Not too many sports cars have an illustrious heritage dating back as far as that of the Jaguar XK, which started life shortly after the end of World War II. Introduced in 1949, that sensously curved XK-120 roadster set the tone for a long series of memorable Jaguar two-seaters. Over the decades, though they've been sold worldwide, America has been a prime recipient of each generation of Jaguar's sports cars.
Jaguar redesigned its sports car for 1997, giving it a V-8 rather than the six-cylinder and V-12 engines that had powered prior XJ-S models for two decades. Production quality steadily rose, credited to Ford's takeover of the British company.
Now, a decade later, the British motorcar maker has redone the XK once again. Production of the previous-generation XK8 ceased in June 2005, after a stint as Jaguar's fastest-selling model ever.
Introduced in spring 2006, as a 2007 model, the latest XK takes advantage of Lightweight Vehicle Technology on an aluminum chassis, as well as refining the fine design and craftsmanship of its predecessors. As before, the lineup consists of a coupe and a convertible, each with a 2+2 seating configuration. In Jaguar's case, this translates to a back seat that's fit only for small children.
All-aluminum construction promises best-in-class torsional rigidity for the coupe, and a 50-percent stiffness improvement for the convertible. The 2007 models are lighter than their predecessors, giving XKs a 10-percent better power-to-weight ratio.
Appearance is similar to the previous generation, if sportier in personality, with a "classic" oval air intake and a power bulge on the hood, said to echo the famed E-Type Jaguar coupe of the 1960s. Built on a longer wheelbase, with wider track dimensions and a taller roofline, the new coupe promises greater interior space even though it's only slightly longer overall.
Jaguar correctly notes that the new model remains "elegant, understated and mature." Traditional touches include a long hood, steeply-angled windshield and back window, and minimal front/rear overhangs. New power vents on front fenders are adapted from the special-edition XJ Super V8 Portfolio sedan that debuted in 2005.
Beneath the hood sits the latest version of Jaguar's naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8 engine, developing 300 horsepower. A high-performance XKR edition, as in the previous generation, is likely to join later. Jaguar's new Sequential Shift six-speed ZF automatic transmission incorporates paddles on the steering wheel, to produce manual gear changes.
Jaguar claims that the coupe can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, and the convertible takes only a tenth of a second longer. Acceleration in the crucial 50-70 mph range is 0.2 second faster than in the prior model.
Stowing beneath an aluminum tonneau cover, the convertible's fabric roof opens in less than 18 seconds. Available features include Keyless Entry, Keyless Start, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Active Front Lighting. Run-flat tires are available, too.
Still suave and refined, the rear-wheel-drive XK convertible also comes across as elegant and gentlemanly. Still, a touch of sport is thrown into the mix, including a mild exhaust snarl that almost seems out of character for such a luscious machine.
Extra-smooth takeoffs take place with plenty of energy and an easy-shifting automatic transmission. You can feel some tautness in the suspension, and some bumps hit a little hard (but recover smartly). Overall, though, the XK delivers an easygoing ride.
Exquisite white-on-black instruments are nicely calibrated to keep the driver well-informed, but the video information screen is hard to see in sunlight. Lush leather and wood trim are just what you'd expect from Jaguar. Seats have snug bolstering that entices you into their depths.
Even if the XK hasn't changed as dramatically as the company suggests, it's still a tempting and prestigious choice in the high-end boulevard-sport category.