Rarely is a single new car launch so critical to a manufacturer. It's no secret that Jaguar has been foundering in recent years, and the new XK is literally a fulcrum upon which the company's future fortunes will swing. If the end product is any indication, a new course has been firmly set and the company should expect a significant turnaround.
If nothing else, the new XK is a significant departure from the old car. It has been completely rethought, redesigned, reconfigured, and improved in virtually every way. And it is at once more hardcore and more refined than the outgoing model.
The new XK philosophy began with its design. The company has employed a new big gun, Ian Callum of TWR and Aston Martin fame, to head its design team. You may remember we ran an interview with Mr. Callum last August in which he discussed the Jaguar ALC concept car, and you'll see a lot of similarities between that car and the new XK. The design was critical to reestablishing the car-and to a certain extent the company itself-in the public eye and mindset. Jaguar buyers have traditionally been older, more affluent family types, and in America 30% of them are women. To this end, perhaps, design across the model line had become rather staid and... eh... retro, for lack of a better word. In our August '05 interview Callum noted that while it is important to pay homage to history and heritage, it's just as important to move forward. The new XK, therefore, is the first Jaguar product to really propagate this mindset. To this end, Callum told us, the new XK is a revolution; future models, like the forthcoming S-Type, will be a revelation.
Aside from its new lines, considerable resources were invested in the car's myriad technical aspects, particularly the chassis. Drawing on experience gained from the all-aluminum XJ, the XK has advanced Jaguar's Lightweight Vehicle Technology considerably. The XK's chassis is 16% extruded aluminum, compared to 7% in the XJ. Both convertible and coupe were designed together and it's estimated they share 95% commonality of parts.
Jag's new aluminum chassis positions the new XK favorably against its competition in both structural rigidity and power-to-weight ratio. The use of more extruded and cast components has reduced the total number of joints used from 4,771 in the current coupe to just 2,959 in the new coupe, which in turn benefits structural rigidity. Ultimately, use of the Advanced Lightweight Technology philosophy means more homework in the beginning-the XK team has done a frightening amount of homework in preparing this car-but it makes for a superior product at the end of the day.
In addition to the brilliant new chassis, new technical features abound. The wheelbase has been extended by 6.4 inches, the gearing is about 8% shorter than that on the current car, and the 4.2-liter engine now produces peak figures of 300 bhp and 310 lb-ft. The new XK also features a six-speed sequential-shift gearbox with steering-mounted paddles. Full manual control can be accessed through the paddles at any time, though automatic sport mode is very responsive and will adjust itself to varying driving styles depending on your level of aggression. Considerable time was also invested in creating a duality of driving acoustics, that is, coaxing satisfying noises from the engine and exhaust during aggressive driving while also keeping a quiet, reserved demeanor when the driver just wants to cruise.
Next-generation Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) has been implemented, a two-stage adaptive damping system engineered to offer an optimum balance between ride and handling. The previous CATS controlled the front and rear dampers in pairs, limiting control to pitch only. The new system controls all four dampers independently, allowing control over both pitch and roll for improved ride and driving balance. Of course, the new XK also offers the most up-to-date electronic safety systems like the Traction Control System (TCS) and Trac DSC. TCS aids stability by applying the brakes to a slipping drive wheel and transferring torque to the other. DSC uses selective braking and controls engine torque output to prevent excessive over- or understeer and excessive roll. Trac DSC expands the system's allowances for more experienced drivers (you know who you are) by slightly delaying DSC's intervening functions. Of course, if you feel you're a complete stud, DSC can also be turned off entirely by pressing and holding the DSC button, though it's not necessarily recommended.
In giving the car a sharper, sportier edge, Jaguar has really succeeded-both from styling and driving standpoints. The current XK always seemed like the premier old man's cruiser-powerful, yes, prestigious, yes, but just a little too reserved to be considered a real sports car. The new XK retains a lot of the current car's grand touring persona, but it's very evident the genetic makeup has been boosted with considerably more true sports-car DNA. Drive it hard and it will beg to be driven harder. Improved chassis dynamics, more power, exceptional brakes and the sequential-shift transmission all add up to something fundamentally more hardcore than offerings heretofore.
On the other hand, the new XK is not, perhaps, quite the grand touring machine it once was. Traditional buyers may not warm as quickly to its edgy, avant-garde styling or its more raw driving character. But at the same time I believe Jaguar has really opened the car up and made it more appealing to a much broader audience-including snot-nosed brats like myself. In any case, there's little doubt they've created an extraordinary sporting platform.
The new XK is scheduled to go on sale in April. Expect to pay $75,500 for a coupe and $81,500 for the convertible.
JAGUAR XK 4.2L V8
Base Price: $75,500 (coupe) $81,500 (convertible)
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.2-liter V8, dohc, four valves per cylinder
Six-speed sequential automatic
Unequal length wishbones, coil springs and telescopic dampers, next-generation CATS
Four-channel ABS, ventilated discs, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution
Length x Width x Height (in.): 188.2 x 81.5 x 52.0
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Curb Weight: 3,671 lb (coupe), 3,759 lb (convertible)
Peak Power: 300 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.9 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (electronically limited)