The future of Jaguar, the embattled British marque owned by Ford (for the moment, at least), stands at a crossroads. Buyers have ignored the aluminum-bodied XJ sedan, a technological tour de force and a lovely luxury car but visually indistinguishable from its predecessor. The S-type sedan, never a truly serious competitor to the usual mid-size luxury-sedan suspects from Germany, is a lame duck. And as for the X-type, which isn't long for North America, it recently landed on Time Magazine's list as one of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time. So until the all-new XF goes on sale this spring, the XK coupe and convertible are the flag-carriers for Jaguar.
At the XK's introduction in late 2005, the company called it "the first of a new generation" of Jaguar cars, saying that it marked "an exciting new era" for the company. That confidence from Coventry, not to mention the XK's sultry lines, convinced us to add one to our Four Seasons test fleet. We ordered a frost blue coupe (base price $74,835), adding on a luxury package (heated steering wheel, leather instrument panel, nineteen-inch wheels, and sixteen-way power seats) for $3300 and a premium-sound package for $1875. With destination charges, the MSRP totaled a hefty $80,675.
From the start, opinions about the XK diverged. The first logbook entry was penned by road test editor and resident Anglophile Marc Noordeloos, who freely admits to "having a thing for Jags." He called the XK "a lovely car to drive," although he reserved final judgment until he had spent more time in it. Senior online editor Jason Cammisa had no such reservations: "Mama always said that if I ain't got nothin' nice to say, I ought to say nothing. Sorry, Mom, but I disagree." What followed was a litany of complaints about items ranging from the exterior styling to the fit of the interior trim to the "maddening" touch-screen interface. Cammisa ranted that the Bluetooth system wouldn't recognize his BlackBerry, that he would burn a $9000 Kia for having similar fit and finish, and that the back seat barely had room for his laptop computer.
Whew! That's an awful lot of vitriol for a car that hadn't yet seen its first fill-up. But it was an early sign of the two camps that emerged during the XK's year in our garage. Some, like Cammisa, were hypercritical of the XK, whereas others were willing to cut it some slack.
One thing we all expected from the XK was an opulent interior, and the XK didn't disappoint. The stitched leather covering the dash and seats, the burled wood accents, and the thick carpets are the luxuriant touches we expect in a Jaguar, yet they're rendered in a strikingly modern way. The sixteen-way adjustable seats were comfortable enough for everyone, no matter their size. "I was stuck in a traffic jam for an hour, in which I moved only about five miles," recalled one staffer. "Normally, this would cause me to lose my cool, but with the cosseting leather seats and the satellite radio tuned to my favorite classic-rock station, I was completely unfazed."
The tiny rear seats, not surprisingly, are for appearances' sake only. It's too bad that they don't fold forward, if only to enlarge the cargo capacity of the shallow compartment under the rear hatch. Interior controls are legible and easy to operate, although the touch-screen interface was a little too slow to react, and certain features required the operator to navigate a labyrinth of menus and submenus. We also would have appreciated a simple knob to tune the stereo rather than an up/down rocker switch.
Styling-wise, the XK at first came in for some fairly pointed criticism. There were those here (as in the rest of the automotive press) who went on and on about the fact that the XK's nose bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the 2000 Ford Taurus. There were others who felt that the styling was too anonymous for a Jaguar sports car. But as the year progressed, we began to notice the way the XK made bystanders' heads swivel. "Doesn't get noticed?" asked one staffer. "Tell that to the kid with the camera phone on I-275. Or the masses of people I watched turn their heads. No one notices anything in Ann Arbor, and I felt like a celebrity in this thing. Girls in Kalamazoo were saying things about the XK that aren't appropriate for this logbook." So much for anonymity. Or maybe the girls in Kalamazoo just have a thing for the Taurus. One thing we know for sure: the overall proportions and the execution of the XK's design are eye-catching, even if the individual bits and pieces might not stand out.
There was, however, one glaring flaw on our 2007 XK's exterior - the retractable antenna. Not only was the clunky piece of chrome a throwback to the 1990s, but it also turned out to be an expensive headache. Three - yes, three - times we forgot to turn off the stereo while going through the automatic car wash, resulting in a bent antenna. It ended up costing us $1466 in out-of-pocket repair costs. (Thankfully, the antenna on the 2008 XK is integrated into the rear spoiler.)
We unanimously agreed that the XK's ride and handling balance was about perfect. The current XK benefits from an aluminum unibody that uses the same epoxy bonding and riveting techniques employed in the construction of the XJ sedan. Not only does this result in a chassis that is significantly stiffer than the old XK's, but it is also lighter (although our XK coupe weighed in at 3784 pounds, which doesn't exactly make it a lightweight).
"Dynamically, the thing blew my mind," remarked associate editor Sam Smith. "It was equally at home blasting down a rutted dirt road or soaking up whumps in the road while sideways as it was delivering tuxedoed boffins to the opera. How many other companies tune their dampers that well? Or get suspension stuff in general that right?" In addition to the spot-on suspension tuning, the paddleshifted automatic (a first for Jag) makes perfect, rev-matched downshifts, and the steering feel is light and precise.
The 300-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 might not be overly powerful (you can always opt for the 420-hp supercharged XKR if you need more), but it makes a wonderful, deep growl when revved. The sound is especially pleasing from outside the car, although, in an attempt to heighten driver involvement, the XK's engineers actually routed a sound-conducting duct to deliver the engine's sound into the cabin.
The car's overall drivability and character give us enough reason to laud the Jaguar XK - to the point that some people on our staff even voted for it as an All-Star this year, although it ultimately didn't make the cut - despite some of its obvious flaws. Americans tend to root for the underdog, and in the automobile industry, there have been few makes that have so consistently been an underdog than Jaguar. We really wanted to love everything about this striking two-door. Dynamically, the XK is one of the best luxury cars on the market. It's a delightful grand tourer, and it reveals its sports car roots when it hits a twisty patch. But we found ourselves at the dealership a few times too often, for items ranging from badly installed trim pieces to a malfunctioning air-bag light to a poorly fitting driver's-side door. All these items were fixed under warranty, so our out-of-pocket expenses weren't outrageous, but we had hoped for a more seamless ownership experience.
Only time will tell what the future of Jaguar brings and what the XK's place in the company will be. But in the meantime, we're happy to pile on the miles as we spend our last few weeks with the XK, content in the knowledge that we're driving one of the most stylish, well-mannered GT cars in the world - even if a piece of trim falls off now and then.