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"I say, that's a very fine Grand Tourer" said the delightful young man sharing a cookout in the street with his companion pit bull. At least that's how it sounded as it filtered over the transom of the XK while motoring through a questionable section of town. His actual verbiage may have been closer to "Yo, that $#!t is hot," but such is the bliss of driving the 2007 Jaguar XK Convertible, that it immediately transforms your mood and renders the world cheery.
Some vehicles have an inherent sense of self-loathing, almost apologizing for having an internal combustion engine and wheels. The Jaguar XK has no such identity crisis. While it's not the ultimate performer in its segment, if you derive pleasure from Grand Touring, the Jaguar XK has a brace of wily charms to woo your considerable pile of dollars.
The XK's styling is unmistakably Jaguar, with strong haunches and a low-slung form. The grille harks back to the D and E-Types, ovoid with a tasteful crossbar of brightwork capped by the snarling Jaguar insignia. Introverts will hate this car; it's not for inconspicuous motoring, especially in the vibrant shade our tester came in called Frost Blue. The aluminum body is wrapped tightly over the 19-inch wheels, and a sharp crease through the middle of the flanks breaks light with a cleanly defined line aligning with the cuts for the front and rear fascias. The nose and tail, however, aren't quite as perfectly drawn as the previous generation. The headlights look awkward from some angles, almost like the eyes of a fish. The lamps wrap into the fenders in an elongated way that stretches and softens their shape, making the corners of the car less strong.
The tail is more succesfully shaped, but the soft corners, an ill-conceived spoiler, and lots of chunky bumper fascia add up to something that's not one hundred percent graceful. A convertible top isn't helpful at pulling the styling together, either, even though the car was designed first as a convertible, then endowed with a roof for the coupe. None of this is to say that the XK is a bad looking car. It's great looking, in fact. Subjectively, though, the styling left us wishing for something more lithe and musclebound.
The looks will age well – in twenty years this car will still garner comments from passers by. The coupe's roofline is slick, without the kitsch of a cloth top profile, but avoiding the current retractible hardtop fashion pays dividends. The cloth top saves weight versus folding metal, and it stacks compactly enough to leave a modicum of useable space in the trunk. The cargo hold isn't shopping-spree large but a couple of soft bags fit well, and the back seat offers some additional storage space. There's no way an actual human can utilize the rear seats, so you might as well toss stuff back there. The presence of LATCH anchors would be a nice touch, were a child seat to have any hope of fitting. We'd love to see pictures of an XK with those LATCH anchors actually in use. Not only is there not enough space, the bottom cushion would be a topographical nightmare to attempt securely positioning a child seat on. Were you to successfully smoosh the thing in there, whomever has to sit ahead of the child seat will have uncomfortably little legroom.
The interior is a handsome respite from dour coalbins - all black, or single tone interior decor induces ennui, and the Jag avoids that. The color-keyed dash, ivory hued seats and accents of light poplar would give a chromaphobe hives, so naturally, we love it. The materials don't have quite the old-world craftsman feel that Jaguars of yore are known for, but the overall effect cuts the same timeless and dashing line as the exterior. The seats are wonderfully comfortable, and there's a wide range of adjustments available via the door mounted controls, so you can get the bolsters to hug you just right.
Our tester came with the $3300 Luxury Package, the second priciest of the four available packages on the XK. It netted the wonderful 16-way seats with soft hides, handsome 19" alloys, and leather wrapping for the dash, door panels and center stack. Also included in the package are wood trim for the gearshift and steering wheel. The trim on the wheel felt plain weird, though, standing proud of the rim just enough to constantly remind you it's there. The wheel itself had a nice, chunky rim and the speed sensitive steering was unobtrusive, feeling just right during all maneuvers.
Ergonomically, most controls are where you'd expect them, and even though the interior is saddled with an LCD touchscreen, Jaguar fought the temptation to to overutilize the GUI. There's still knobs for the radio and HVAC fan, as well as buttons for temperature selection, demisters, and other commonly reached for functions. Jaguar's traditional J-Gate appears here on the automatic transmission, with steering wheel mounted shift paddles, as well. The roof is an automated affair, but it requires you to hold the button for its entire orchestrated mechanical dance. The top is quick, but it'd be slicker if it had an auto up/down function like the windows.
The main event of any Grand Tourer is the driving, and any gripes melt away once the red button is pressed. The 4.2 liter AJ V8 roars to life with a throaty gurgle. The twin exhaust outlets sing a musclecar tune, surprisingly raucous even. No matter, it's glorious, and we'll take it. The sound of the engine was all the reasoning we needed to keep the top retracted as much as possible. That, and the fact that the car looks a lot better with the roof stowed.
