"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.