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 V8Base Price: $75,500 (coupe) $81,500 (convertible)
DrivetrainLongitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine4.2-liter V8, dohc, four valves per cylinder
TransmissionSix-speed sequential automatic
SuspensionUnequal length wishbones, coil springs and telescopic dampers, next-generation CATS
BrakesFour-channel ABS, ventilated discs, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution
DimensionLength x Width x Height (in.): 188.2 x 81.5 x 52.0Wheelbase: 108.3 in.Curb Weight: 3,671 lb (coupe), 3,759 lb (convertible)
PerformancePeak Power: 300 bhp @ 6000 rpmPeak Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm0-60 mph: 5.9 sec.Top Speed: 155 mph (electronically limited)
Vovo C70Remember when most consumer products served a singular function or purpose? A cell phone was just a cell phone? A car was just a car, a truck was just a truck, and so on. Today, the lines between cars, trucks, wagons and SUVs have begun to blur. Now the same can be said about coupes and convertibles. Take Volvo's new C70 for example. Designed as a hardtop convertible, it's two distinctive cars in one. Can't decide between a rag and a hardtop? No problem. Buy a C70. Inside 30 seconds, with the push of a button, you can have one or the other. Even better, the car looks absolutely stunning in either configuration. In fact, it's arguably the best-looking modern Volvo to date, top up or down.
A collaborative effort with renowned Italian design firm Pininfarina, the C70 appears more whimsical than its predecessor, with soft, rounded edges, while still managing to look very much like a Volvo. "We designed the car first as a coupe and maintained Volvo's signature architecture, then collaborated with Pininfarina until both parties were satisfied," said C70 designer John Kinsey. "We wanted a unique and stimulating car with overall emotional appeal, and I think we accomplished that."
Indeed, the C70 created quite a stir on its international press launch in Hana, Maui. Wherever we drove, people were compelled to look. Some walked up and asked questions, while others simply pointed and stared. Here we are in this Hawaiian paradise and the car still managed to stand out. It's not like we were driving a bright red Pininfarina Ferrari. We're talking Volvo here. The question becomes: Are Volvo owners the type who want to be noticed? Like it or not, they will now, even while simply activating the top. It's like watching your kids' Transformers figures come to life. When activated, the dual hinged trunk lid opens and the three-piece sectional top retracts and stacks neatly inside. Naturally, this limits the total amount of available storage space in an otherwise sizable compartment. However, all is not lost. By pressing another button located in the truck, the top raises just enough to allow easy transfer of items, and then automatically lowers back into place.
As a result of frequent rain showers we spent an equal amount of time driving with the top up. Aside from three thin sectional rooflines, the perfectly pitched top appears virtually seamless. Inside, it's even more impressive and provides no clear indication of its drop-top status whatsoever. No dangling hooks or levers, just a nice, well-upholstered headliner. And unlike traditional ragtops where interior noise, occasional creaks and other associated issues arise, the C70 cabin is exceptionally quiet and its normal-sized rear glass window provides outstanding outward visibility. Moreover, Volvo went to great lengths to improve overall structural rigidity so the car even handles like a coupe. It also makes it one of the safest convertibles on the road, something Volvo stands by. They don't call it "Volvo for Life" for nothing.
Designed to comfortably accommodate four average-sized adults, the C70 is really quite unique. It is the first true four-passenger vehicle offered in coupe convertible configuration. The interior quality and layout is typically Scandinavian with lots of clean and uncluttered surfaces. Seating is comfortable for both front and rear passengers and covered with weather-friendly Vulcaflex upholstery or the optional leather. Front-seat passengers are afforded an extra inch of legroom over the previous model, which gives it an edge over other premium four-seaters including BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Saab 9-3. Rear-seat passengers also have plenty of room and may enjoy easy in/out access thanks to a secondary power control that moves the front seats forward.
In the driver's seat, I especially appreciated the sporty steering wheel, which is thickly padded and feels good in hand. Also cool is the extremely thin floating center console modeled on the S40 and V50. It is quite functional and serves as a wonderful design feature. Due to its close proximity to the gear lever I did occasionally find my knuckles hitting the console-mounted A/C controls when quickly rowing to third and fifth gears. A bit more space would have been nice. The glovebox is also substantially smaller than it may appear. We noticed it would hold the vehicle manual and perhaps a pair of sunglasses, but little more. On the flip side, there are two additional storage areas on the lower door panels which feature a covered flap to keep papers or other lightweight items from flying out.
While the standard audio system sounds pretty darn good, the optional Dynaudio package is purely state-of-the-art and certainly worth a listen. It features a total of 14 speakers and, with over 900 watts of power, the large dual subwoofers behind the rear seats double as seat massagers.
Driving along the hundreds of hairpin turns along the scenic Hana Highway didn't really allow us to properly test the car's upper-end performance. No matter. The C70 is more of a fun cruiser anyway. Its 2.5-liter, turbocharged T5 engine is good for a very respectable 218 bhp, with 236 lb-ft of torque delivered along a broad rpm band, from 1500 to 4800. While acceleration is good, midrange is where the engine is most happy.
Out of the gate, Volvo expects to sell over 15,000 units globally, 6,000 of which in the U.S. We think these forecasts are highly conservative and that the car will do even better. At $38,000, it's a reasonable price to pay for a car with two very unique and distinctive personalities. And at least for the time being, it's the only game in town.
2006 Volvo C70
Base price $38,710
DrivetrainTransverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.5-liter inline five, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled
TransmissionSix-speed manual, optional five-speed automatic
SuspensionMacPherson strut front, multilink rear, stabilizer bar
BrakesFour-wheel disc brakes, ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution
DimensionLength x Width x Height (in.): 181 x 71 x 56
Wheelbase: 104 in.Curb Weight: 3,630 l
PerformancePeak Power: 218 bhp@ 5000 rpmPeak Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm0-60 mph: 7.6 sec (manual)Top Speed: 150 mph (electronically limited)