Amid dramatic changes in the Jaguar lineup, the traditional-looking XK offers the clearest link to the brand’s past. Its sonorous 5.0-liter V-8 engine, available with power outputs ranging from 385 to a mind-blowing 550 hp, responds instantly to the tap of the gas pedal, with much of the credit going to the six-speed automatic transmission, which reacts almost as if it could read the driver’s mind. Although the XK’s styling harks back to the 1998 XK8, the car has benefited from several recent updates. Last year it received a line of direct-injection V-8 engines. At that time the interior was restyled to more closely match the newer XF and XJ, replacing the controversial J-gate shifter with the new, also controversial, rotary shifter. The front and rear fascias, updated last year, evolve further this year with a more aggressive lower grille and slimmer headlights that resemble Jaguar’s recent sports car concepts. The new-for-2012 XJR-S is the most powerful Jaguar you can buy, and it handily outguns the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo S. But the XK, regardless of trim, is not as sharp as the best sports cars and, in convertible form, doesn’t always feel rigid enough. Like the sporting Jags of old, though, the XK expertly blends brutal performance with a helping of refinement. Pretty soon it will lose its monopoly on Jaguar sports car enthusiasts. A less expensive two-door based on the 2011 Frankfurt motor show’s C-X16 will arrive sometime in 2013, and a production version of the wild C-X75 — sans turbine power — is on the way.

Drive: Rear-wheel
Trim levels: XK, XKR, XKR-S
Body styles: Coupe, convertible, 2+2-passenger
Engines: 5.0L V-8, 385/550 hp, 380/502 lb-ft
5.0L supercharged V-8, 510 hp, 461 lb-ft
5.0L V-8, 550 hp, 502 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Passenger volume: 74.0 cu ft
Cargo space: (coupe) 11.7 cu ft; (convertible, top up/down) 11.1/7.1 cu ft

Stealing a play from its German competitors, Jaguar has taken the already obscenely fast XKR and added even more power to create an exclusive line-topper. The XKR-S, available only as a coupe, packs 550 hp, rides on a stiffened and lowered suspension, and wears more sinister sheetmetal. The “regular” XKR coupe and convertible get new exterior touches to better differentiate the Rs from the rest of the line. All XKs get mildly revised front and rear fascias.

Front, side, and side curtain air bags; ABS; and traction and stability control are standard.

All: 15-16 mpg city/22-24 mpg highway

  • Intoxicating exhaust note
  • Excellent chassis
  • Mind-reading six-speed auto
  • Looks older than it is
  • Rear seats are useless, even by sports car standards

Classic British grand touring and classic muscle-car power.

  • BMW 6-series
  • Chevrolet Corvette
  • Porsche 911

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