The XK is unabashedly about driving pleasure. While it may not storm as hard as its classmates, the limits of the XK's impressively stiff chassis are far out of the realm where most would feel comfortable, especially considering the $85,000 price. For a roofless car, the structure is incredibly solid. There was just a hint of jiggle from the cowl on the worst of New England roads, but the XK is definitely not a Flexible Flyer.
With Jaguar's eCATS active dampers, the XK is also polite at all times. The ride is supple, even with 19-inch rims wearing staggered tires – 245s up front, 275s out back. Ever-watchful (even when switched off), the stability control won't allow the XK to do something untoward, it's always there as a safety net. Truly, the XK is a highly polished take on the classic musclecar theme; V8 out front under the long hood, low slung body and badass exhaust note. We were flipping the steering wheel mounted paddles and using the transmission's excellent sport mode whenever we could, just to hear the engine sing. The ZF-sourced 6 speed obediently follows the command of the paddles and even rev-matches downshifts. We beat our fuel economy down to 18.45 mpg because we were constantly holding short gears while puttering around town, or calling for downshifts all the time.
9/10ths driving is not what the XK is about, though; anyone interested in all out performance would be wheeling a Z06, which offers a far better price-to-performance ratio. The XK's limits are sufficiently high that you won't even come close to exploring them on public roads, unless you're being an idiot. What the XK excels at is hedonism. The 300 horsepower on tap ensures that the XK won't embarass itself, or you, if the pedal is flattened, and the tight platform has excellent handling and strong brakes encouraging you to take the long way home. "Forget the highway," the AJ V8 whispers emphatically in your ear, "Let's take the back roads." If you must traverse the interstate, the XK can dispatch huge stretches without wearying the driver one bit. Dial the seats in to your body contours, decipher the deceptively simple cruise control, pack the audio system with your best road music, and you'll be fresh as a daisy when you step out of the car on the other side of the continent. It doesn't matter that you were just going to the Piggly Wiggly, the XK puts you under its spell and makes you just want to drive forever.
New Car Test Drive
The sleekest of the cats.
The Jaguar XK is a thoroughly modern car, having completely redesigned and re-engineered for 2007, and it competes well with the latest versions of the Mercedes-Benz SL, BMW 6 Series, and Cadillac XLR.
The outgoing Jaguar sports car, the XK8, lasted 10 years on the market and, toward the end, had become a patchwork as new technologies such as satellite radio, navigation and airbags had to be adapted to it. Its V8 horsepower number began with a 2 instead of a 3, putting it way behind the competition. There were also new safety and emissions goals to be met. So for 2007, Jaguar replaced the XK8 with a brand-new car from the ground up, the first aluminum-chassis sports car in Jaguar's six decades of production.
Riding on a much longer wheelbase than before, the latest XK offers substantially more interior space. The seats are more comfortable, the gauges are nicer, and everything works better. Benefiting from the lightweight chassis, the 4.2-liter V8 propels the XK from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, says Jaguar. Its rigid chassis and the latest CATS adaptive suspension provides a smooth ride and demonic cornering, coupled with accurate steering and powerful brakes. Gone is the old J-gate transmissions shifter, replaced by a more conventional design that offers a Sport mode with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
For 2008, the Jaguar has refined the XK with better interior materials, a concealed (rather than retractable) audio antenna, and more equipment bundled into the optional Luxury Packages. Nineteen-inch run-flat tires are available for 2008, and four new colors have been added for convertible tops. A high-technology, limited-production Portfolio Edition was also introduced.
The XK heritage dates back to the fast and sensual XK-120 of 1949. This latest design of the XK is beautiful and evocative of the breakthrough XK-E of the early 1960s, with some Aston Martin and Ford styling cues thrown in. (Jaguar's Scottish chief designer, Ian Callum, designed the Aston Martin DB-7 and DB-9.)
Like its luscious ancestors, this latest XK is a tasty combination of Jaguar style and traditional British luxury-car wood, leather, and quietness.
The 2008 Jaguar XK coupe ($74,835) and convertible ($80,835) come with a 4.2-liter, 300-horsepower V8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Standard wheels are 18-inch alloys.
The XKR coupe ($86,035) and convertible ($92,035) add a supercharger to the same engine for 420 horsepower. XKRs come with high-performance brakes, active front lighting, and 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside are sport seats with added lateral support, polished stainless pedals, a suede-like Alston headliner and aluminum trim. Outside, the XKR is distinguished by a deeper front valance, mesh grille inserts, and body-color hood louvers.
