When I think of Jaguar XK Convertibles, I think back to my days at Baltimore City College Preparatory High School. The year was 1974, I was all of 14, and my art teacher, Bernard Byrd, had the prettiest XK Convertible I’d ever seen. Needless to say, I spent much of my time in his class sketching what would become a dream car for me. Jags in those days bespoke elegance, class and performance. The powerful shape of his V12 XKE held fantasies for me of racecar driving and designing the world’s next best sports car.
Well, neither the racecar driver or designer fantasy turned into reality, but my dream of owning a Jag has never faded. At 6’9″, I’m too tall to own the classic XKE, but when the 2007 Jaguar XK Convertible arrived in my driveway for a seven-day evaluation, memories of daydreaming in Mr. Byrd’s classroom returned to the forefront of my thought processes.
To understand the whole XK phenomenon, you must understand the history of the Cat from Coventry. The XK badge first appeared on the XK120, first shown at the London Motor Show in 1948. Like the 2007 XK, the first had aluminum bodywork and thrilling performance. The XK120 evolved into the XK140 and XK150, each carving its own unique place in automotive history.
The 1960s brought the XK E-type Jag that stole hearts at the Geneva Auto Show in 1961. The XKE featured incredible good looks and advanced semi-monocoque construction. The last XKE appeared in 1974, slowed by safety and emissions regulations. But that was not the end of the dream. For the sake of sanity, we’ll skip over the XK wannabe XJS model Jags that were produced from 1975 to 1996. These cars were not reflective of the heritage of the vaunted “Leaper” hood ornament and “Growler” interior badge that makes a Jaguar a Jaguar.
The next XK was produced in 1996 — the XK8. It was different from the original XK concept, more a grand tourer than classic British roadster. But it was beautiful, stylish and fast, particularly in supercharged XKR form, and became the fastest selling sports car in Jaguar history.
For 2007, the heritage of the classic XK is reborn. The all new XK is lighter, faster, and much better equipped than the model it replaces, with substantial improvements in performance, handling dynamics, braking and safety. It also pays homage to those legends it follows, as the front grille is an evolution of those found on the XK and XKEs of the past.
But it’s what’s behind the grille and under the hood that really lights this cat’s fire. The new XK Convertible and the XK Coupe both share and all aluminum monocoque body structure. With high tech advancements in aluminum bonding, the new XK Convertible is 50% stiffer than the previous model. It’s all part of Jaguar’s “Lightweight Vehicle Technology.” The XK uses lightweight aluminum castings and extrusions as well as pressed aluminum panels. The result is a rigid chassis that in itself is a work of art. Another major advantage of Jag’s “lightweight” technology is that all of the necessary stiffness required to make the convertible rigid and shake free is in the structure of the bodyshell, eliminating the need for extra stiffening panels found on most convertibles. So there is no weight penalty of coupe versus convertible that you’ll find in traditional steel chassis structures.
The new Jaguar XK is also about quality. During my week of top down and top up testing (due to rainstorms), I found the build quality excellent. Nary a rattle, squeak, or body shake emanated from the Jag.
Under the hood, the new XK features Jaguar’s AJ-V8 engine, making 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. These are marginal improvements over the previous model but when you factor in the weight differential between the two models (3715 lbs.-old, 3516 lbs.-new) the performance difference is noticeable and impressive. Yes, it feels like the Jag went on a Jenny Craig diet because it did! Acceleration times and braking distances are also improved over the previous model.
Around town, crowd reaction to the new XK Convertible was phenomenal. This is not the car to buy if you are trying to roll incognito. Some thought it was the Aston Martin DB9 (both the Aston and new XK were designed by Ian Callum), some knew it was the new Jag, and all thought it was drop dead gorgeous. My tester was “Jaguar Racing Green” with “Caramel” leather interior. During my test week, I took the Jaguar to an upscale party at a friend’s home in suburban Maryland, and parked it front and center in his driveway. So many guests ended up outside drooling at the Jag I felt guilty and moved it a block away!
The new XK’s stunning beauty is complimented by full tilt luxury. Inside, you’ll find wool carpets, fine leathers, polished chrome trim and a host of comfort and convenience features. Dash trim is available in brushed aluminum, Burl Walnut, or Popular wood.
The interior layout is thoroughly modern. You won’t find the toggle switches and multiple gauges that adorned early XKs. Instead, you’ll find a three spoke steering wheel that house redundant controls for audio, cruise control, and voice activated functions; a DVD based touch-screen navigation system that resides in the center console, an electronic parking brake on the lower console; and a red “start” button on the lower console, part of Jaguar’s keyless entry and start system. Bluetooth technology allows wireless synching of cell phones and PDAs. The new Jaguar “Sequential Shift” six-speed transmission incorporates steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for manual gear changes. Even though I’m a big guy, I found the interior comfortable over long trips. Forget about the back seat though for any humans. It’s truly there for insurance reasons.
Dropping the top is fast and simple. Instead of building a retractable roof convertible, which seems all the rage these days, Jaguar focused instead on building the best traditional convertible they could. Want a hardtop? Go buy the equally terrific Jag XK Coupe. A convertible is meant to have a ragtop, and Jaguar thankfully understands this. The three-layer top is well constructed, and even has a 3M “Thinsulate” layer for additional warmth and enhanced cooling protection when the weather is at extremes. Heated rear glass is standard, and the top drops or raises with the touch of a button in under 18 seconds.
Safety is also improved over the previous model. The aluminum chassis has deformable crush zones, and front and side airbags are standard. Jag’s “Protec” dynamic head restraint system protects against whiplash injuries, and a roll-over protection system deploys if sensors detect the onset of a roll-over accident.
On the road, handling always has been a key part of the Jaguar mystique. For 2007, the bar has been raised even higher. Jaguar’s Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) uses adaptive damping to ensure an optimal balance between ride comfort and handling prowess. Jaguar’s chief engineer Mike Cross explained the marriage of the high-tech, stiff body structure with the need for a compliant ride: “The stiff and lightweight body has allowed us to engineer precision and agility into the new XK without losing refinement. It may sound obvious, but it’s much easier to tune the dynamics on a car that is intrinsically right in the first place. And while the basics are all there, this is also a very advanced car. The driver is the center of attention and we’ve used technology to help us where it makes sense.”
Sorry Mike, you almost got it right. The new Jaguar XK, not the driver, is the center of attention here. Again, don’t buy this car if you don’t want to be ogled at every turn!
Rounding out the handling package is your choice of alloy wheels, 18″ or 19″, both with a standard tire pressure monitoring system.
My test XK Convertible carried a base MSRP of $80,835. Options brought the price with destination to $87,300. I found no significant flaws with this vehicle. I would simply add more traditional gauges like oil pressure, voltmeter, etc., to bring it even closer to the legends of the past.
So choose your sweet poison. The new Jaguar XK is a winner in either solid roof or drop top form. It’s a marriage of old and new that’s bound to win back the hearts of traditional Jaguar loyalists, while endearing the fabled marque to a whole new generation of Jaguar enthusiasts.