So much more than a retro model
The door pockets in the 2011 Jaguar XK Coupe are too shallow. There, I've found a problem with Jaguar's revamped sport car. Who says car writers can't be objective?
That's the challenge with all Jaguar's current lineup, including the XF and XJ sedans and the high performance R versions. The cars are so ridiculously good that any complaints sound frivolous. Not only is each one gorgeous to look at and a pleasure to drive, but they are also the most reliable Jaguars ever built, meaning you can actually depend on them for everyday use.
Although both the XF and XJ are fine cars, the XK may be the hardest model to criticize because it so clearly evokes Jaguar's legendary heritage. While the sedans are beautifully sculpted for contemporary cars, the XK retains the look of the original XK-E sports car - the long hood, sloping hatchback and swelling rear haunches that became an icon of Swinging England in the 1960s.
Those cars were produced from 1961 to 1975, when then they were placed by the Italian-styled KJ-S, which last until 1996. The KX line was relaunched in 1996, when Jaguar was owned by Ford. Although evocative of the original E-type, it also seemed like an obvious retro model, similar to Ford's short-lived revival of the Thunderbird. But Ford kept working on it and by 2007 the KX had matured into a model that echoed the past but demanded to be judged on its own substantial merits.
The upgrades continued after Ford sold Jaguar to Tata Motors of India in 2009. The 2011 version includes aerodynamic enhancements that emphasize the long hood and broad rear end even more. A lower air dam also gives it a more aggressive look.
Like the original models, the current XK is also available in a convertible version. Although electronically operated, it is heavy-duty cloth like the original E-type, not retractable metal.
The interior reflects the model's heritage, too. Although everything is wrapped in more leather than the original versions, the wood trim in our test car was genuine and tasteful. The big analog speedometer and tachometer accurately reflected the earlier models, although it would be nice to see a more complete gauge cluster, something the Camaro SS has managed to include.
Two modern touches are the large shift dial that rises up from the center console when the engine starts and the touch screen in the center of the dash that controls the climate, entertainment and navigations systems. Although almost Space Age compared to the rest of the interior, we accept the shift dial as more functional than gimmicky. The touch screen, on the other hand, is more of a necessary evil. Virtually call cars have them these days, and many are not well integrated into the dash. Those in the Jaguars are better than most but still look a little out of place.
Some reviewers have complained that the touch screen controls are confusing and require multiple steps to use. We don't disagree but have yet to find any such system that is easy and intuitive to use. All require some practice and can be distracting to use.
Standard features are comprehensive and include the usual compliment of safety and convenience items, such as Dynamic Stability Control, keyless entry and start, and a high-end stereo system. In fact, surprisingly few options even need to be offered, and they are limited to such things as wheel and interior color choices.
All Jaguars are powered by 5.0-liter V8 engines. The base one is normally aspirated and produces 385 horsepower. Two supercharged versions are available in the sedans, one producing 470 horsepower and the other cranking out a remarkable 510 horsepower. For some reasons the Jaguar only offers the 510 horsepower option in the XK. Our test car came with the base engine, which was healthy enough for every situation we encountered, including the occasional empty straight road and sweeping back street. In these settings, hitting gas produced immediate acceleration, aided by the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Slightly faster responses were available in the Sport and manual shift modes, but the standard setting should be more than enough for everyone but showoffs.
At more than 3,600 pounds, the XK is not as nimble as a Mazda MX-5, to name one of the only other two door sports cars for sale these days. But the XK's have always been more Grand Touring machines than rally cars. Given that, the handling is confidence-inspiring. The suspension is supple, the steering is relatively precise and the big four-wheel disc brakes are more than capable.
Of course, with a starting price of around $83,000, it's easy to argue the 2011 Jaguar XK should do all that well. The secret is living up to such expectations while still evoking a 50-year old legend.
Facts and figures:
• Model: 2011 XK Coupe.
• Manufacturer: Jaguar.
• Class: Sports car.
• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive.
• Style: Two door 2+2.
• Engines: 5.0-liter V8 (385 hp - as tested); Supercharged 5.0-liter V8 (510 hp).
• Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Sport mode and steering wheel mounted shift paddles.
• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 16/24.
• Price: Beginning at $83,000.