Standard equipment for all XK models includes all the power accessories and other amenities you'd expect at this level, plus 10-way power seats with memory, DVD navigation, keyless entry and keyless start, a seven-inch video display, Bluetooth capability, cruise control, 160-watt Alpine stereo with 6CD changer, rear park assist, and an electronic parking brake.
The Luxury Package for the XK ($3,300) adds 16-way power seats with adjustable bolsters, soft-grain leather interior, heated leather steering wheel, leather gearshift knob, power-fold exterior mirrors, and 19-inch alloy wheels. A similar package is also available for the XKR ($2,500). The Aluminum Luxury Package for the XK ($8,125) combines the soft leather 16-way seats with aluminum interior trim and 20-inch alloy wheels. Advanced Technology Packages for the XK ($2,750) and XKR ($2,450) add adaptive cruise control, front park control, and (on the XK) active front lighting. The Premium Sound Package ($1,875) comprises an eight-speaker, 525-watt Alpine Premium Dolby surround sound system with Sirius satellite radio (subscription sold separately).
Several wheel options are available as stand-alones, including 19-inch alloys ($1,200), 19-inch chromed alloys ($1,400), 19-inch chromed alloys with run-flat tires ($1,700), and 20-inch alloys ($5,000).
The Portfolio limited edition ($12,000) for the XKR adds Alcon brakes with six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in the rear, 20-inch polished alloy wheels, polished aluminum power side vents, leather-edged floor mats, a 525-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system with Sirius Satellite radio, and Celestial Black metallic paint. Buyers can choose American Walnut or engine-spun aluminum interior trim at no extra cost. Also included is the XKR Luxury Package described above. Jaguar said that just 255 Portfolio Editions would be available in the U.S. Adaptive cruise control is available as a stand-alone option ($2,200).
Safety features for all XKs include front and side air bags, ABS with EBD, traction control, dynamic stability control, and tire-pressure monitor. Also included on convertible models is electronic roll-over protection: If the convertible should roll over, two rollover bars come blasting up through the rear glass to stabilize the rear of the compartment.
The Jaguar XK has been a design icon since 1949, and the latest version (introduced for 2007) looks very much the part. The overhangs are shorter, but the signature voluptuousness is in every panel on the car, and the tires and wheels are more prominent in the design.
The stowaway power convertible top added some width to the rear end of the car to accommodate the steel top cover, but both the coupe and the convertible are stunning cars. We don't need those new front fender badges to tell us that it's a Jaguar, and the taillamps are a bit busy, but otherwise the coupe and convertible are a pair of lovely shapes, carefully adorned.
Most of what is underneath came directly from the all-aluminum-chassis XJ sedan introduced three years ago, and that's a good thing, leading to huge weight reductions with concomitant gains in stiffness, strength and performance.
Part of the total engineering revision introduced for 2007 involved stretching the wheelbase by almost six and a half inches to afford much more interior space.
Inside the latest XK, everything is roomier. The seats were given more travel, and there's more room for humans in all directions. Everything inside was new last year, from the new shifter with a Sport slot to the new dashboard and instrument layout, to the standard touch-screen navigation system.
The seats were given a major redesign, and are much the better for it, with longer cushions, more power adjustments, more enveloping bolsters, and generally more long-distance comfort built in. They're upholstered in Jaguar's traditional leather, of course, and set off by the buyer's choice of walnut veneer, poplar veneer, or aluminum trim panels on the doors and dashboard.
The instruments have more engaging graphics, the layout is better, and the switchgear makes more sense now because of the opportunity to redesign it.
The XK was built up from the idea of a 2+2 roadster. The coupe came after the more complex disappearing hard top design, also as a 2+2. We appreciate what Jaguar is trying to do here, but the rear compartment simply doesn't have room for the average adult occupant. Purses, backpacks, briefcases and satchels, maybe, but not real people. At least not very large people, and not for long distances.
All the controls and switches make sense, especially if you're used to Jaguars. Things work pretty much the same way as the previous XK8 and XKR. The new navigation system is big, bright, colorful, clear and useful with a minimum of fuss.
None of the other coupes and roadsters in this small luxury sports car class are exactly swimming in cargo space, and the XK doesn't move the needle here, either, with 10.6 cubic feet in the coupe, 10.0 cubic feet in the convertible with the top up, and only 7 cubic feet with the top stowed.
Dealing with the XK, working its works, discovering it system by system, was a pleasure. No surprises, no weirdness. We did find the A-pillar to be thicker than we'd like, interfering with our vision in some driving situations, but other than that quibble, the car was quick, quiet, comfortable and easy to use, with strong kudos for the touch-screen design and interface.
