In the cruelest irony, Jaguar's quality has been hitting unimaginable highs (earning a counterintuitive number-one ranking in new- car sales satisfaction from J. D. Power for two years running plus a number-two ranking in the 2005 Initial Quality Study), but factories-including Jaguar's legendary facility at Browns Lane, Coventry-are being closed down.
Back when Ford was enjoying fat times of its own, Jaguar's practice of incinerating sterling by the shedload was tolerated by the parent company with reasonable cheer. Ford let Jaguar engineers get on and be Jaguar engineers with the XJ and, again, with the XK. With both they've proven they still have the touch. Ford's financial wherewithal and the trust it placed in Jaguar has, as its reward, two excellent automobiles.
In a sense, these are absolutely the best Jaguars ever. But, as we ponder the XK in the morning sun, we know the styling is not quite there on this one, either. On the way up from Phoenix, people haven't been pointing or staring at us in the way that says this car's a hit. We like the way it looks, we respect it, but we don't love it.
At the rear haunches, its hottest point, the XK reminds us of the Aston Martin DB9, one of the prettiest cars we know. We love the shape of the rear hatch in the coupe, and the gills on the side tickle us, but the front of the car is so impossibly corporate, the grille so eerily reminiscent of the face of the Ford Taurus. Pedestrian safety regulations in Europe provide designers with a difficult challenge, we know, but surely this bland effort from the people who once loosed the E-type on the world was a misstep that can be revisited in the very near future. To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen in his 1988 debate with Dan Quayle, I knew Jack Kennedy, and the XK is no Jack Kennedy. Um, I mean, E-type.
Fortunately, as a driving tool, the new XK makes its appeal known within the first fifty yards. This is a rocking machine in the best British idiom. It's fast, it's fun, and its interior is but a few fathoms shy of light-years better than its predecessor's. It's still distinctly British in ambience, but it competes with the industry's finest for quality of material, fit, and finish. It drives beautifully and has better steering, with more precision and advanced conversational skills, than any Jaguar in memory, despite the optional twenty-inch wheels and enormous Dunlops on the cars we drove (Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, and nineteen-inchers are also available.) Bigger brakes and better pedal feel help thrust the new XK deeper into the fight.
The XK is proof that money was well spent by Ford and also will be by those who buy one. As good as we'd hoped and more, it's a car that can stand up next to the BMW 6-series, the Mercedes SL, and the Cadillac XLR with its J. Lo butt (most noticeable in convertible form) jacked high. If nothing else, Ian Callum's rear-end design for the XKs marks a change from creeping "Bangle-butt"-ism, decried around the world yet spreading like wildfire anyway.
Aluminum preserves structural stiffness and confers boasting rights on its users while achieving the light weight that has allowed Jaguar to maintain and extend in the XK its traditional exceptionalism in ride and handling. The stiff shell is kitted out with the company's time-honored, but still winning, independent suspension, a combination of unequal-length control arms front and rear, sprung by coils. What can we say, except it works for us? CATS-Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension, not the embarrassingly long-lived musical-has also returned, offering two-stage adaptive damping to control roll and pitch.
The Grand Canyon is an ancient American monument, the Jaguar XK merely a long-lived British one. Less than sixty years old, it comprises a veritable mountain range of England's great automotive peaks and valleys, beginning with the epochal XK120 of 1948, moving up to the XK-E (or E-type, as it was known at home) of 1961, before descending to lesser heights as the incredibly long-lived XJ-S (1975) and the outgoing XK8 (1996). For longer than some readers will have been alive, these last two full-figured British sports cars have served as the heart and soul of the Jaguar mystique. For some time, XKs have been seriously outdated. But not any longer: the new XK is a genuine modern.