2010 Jaguar XK coupe: The cat strikes again

Traditional styling, modern technology combine for what could be the best Jaguar ever
by: JAIME VALDEZ, Sleek and sexy, the new XK raises the bar for performance coupes at a critical point in Jaguar's history.

Jaguar fans are on pins and needles now that the fabled marquee has been sold to Tata Motors, the Indian-based manufacturer best known for making the cheapest car in the world.

They want to know what will happen to Jaguar, now that its cars are arguable the best they have ever been - as exemplified by the stylish, powerful and luxurious 2010 XK coupe.

Die-hards may point to the beauty and hand-crafted quality of the earlier models, including the sleek and sexy XKE that was manufactured from 1961 to 1974. But as everyone knows, they and all other British-made cars from those days were plagued by mechanical and electrical ailments, ranging from insolvable oil leaks to persistent starting problems.

Although those problems were slowly solved after Ford bought Jaguar in 1989, the early models were not well-received by longtime admirers, who complained they looked and drove too much like, well, Fords. Things improved dramatically when newer models were introduced, however, including the XF sports sedan than won rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

Even more important, the new Jaguars were rated among the most reliable cars in the world by such independent sources as J.D. Power and Associates - making them true challengers to such other luxury performance manufacturers as Audi, BMW and the revitalized Cadillac.

But financial problems forced Ford to sell off many of its investments, including Volvo and Jaguar. The 2010 XK coupe is one of the last cars to begin production before the sale. It proves Jaguar's star was still rising and raises questions about whether Tata can maintain the momentum.

The new XK coupe is clearly inspired by the older E-types. The styling cues are unmistakable, from the oval grill to the long hood with the center power bulge. Like the earlier models, the new version is available as both a convertible and sweeping hatchback. Although outfitted with 19-inch wheels and low profile tires that would have been unimaginable 30 or so years ago, they are perfectly proportioned to the bulging fenders and huge wheel wells of the current XK.

The result successfully updates the look of the original XKE without compromising its character, much like that other revamped iconic British sports car, the Aston Martin DBS featured in the 2007 James Bond film, Casino Royale.

The interior also harkens back to the earlier models. Open the door and you are greeted with the look and smell of leather. Virtually no plastic is visible anywhere inside the car. The wide dash and door panels are all covered with leather, as are the seats and steering wheel. Even the roof liner is suede. Burl walnut and chrome provide tasteful accents.

The analog gauges are also very old school. They are located straight through the leather-wrapped steering wheel that is adorned with a traditional snarling big cat face.

The new XK only breaks with tradition where it counts. The finicky straight six and V-12 engines of old are replaced by a thoroughly modern 5.0-liter V8 that cranks out 385 horsepower and 380 foot-pounds of torque. It is mated to a responsive six-speed automatic transmission that includes a manual shift mode for those seeking maximum performance.

The electronic controls are also contemporary. A start button fires up the engine and brings a rotating transmission selector knob rising up out of the center console. The handbrake is a small lever next to it. Audio, navigation and programming controls are found on the touchscreen in the center of the dash.

The overall performance is exemplary. The XK can be easily driven slowly through town or aggressively on open roads. The suspension is firm but supple, the cornering is flat and the big four-wheel-disc brakes produce drama-free stops. The car is also remarkably quiet with the windows up, even when passing big trucks in heavy rain on the freeway.

And the 170-mile per hour speedometer does not seem like a joke, although we never drove over the speed limit, of course. For those who want to go even faster, a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 is available in the XKR. It produces 510 horsepower and 461 foot-pounds of torque.

One obvious downside is the back seat, which is only suitable for small children or adult contortionists. So take note, carpoolers.

Of course, all this styling, quality and technology in not cheap. The XK starts at just over $82,000 and the XKR tops $90,000.

But then again, how many cars can you buy that make you feel like James Bond, even when you're just going for groceries?

Facts and figures

Model: 2010 XK Coupe.

Manufacturer: Jaguar.

Class: Luxury sports coupe.

Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive.

Style: Two-door, four passenger convertible or hatchback.

Engines: 5.0-liter V8 (385 hp., 380 ft-lbs); 5.0-liter supercharged V8 (510 hp. or 461 ft-lbs.).

Transmissions: 6-speed automatic.

EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 16/24.

Price: Beginning at approximately $82,150 (as tested $83,300).