Jaguar XK car reviews

Review Notes: Jaguar XK
jaguar XK car review
Personality Smooth, strong sports car
Why we’d buy it Great cornering and power, good mileage, style
Why we wouldn’t Stick shift would be natural; price
What we might try Bank robbery, investment banking
What puzzles us What, no windblock?
Writer Terry Parkhurst

The first thing you notice about the new Jaguar XK convertible is the way it looks. As was true of most Jaguars before it, it looks quite unlike anything else on the road; and the cars that it does evoke are legendary cars from the same marque. 

The surface development of this car is more akin to a boat, with nary a bent surface or straight line to be seen. The vertical lines that are just behind the front wheel wells remind one of a shark’s gills. Looked at from the rear, it reminds you of the legendary Jaguar E-type, built from 1961 through 1974 (and more commonly known as the XK-E).

There’s a 50 percent improvement in stiffness over the previous XK convertible. You feel no cowl shake as you might on lesser convertibles.

Jaguar’s lightweight technology is unique in the automobile industry since the XK comes as a complete aluminum monocoque structure as distinct from an aluminum space frame with separate panels. It’s the type of body construction more often seen in the aerospace industry (albeit now with carbon fiber, as in Boeing’s new 787). The joints in the new XK body shell are formed using Jaguar’s unique combination of riveting and bonding, and using self-piercing rivets applied by hydraulic pressure against a fixed tool produces most joints. Where access to only one side of the joint is possible, as in some of the new extended box sections, a new riveting process has been developed; and where particularly high stiffness is required in a joint, a combination of riveting and bonding is used – with the adhesive bond in effect creating a continuous joint that is stronger than a similar, riveted-only joint.

The net effect is that the lightness of the new XK convertible allows it to handle, steer and brake much better than the previous Jaguar convertible. It now feels pretty much like a sports car; and given the travails this division of Ford Motor Company is going through, it is likely this is as close as we’ll get to a sports car. (Jaguar is now for sale with Ford saying their relationship will be over by the end of 2008.)

The interior of this car comes in two flavors. For those who favor the traditional, there is a surplus of wood – either burl walnut or poplar. For those who don’t, there’s a dash that uses polished metal instead; both then are fitted with leather on the top edges and other places.

The steering wheel is three spoke in either case and the instrumentation reminds an older driver of the Smith gauges from years past: white letters and numbers on black background. There is also the option of a seven-inch center console touch screen menu-driven, information and control set-up for navigation and such.

The engine in the new XK convertible is a 4.2-liter V8 with double-overhead camshafts producing 300 horsepower. But it’s the torque curve that makes this car worth driving. Fully 85 percent of the torque comes on the pipe between 2,000 to 6,000 rpm.

The throttle is drive-by-wire, which is almost always a specious proposition. (There is absolutely no mechanical connection between the accelerator pedal and the throttle body for the fuel injectors.) However, that is not the case with this car.

The XK has a six-speed automatic transmission behind the V8. Fortunately for anyone who wants to buy this car, Jaguar finally rid itself of the J-gate transmission that had been around for about 20 years. Finding the right place to put the shift lever in that transmission might happen but it wasn’t an easy go.

The XK also comes with paddle shifters, just behind the steering wheel’s center stalks. And while paddle shifters might seem like merely a marketing maven’s way of enticing boy-racers into expensive convertibles, in this case it works better than the shift lever (which is mainly set in a line, following the old P-R-N-D with an up-shift or down-shift mode, right down there with the Drive).

The shifting is quick and certain, largely because the drive train uses clutch-to-clutch synchronous shifting which ensures a controlled amount of torque is always being applied to transfer during power on the up-shifts. (This stands in stark contrast to the automated manual gearboxes of what is probably the main competitor to this car, the BMW M6 convertible. The Beemer’s poorly thought-out transmission interrupts the flow of torque during shifts for a noticeable “dead zone.”)

As antiquated as a fully manual transmission might seem to Jaguar, this car would benefit from it. Yes, it’s only psychological; but for the enthusiast, there is no substitute for doing one’s own shifting. And there are still more than a few such people who want to drive a car as expensive as this is.

The XK uses unequal length wishbones on the front suspension and unequal length wishbones in the rear; using the drive shafts as upper links in the rear. Additionally, there’s a new version of Jaguar’s CATS (computer-active technology suspension). It works like this: the car’s pitch and yaw rates are measured using accelerometer sensors. A control module then processes that feedback, plus information of the steering wheel angle and brake demand, and electronically controlled hydraulic valves then vary the shock absorber (damper) settings, accordingly.

How much to troubleshoot that system, if something goes awry? Don’t think about it. Instead, you just need to notice how flat the XK seems to corner, with a ride that dials in for good cornering while keeping the “luxury” feel you’d expect from a Jaguar.

If you ever flipped the new XK convertible – don’t think about that – you’d likely make out all right; since there is a Roll-Over Protection Device that consists of two aluminum hoops that are automatically deployed if the car’s sensors detect the onset of a rollover accident. (Volvo and Mercedes convertibles have similar systems.)

The soft top of the XK can be stowed automatically into the trunk and is then tidily covered by a panel that integrates neatly with the car’s body. That takes about 18 seconds.

Unlike other high-end convertibles, and for that matter the Chrysler Sebring, there is no wind-blocker, behind the rear seats. Driven with all the windows down on the freeway, the wind generally remained our friend; however, at one point, the baseball cap on the driver’s head started to do a dance and then flew off, back onto the freeway. So, while the new XK convertible is a pretty fine machine overall, it could use a wind blocker to compete most fully with the competition. And if you snag a baseball cap with three embroidered dogs and the words “Iditarod 2001” off the side of the freeway, south of Seattle, the reviewer would appreciate his hat back.

The price of the tested XK convertible was $84,135, of which $3,300 was a “luxury package” that included Bluetooth ® wireless technology and an Alpine sound system. Observed mileage seem to mirror EPA estimates of 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the freeway.