Jaguar XK convertible – be still our heart

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The luxury convertible segment is small. But its members are all superb renditions of modern automotive technology. All are high-dollar vehicles that give their owners status as well as immense driving pleasure.

Jaguar’s XK8 — which ceased production in June 2005 — is still a beautiful example of a luxury droptop. It’s sleek. It’s powerful. It’s gorgeous. It’s loaded with good stuff.

Compared to lesser convertibles, it’s a work of art.

But under the skin its age showed. It had been 10 years since its inception, an eternity in the automotive world. It became heavy and ponderous compared to the newest competition, which includes the BMW 6-Series, Lexus SC430, Porsche 911, Mercedes SL-Class and CLK-Class and Cadillac XLR.

So we are delighted to say following seven days behind the wheel of the XK8’s successor, the 2007 XK, that the Jaguar is very competitive once again.

The new Jag, which reached showrooms in late spring, retains the XK8’s stylistic beauty in a svelte new aluminum body that is light on its feet and as agile as a cat.

Its long hood and pronounced rear haunches promote the Jaguar look — crouched and ready for action. Shorter overhangs than the previous iteration give the car a more compact appearance.

It retains the 4.2-liter V-8 engine generating 300 horsepower found in the XK8. But now mated to a state-of-the-art six-speed shifter and pulling less weight, it is effortlessly energetic with a menacing growl that is as pleasing to the ears as a Johnny Mathis ballad.

Jaguar rejected a retractable hardtop convertible and has taken the traditional route designing both a coupe and a soft-top while Mercedes, Lexus and Cadillac all have integrated the two forms with a retractable hardtop. That style is catching on in more affordable adaptations as well with new retractable hardtops from Volkswagen, Volvo and Pontiac for 2007.

Jaguar however decided on a modern version of the traditional soft top, well in keeping with its strong heritage in the segment. Jaguar traditionally sells far more convertibles than coupes, and officials expect the mix to be 75 percent droptops over the next year.

Patience is not a necessary virtue with the XK because it takes just 18 seconds for the top to retract and stow under a lid behind the passenger compartment. The time is competitively competent verses the retractable hardtops. For those who expect it all, even the windows automatically roll down, and back up when the top is raised.

Jaguar has all but eliminated another of the reasons for a retractable hardtop — interior solitude. A three-layer insulated top and a tight seal have made the XK the quietest canvas-roofed car we’ve driven. The absence of wind noise is amazing.

And the top takes less space to store than a pile of folded steel. The XK is certainly not brimming with trunk space, but its 10 cubic feet is good enough for a couple of overnight cases or a week’s worth of groceries. With the top up, the luggage partition can be moved forward for three additional cubic feet of storage space.

One downside to the soft top is the blind spot it creates. But we found it to be less of a problem in the XK than in most convertibles.

Jaguar began the use of aluminum construction with the XJ sedan, and the new XK gets the aluminum-based conversion. The XK has a bonded and riveted aluminum body structure that incorporates the latest technology in epoxy bonding and riveting techniques to produce a stiffer and lighter chassis than found on any other vehicle in the segment.

For example at 3,759 pounds the convertible is lighter than the previous model and considerably more lithe than the Mercedes SL at 4,090 pounds or the BMW 6-Series at 4,200 pounds.

Push a button and the engine comes to life. A little touch of the throttle and the wonderful mellow growl reaches the ears getting the juices flowing. And the XK performance doesn’t disappoint. The power directed through perhaps the most advanced automatic transmission on the planet is fluid and forceful. Jaguar says the convertible can finish off a 0-to-60 run in 6 seconds. The coupe is a bit faster. And the newly introduced XKR version is faster yet. But we digress.

Our test car is well controlled on the curves, more nimble than its predecessor and well balanced. Jaguar uses the latest version of its Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS). Electronically controlled hydraulic valves adjust the shocks individually so that body roll is limited. The steering is delightfully heavy in the hand and wonderfully precise.

Jaguar has replaced its familiar “J” gate transmission shifter with a more standard setup that includes a Drive mode and a Sport mode for more responsive shift points. Drivers can use steering-wheel mounted paddles to manually shift gears in either mode.

Jaguar has included a full compliment of modern equipment, but has avoided the use of such computer-driven systems as BMW’s iDrive to run them, keeping things fairly simple through touch screen controls.

Most of the climate controls can be accessed outside the screen. Pre-set radio stations and stereo volume can be obtained through the steering wheel controls.

The elegant interior can be trimmed in traditional burl walnut or poplar wood or with aluminum. All choices are executed with great care and flow well with the exterior to complete the exquisite design.

The front seats are comfortable and there is more room in the cockpit than the previous car. The XK has an airy feel, in fact. But it is still a traditional 2+2 with rear seats best used for storage or for someone you don’t like. Truthfully rear seat legroom is nonexistent.

The XK convertible comes with such safety features as stability control, front-seat-mounted side airbags, whiplash-reducing headrests, a tire-pressure monitoring system, traction control, and a roll-over protection device consisting of two aluminum hoops that are automatically deployed if the car’s sensors detect the onset of a roll-over accident..

Standard equipment, as you would expect, abounds for the base price of $81,500 including destination charge. Our test car had adaptive cruise control and active front lighting bringing the bottom line to $84,000.

Other options include 20-inch wheels and a premium 525-watt Alpine audio system.

The XK is better in just about every way than the XK8. It’s quicker, feels more solid and well-planted, handles better, and has a much quieter interior with more passenger space and features modern well-designed controls. All that and the new XK is one of the most beautiful convertibles in the world.


Base price: $81,500; as driven: $84,000

Engine: 4.2-liter V-8

Horsepower: 300 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 310 pound-feet @ 4,100 rpm

Drive: rear wheels

Transmission 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Turning circle: 33.4 feet

Luggage space: 10 cubic feet

Wheelbase: 108.3 inches

Length: 188.6 inches

Curb weight: 3,769 pounds

Fuel capacity: 19.6 gallons

EPA mileage: 27 highway, 18 city

0-60: 6 seconds (Car and Driver)

Also consider: Lexus SC430, Mercedes SL-Class, BMW 6-Series

The Good:

• XK retains beautiful Jaguar styling
• Performance better than it appears on paper

The Bad (sort of):

• A hard retractable top would have given us the best of both worlds in one beautiful car

The Ugly:

• Rear-seat room non-existent