JAGUAR XK REVIEW
It’s an intriguing car, the 2010 Jaguar XK. And it’s not entirely what you might expect.
That's because the Jaguar badge - quintessentially upper-crust - carries with it some strong, 'bolted on', preconceptions. There is something about it that brings an air of gentlemanly sophistication to whatever lump of metal, rubber and plastic that it’s bolted onto.
Most people, when they think of Jaguar, will have a vision of something... well... sedate; more suited to interstate cruising than a quick blat down a rural backroad.
A car more for gentlemen with cigars and wide arses than for the keen performance driver.
And, in those long dark years in the wilderness of the 1980s and 90s, that was certainly true for the 'leaping cat' badge.
But not anymore. Our stint behind the wheel of the 2010 XK Coupe shows that Jaguar’s most athletic model quite comfortably straddles the divide between ‘Grand Tourer’ and ‘Sports Car’.
Engine and driveline tweaks brought in earlier this year have endowed the XK with a bit more muscle. Styling, both inside and out, has also been updated for 2010.
The interior changes are minimal, and amount to the grafting of the XF’s elegantly simple rotary gear selector to the spot previously occupied by the old gear lever.
Externally the 2010 XK looks more modern, with a sleeker front bumper, body-coloured fender vents and new LED taillight clusters.
Subtle additions such as two pairs of exhaust tips, bonnet vents and a chrome lower grille are hallmarks of the range-topping XKR, but, for the most part, the ‘entry level’ XK looks almost identical to its supercharged brother.
The biggest change however is the injection of muscle beneath that long, front-hinged alloy bonnet. The old 4.2 litre is out and a new 5.0 litre V8 is in. The new donk brings with it direct injection, variable valve timing, variable cam profiles, improved emissions and a hefty dollop of extra power and torque.
The engine is still a member of Jaguar’s long-serving all-alloy AJ-V8 family, but in its latest (Gen III) incarnation it’s a very different beast to the powerplant it replaces.
Power peaks at a stout 283kW, and a maximum of 515Nm of torque is generated by the naturally-aspirated V8. That represents a gain of some 29 percent over the old 4.2 litre, and, as an added bonus, carbon emissions have dropped to 264g/km.
Those raw figures would suggest it's still no monster. And compared to the 5.0 litre V8 that sees service in the Lexus IS F, the XK’s power and torque outputs are nothing special.
From behind the wheel though, the impression is otherwise. The athletic XK is, in fact, quite capable of matching that potent twosome when push comes to V8 shove in the real world, on tarmac.
For starters, the body is incredibly taut. Fashioned from a mixture of alloy extrusions, castings and pressings, the XK’s chassis has, by Jaguar’s claim, the highest torsional rigidity in its class. It’s fairly light too (we're speaking comparatively), with the all-alloy coupe weighing in at ‘only’ 1660kg.
Such high levels of chassis stiffness means the suspension has greater control, which translates into crisper, more predictable handling. On the road, the XK feels 'alive'.
The ride is sportscar-like in its stiffness, but certainly not spine-bruisingly so. It’s comfortable enough to deal with the urban grind, but the firm damping constantly reminds you that the XK is no boulevard cruiser.
A lash through the foothills gives the the XK suspension the chance to prove its mettle. It works well, keeping things nicely controlled during tight cornering. And, though the damping is firm, the self-adjusting adaptive dampers provide enough compliance to ensure mid-corner bumps and other irregularities don’t upset the XK’s composure.
Dynamic mode (enabled via a button just aft of the gear-shifter) stiffens up the damper valving to provide an even sportier ride.
There’s little discernable difference in ride comfort, but the result is that the XK corners flatter with less 'dive' under hard braking and, on the other side of the apex, less squat when accelerating.
In this mode, it also responds more sharply to steering inputs (which, by the way, are lightning-fast thanks to the variable-ratio rack). The result is roadholding that is not just simply confidence-inspiring: it can make a winding road serious entertainment.
Push it too far however and you'll discover that even a car as well-sorted as the XK will revert to understeer. In such circumstances the stability control system will cut power until front-end grip is restored.
The mechanical limited-slip differential (the XKR gets a trick electronically-variable LSD) improves traction under power, and, by allowing both rear wheels to slip predictably, turns can be made even tighter with the throttle.
Greater slip angles can be enabled using the 'Trac DSC' stability control mode, and, for the truly talented, the electronic nannies can be disabled entirely.
