cues from Jaguar's 1960s icon XK-E, thanks to the extended hoodline and aerodynamic prow.
But the chassis of 2011 XK cars is strictly state of the art as an unconventional unibody structure composed of lightweight aluminum rather than weighty steel.
Choosing aluminum as the car's building blocks forges a stiffer structure because it's put together with self-piercing aluminum rivets and heat-cured glues in techniques lifted from the aerospace industry to create an ultra-rigid frame measuring much stiffer than a similar body crafted with steel.
Enormous aluminum presses at Jaguar's Castle Bromwich body assembly plant in Birmingham, England, stamp out one-piece bodyside panels, as well as other components including frame and cross brace supports, roof, hood and decklid.
All comes together to forge the super-rigid and lightweight structure.
XK's wheelbase stretches for nine feet long and the wheel track width draws more than five feet wide to construct a platform of substantial size with room to house the 2+2 cockpit.
As a premium personal luxury car geared for high performance, the XK design scheme tucks between the long prow and curt tail a passenger compartment with only two doors and seats for up to four riders.
Space in the cabin is admittedly modest in the rear but up front on broad buckets clad in twin-stitched leather hides there's virtually every conceivable amenity aboard for luxurious comfort.
Slabs of polished hardwood in four different choices line dash and console, and the instrument panel holds round analog gauges in easy-to-read electronic displays.
The center dash shows a touch-screen panel to manage climate, entertainment and navigation systems.
Standard XK equipment includes a DVD navigation system, keyless push-button start device, xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, rear parking assist (RPA), a premium surround-sound system (Bowers & Wilkins) with in-dash six-CD changer, satellite radio and USB interface.
XKR standards go further with piano black wood veneer dressing switch gear, a heated windshield, active headlights and adaptive cruise control.
All XK models employ a four-wheel independent suspension in aluminum, with double wishbones in front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear plus Adaptive Dynamics active damping.
Speed-sensitive variable-assist power rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes with computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS) controls plus electronic brake distribution (EBD), emergency brake assist (EBA) and corner brake control (CBC) improve motion maneuvers for XK cars.
Further, a dynamic stability controller (DSC) is aboard. It applies brake and throttle automatically to correct potentially dangerous yaw behavior.
And XKR adds active differential control (ADC).
Jaguar's big V8 -- displacing 5.0 liters off an aluminum block with 32 valves and four-cam configuration -- motivate the XK cars.
In the naturally aspirated version for XK Portfolio, the V8 delivers 385 hp at 6500 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm.
Then add an Eaton blower as well as dual inter-coolers to fashion a supercharged plant for XKR.
This extra equipment, which forces more cool air into each cylinder to enrich the mix of fuel and oxygen needed for combustion, makes more power with each cycle of ignition.
As a result, the supercharged engine rips to 510 hp at 6000 rpm and sends torque soaring to 461 lb-ft between 2500 and 5500 rpm.
Jaguar presents the 2011 XK Portfolio coupe with MSRP of $83,000.
The 2011 XKR coupe lists for $96,125, while a XKR175 75th-anniversary coupe (limited to 175 issues in special black paint) caps the series at $104,625.