2007 Jaguar XK

In the mountain roads leading up to and down from Jerome, Arizona, we find the AJ-V8 at its most delightful between 3500 and 4500 rpm. The intuitive paddle controls make it easy to keep the revs in the pleasure zone. Jaguar claims the adaptive, six-speed ZF box, which has normal and sport modes, is the fastest shifter in the business. Who knows? There's so much horsepower out there nowadays that, while the new XK certainly feels fast enough, it's not what you'd call brutally fast. For that, we await the upcoming XKR.

Innovative use of aluminum has proven a defining asset for Jaguar, a unifying engineering theme that's arrived just in time to imbue the marque with renewed credibility and substance. If we are to be honest, Jaguar had been coasting on the technology front for some time. The J-gate shifter of 1987 wasn't a very good idea to start with, but as a defining technological centerpiece for a company that claimed greatness, it didn't age well. The J-gate, incidentally, is no more, replaced in the new XK by the aforementioned paddles and a conventional shift gate for the new automatic. It's a small thing, but somehow neatly symbolic of the darker periods of the past that Jaguar would prefer to leave behind.

Yet on the eve of this delectable aluminum range-topper's arrival comes word that Jaguar's ambitious lineup for an all-aluminum fighting force has been scratched. Aluminum-bodied replacements for the X-type and the S-type have been canceled in favor of minor redesigns. This means the S-type will retain the lardy underpinnings and related chassis liabilities it shares with the soon-to-be-euthanized Lincoln LS.

As a halo car, as an example of what a Jaguar must do to remain special, that leaves the XK to succeed.

The battle faced by Jaguar today has at least one thing in common with what Britain confronted in 1940: failing means falling to mighty German competitors and their Japanese co-horts. To the victor go the spoils.

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