This brings us to the XK's next exhibit – its sublime powertrain/drivetrain package.
Throttle response, especially in dynamic mode, is near-instant. Give the accelerator a firm prod and there is no pregnant pause while the computer fumbles with the numbers, the engine simply surges to life.
The powerband is exceptionally wide, and thanks to a variable-length inlet manifold, there’s a substantial amount of torque at low RPM.
The naturally-aspirated V8 won't quite pin you back in your seat, but straight line performance is most assuredly brisk. Stomp on the throttle from a standstill, and the XK’s big tail starts slewing left and right as the rear tyres struggle to regain grip.
It’ll do this even with traction control on. How very crass. Adding to the appeal is the sound it makes. Get on the loud pedal and the XK’s engine is truly raucous. It rises from an ill-tempered snarl at low RPM, to an outraged roar in the upper reaches of the tachometer.
Jaguar’s signature ‘leaper’ mascot may be missing from the XK’s bonnet, but there’s a large mauling jungle cat on the other side of the firewall.
In fact, in stark contrast to the XK’s refined and upper-crust exterior, the noise it produces is good old blue collar thunder.
The V8 is backed up by a ZF six-speed automatic. First gear is perhaps a little short for such a torquey motor, but generally speaking the ratio spacing is spot-on.
So too is the adaptive shift mapping. Light brushes of the throttle see the gearbox shift early and smoothly, keeping the engine relaxed and fuel consumption low. Drive a little more aggressively and gears are held for longer while downshifts occur earlier.
Slot it into Sport mode, you can feel things tighten; engage Dynamic mode, and the effect is amplified. The throttle becomes a razor, blips on downchanges are rev-perfect, and the gearbox won’t upshift until the needle is a whisker from the redline.
In both Sport and Dynamic modes, gearshifts are near-instantaneous and the transmission responds with an alacrity exceeded only by twin-clutch transmissions. In our opinion, only the Lexus IS F’s eight-speed auto shifts faster than the XK’s ‘box.
If you reckon you can do it better, manual control of the gearbox is available via a pair of steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
So, while the XK is capable of some very hooligan-ish antics on the road, inside the cabin it’s a very refined experience indeed. Opulent in fact.
Wood and alloy trim adorns virtually anything that isn’t covered with leather, and the 16-way adjustable front seats are upholstered in high-quality hide.
The headliner is made of luxurious pseudo-suede (Jaguar refuses to call it Alcantara) and the steering wheel is comfortable to hold, if a little on the big side.
The rear seats are hopeless for transporting anything other than an infant or double-amputee, but the XK’s front seats provide more than enough room for two people to travel in comfort.
Thanks to that super-stiff alloy body there’s nothing in the way of creaks or rattles, leaving your ears to enjoy either the excellent Bowers & Wilkins audio system or the rhythmic beat of the V8.
There’s a few negatives. Like the Mondeo-esque mirror switchgear, that's a bit of a letdown for such premium wheels.
So is the slow interface on the touch-screen multimedia system, the plasticky buttons on the centre stack and the poor rearward vision (blame those thick C-pillars).
Fuel economy is as expected – pretty terrible. Our average of 15.3 l/100km was 4.1 l/100km off Jaguar’s claim, but then again we didn’t go easy on our tester. A lighter right foot would likely yield more realistic results.
Lastly, while we're having a grumble, the boot is pretty shallow - good for perhaps one large golf bag and a suitcase (or two small ones).
Our quibbles with the XK are few. The big cat in fact stacks up very well against its competitors.
Priced at $224,200, the surprisingly potent XK Coupe sits in the middle of the uber-coupe hierarchy.
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage has a slight performance edge and a drop-dead gorgeous body, but retails for almost $40,000 more. The Maserati GranTurismo is beautiful both inside and out, but is even more expensive than the Aston.
In truth the Mercedes equivalent to the XK is the SL, but the base SL 350 is more expensive than the Jag and its V6 is no match for the XK’s V8.
The BMW 650i is the closest to the XK in terms of sticker price, power output and performance, but its polarizing styling and ageing interior work against it. BMW’s recent late-cycle update has failed to hide the crow’s feet.
Equally adept at crawling through city traffic as it is a long-legged intercapital express, the XK is a remarkably agile and competent sports tourer.
Couple that with its unshakably solid chassis and great build quality, and the XK is more than just a viable alternative to other European Grand Tourers – it’s highly recommended.