In one of the ubiquitous warehouses-turned-photography-studios in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood, the British marque showcased product from its vaunted R line of performance vehicles on 26 March, the eve of the 2013 New York auto show.

There was, however, a stray cat on premises.

The XKR-S GT, limited to 30 examples and sold exclusively in North America, handily upstaged the potent if comparatively restrained XJR sedan, which also made its global debut in the space. The track-oriented coupe will list for $174,000 when it goes on sale in August, with the XJR starting at $116,000 – or $119,000 for the displayed long-wheelbase version.

Gesturing toward the black racing stripes overlaying the XKR-S GT’s hood vents, Wayne Burgess, studio director for Jaguar, noted the car bore design cues intended to resonate with a North American buyer. Carbon-fibre front dive planes, like upturned whiskers on a manga comic hero, conspire with a massive rear wing to create downforce. Carbon ceramic brakes, the first fitted to a Jaguar, are hugged by bright yellow calipers. Under that slit-strewn expanse of hood lies a 5-litre V8 engine, producing 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque.

A North American special edition is not common practise for Jaguar. Stuart Schorr, vice president of communications for Jaguar North America, allowed that there “might be occasion after launch to reevaluate” the car’s prospects for global sales. “The car came about from a conversation between the product guys in the UK and the product guys in the US,” he said. “We asked for this.”

In contrast, intentions for the XJR are global. That sedan also uses the venerable 5-litre supercharged V8 engine, matching output figures of the hardcore XKR-S GT. The requisite R badging on the wire-mesh grille, flanks, trunk lid and leather seats impart stealth that once distinguished BMW’s high-performance M vehicles, before their fenders flared and side strakes widened to farcical proportions.

This most emphatically British of brands hopes that a strategy of high horsepower and exclusivity will defuse any worry that, absent a volume-oriented BMW 3 Series fighter, the company’s priorities are out of alignment. For now the plan seems effective; the Jaguar stand was mobbed on 27 March, the first day of press previews here. And the coming F-Type convertible should rightfully be the unofficial dream car of the summer.  But there is no escaping the pervasive sense that Jaguar needs to draw more important cats out of its bag – and soon.