West Hollywood, California
Jaguar's XK convertible and coupe are getting old, but a ground-up renewal of the six-year-old car is about as likely as a tennis match between Dubya and Saddam. Most of Jaguar's research and development allotment went to the new 2004 XJ sedan, so for the foreseeable future, the XK has to make do with a day at the local gym rather than a week at the Golden Door spa.
But the XK already was accustomed to making the most of something old (a derivative of the ancient XJS platform), something new (the AJ-V8 engine), something borrowed . . . you get the picture. For 2003, changes focus decidedly on the new. The V-8, which is mated to a new ZF six-speed automatic transmission, grows from 4.0 to 4.2 liters, resulting in more horsepower and torque for both the normally aspirated XK8 (294 horsepower, 303 pound-feet) and the supercharged XKR (390 horsepower, 399 pound-feet). Manually shifting the traditional J-gate now provides readily identifiable detents rather than the feeling that you're pushing a wooden spoon through a vat of mashed potatoes. Jaguar claims 0-to-60-mph times of 6.3 and 5.3 seconds, respectively, for the XK8 and XKR convertibles.
Stability control and brake assist bow as standard equipment, while adaptive cruise control is a new option. Brembo brakes, previously a limited-production XKR option, are now standard on that model. Although they work wonderfully, the pedal effort is slightly soft.
"It's tough to improve on a masterpiece," says Mike O'Driscoll, president of Aston Martin Jaguar Land Rover North America. It's tempting to dismiss his comment as corporate shorthand for "We don't have the money to redesign this car," but the fact is that the XK looked mighty fine in 1996, and it still looks great now, especially with its newly standard eighteen-inch wheels. Or choose from three stunning, and stunningly expensive ($6000), twenty-inch wheel designs, called Paris, Montreal, and Detroit. Detroit?