The 300-horsepower engine in the Jaguar XK, outfitted with variable valve timing and other improvements for both power and fuel efficiency, wouldn't be competitive with other sports cars in this price range if the car had a steel body and 700 pounds more weight. But with only the 3600-pound body and chassis to carry around, the engine is pretty darn good. It sounds especially mean and nasty at full throttle because of some extra valves and plumbing in the exhaust system, especially with the convertible top stowed. In sixth gear cruising, though, it's a near-inaudible pussycat.
The six-speed automatic with manual control, a Sport mode, and shifter paddles on the steering wheel, is about three levels of sportiness better than the outgoing transmission and the old J-gate shifter. The new twin-clutch transmission allows extremely quick, positive shifts between gears, with little or no lurching on upshifts and a nice, growly throttle blip on downshifts. This is an improvement on the similar ZF transmission Ford uses in the Aston Martin DB9, now with better hardware and software. It can sense aggressive driving and adapt accordingly, limiting upshifts in long corners in Sport mode, and giving instant multiple downshifts when conditions are right.
The engine/transmission combination is good for about 5.9-second 0-60 times and 14.4-second quarter-mile sprints, according to Jaguar, with an electronic speed limit of 155 mph. The EPA rates the XK at 16/25 mpg city/highway, thus avoiding any gas-guzzler tax. But Jaguar does recommend premium fuel.
Hugely stiffer than the outgoing car on the basis of its riveted and bonded aluminum construction, almost 50 percent stiffer in bending and much stiffer in torsion, the current XK offers the kind of silky smooth ride and demonic cornering that great sports cars have always had. It's helped by the completely retuned CATS adaptive suspension system with faster-acting, smarter shock absorbers that work with the engine and transmission to immediately react to the situation and driver's intention. The tuning is roughly 10 percent stiffer in the front and 4 percent stiffer in the rear than the old car. There are several assist modes to the CATS system, including completely off, for track days.
Another byproduct of the stiff chassis is the steering accuracy. It's without question the tightest, heftiest, and quickest Jaguar power steering in history, but nowhere near the point of skittishness. Solid, stable, and planted. The traction control system now features a Trac mode that keeps everything on but allows a higher threshold of yaw, letting the car get sideways in corners for those owners who go to Jaguar Club track days.
The new XK models are fitted with a choice of 18-, 19-, or 20-inch wheels and tires. Base tires are Continental P245/45ZR18s front and P255/45ZR18s rear. Dunlop SP Sport 01 asymmetric high-performance tires, 245/40ZR-19 front and 275/35ZR19 rear, are standard on XKR and fitted on XKs with optional 19-inch wheels. Optional on all models (and standard on Portfolios) are Dunlop SP Sport Maxx ultra-performance tires, 255/35ZR20s for the front and 285/30ZR20s for the rear.
The current XK's ABS brakes are much larger than those on the previous model, and much more powerful, considering the reduced weight of the car, with braking starting at the very top of pedal travel, where we like it. No fade whatsoever after a long downhill switchback workout.
Although the weights and balances between the coupe and the convertible versions, which we drove back-to-back, are close, there's really no discernable difference in the way they drive, except that the convertible with the top down generates more sound in the cockpit and more admiring glances from the other drivers than the coupe.
With its Eaton supercharger, the XKR develops 420 horsepower at 6250 rpm, and 413 pound-feet of torque at 4000. It also rides more firmly than the standard model, with spring rates increased 38 percent in front and 24 percent in the rear; and its steering is tuned for higher effort and quicker response. Additionally, the front brake disc diameter is increased from 12.8 to 14.0 inches, and the thickness from 1.2 to 1.3 inches, not only to improve braking performance but also the system's resistance to fade. We haven't driven an XKR ourselves, but Jaguar says its supercharged super-cat can rocket from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds. Top speed is still electronically limited to 155 mph. EPA estimated fuel economy dips to 15/23 mpg city/highway, but the XKR still avoids a guzzler tax.
The limited-edition XKR Portfolio takes braking and handling to the next level with standard 20-inch wheels and tires, and an Alcon braking system that includes massive 15.7-inch discs up front with six-piston calipers; and in the rear four-piston calipers squeezing 13.8-inch discs. Crescent-shaped grooves cut into the surface of the brake discs prevent a build-up of deposits on the brake pads and improve braking performance under extreme use.
The Jaguar XK is an absolutely gorgeous sports car that will appeal broadly to successful men and women looking for the latest in sleek affordability. We are smitten by this beautiful Jag and the way it drives down the road, changing direction like the big cat it's named for, but coddling the adventurers inside like an English nanny.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this story from Cape Town, South Africa.
Jaguar XK Coupe ($74,835); XK Convertible ($80,835): XKR Coupe ($86,035); XKR Convertible ($92,035).
Options As Tested
Jaguar XK Convertible ($80,835).
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