Jag's new bruiser cruiser is finally on sale -- Graham Bell drives it for PH.
Jaguar describes the outgoing XK as the fastest selling sports car in its history, with over 90,000 sold during its 10 year run, around 18,000 of them in the UK.
While there might be some debate on PH forums about whether the XK really is a sports car, what’s not in doubt is that sales in its sector have doubled in the past five years. Consider that and the tough time Jaguar and Ford in general have been having lately and it becomes pretty obvious how important it is for the new XK to tempt buyers away from German marques.
It gets one over on the opposition thanks to an all-new high-tech bonded and riveted aluminium monocoque bodyshell utilising the same technology introduced on the current XJ.
Not only has this enabled Jaguar’s engineers to produce a bodyshell that’s significantly stiffer and lighter than both the old model’s and those of the competition, it’s also enabled them to increase both the wheelbase and the track to improve interior space and dynamic stability.
The wheelbase has grown by 164mm, with the new car also being 31mm longer and 15mm taller than the outgoing model, and around 140kg lighter at 1,595kg for the coupé.
Both coupé and convertible versions were developed in tandem; the convertible was started first due to the extra structural challenges involved. There’s 95 per cent commonality of parts use between them with consequent advantages for both production and spares supply. The new car also has bolt-on end structures to reduce both the time and cost of crash repair.
The front end styling particularly has come in for some stick on PistonHeads' forums, so let’s have a few words about that. I’ll readily admit that when I saw the first photos I thought the front end was too flat. However, this has less to do with Ian Callum than the EU's new pedestrian safety laws: the flatter front spreads the force of impact when some idiot steps out in front of you. Photos don't quite do it justice: it looks better both in real life and with a number plate visually breaking it up.
Another safety measure -- this time entirely down to Jaguar -- is the introduction of twin pyrotechnically operated roll hoops behind the rear seats of the convertible to provide roll-over protection. The new XK’s most notable safety feature though has to be the world’s first ‘pedestrian deployable bonnet’ system, which uses pyrotechnics to raise the bonnet when it senses an impact.
Jaguar assured me that this really is to protect pedestrians by providing more deformable space between them and the engine -- and isn’t just a way of protecting their car by dissuading Fifth Gear's Tom Ford from throwing himself across the bonnet as usual.
Mechanically, the new XK currently comes with a normally aspirated 300bhp 4.2 litre V8 and 6-speed automatic gearbox and that’s it, though there’s a supercharged version due to follow.
The V8 is a development of the well-proven unit used in the outgoing model with new fuel injection and other tweaks to reduce emissions, while the new generation auto produces faster gearchanges than either BMW’s automated manual or Audi’s dual clutch systems. It also does away with Jaguar’s traditional J-gate shifter in favour of a reversed L (with Sports setting to the left) combined with paddles on the steering wheel.
This stems from Jaguar’s desire to make the new XK a GT and sports car in one, offering both easy and involving driving modes to suit your mood. To this end a lot of work has been done on the induction and exhaust systems so that under certain circumstances they enable that V8 to produce a downright rorty snarl – just like a real sports car should.
And to help with GT mode, keyless start, satnav with seven-inch colour touch screen, cruise control, and Bluetooth are all fitted as standard in that leather lined 2+2 interior.
When it comes to sports car interiors, many people think wood is old fashioned and out of place, so for the new XK Jaguar has introduced an aluminium option, which perfectly suited the black trimmed, black painted coupe I drove on the morning of the press launch. Traditional wood is still available (in two finishes) which works equally well with brown trim as used on the convertible I drove in the afternoon.
Driving the XK
Getting a comfortable driving position in that roomier cabin is easy thanks to the excellent body-hugging, 10-way adjustable seats, while pressing the red button to fire up that V8 produces the sort of rumble that’ll have any petrolhead smirking with anticipation.
Lazy drivers can simply stick the auto in D and leave it to its own devices, but that’s hardly the PistonHeads way so, once out of town and onto some clear road, it was into sport mode and down with the throttle.
Starting from fairly low speed the result was an impressive surge of uninterrupted acceleration as the auto shifted seamlessly up through the ratios. Jaguar claims 0-60 in 5.9 seconds for the new XK8 coupe (down from 6.1) plus a standing quarter time of 14.4 seconds – within half a second of the old 400bhp supercharged XKR.
It should slow quicker than the old XK8 too thanks to lighter weight and new bigger brakes, with a quick brake test producing no heavy modulation of the pedal, no wheel snatching and no twitching – just very rapid, dead straight stopping. Excellent.
Right, back to that new generation gearbox. In sport mode this will monitor your driving style and adapt its shift patterns accordingly, though I never really gave it the chance because inevitably I soon started playing with the paddles.
These provide you with a manual sequential change that’s not only far more involving than auto mode but probably also makes changes faster and more smoothly than you could do with a manual box. They also enable you to make the exhaust system play a great tune as you go down through the gears approaching a tight bend or junction.
However, the paddles still don’t give you total control of the gears, because if the XK really doesn’t like the one you’ve chosen it’ll pick its own, as I discovered when selecting fifth for a 30mph zone and the car decided it would rather be in fourth.
On balance I’d personally still prefer a proper manual, although Jaguar’s system really does an admirable job of making an automatic fun to drive hard, as I was able to discover thanks to some terrific roads on Jaguar’s chosen test route
This also included some very bumpy B-roads, which the XK’s CATS controlled suspension made a pretty good job of smoothing out, with only serious undulations and some bump/thump over patch repairs marking down the ride quality.
As for handling, well tackling the twisties is helped by Jaguar’s nicely calibrated power steering and the body control offered by CATS as well as the wider track and reduced weight. And while it’s still a relatively big, heavy car, the new XK is very sure-footed and can be surprisingly chuckable -- as I discovered by accident.
This happened when the route notes basically said continue along this B-road for x miles, and as it looked like the road carried straight on with a clear junction joining to the left some way ahead I was happily pressing on a bit. However, getting closer revealed that the ‘junction joining to the left’ was actually a sharp bend in the road. Cue frantic braking, downchanging and wheel twirling in that order, combined with the anticipation of the front end sliding wide to the accompaniment of squealing rubber.
But no - the XK simply turned very sharply with no drama whatsoever. I don’t know how much of that was down to the chassis set-up and how much was down to the various electronic stability systems Jaguar has installed, but it was very impressive.
During less frantic cornering, the XK feels well balanced, roll free and very solid -- both coupé and convertible. Jaguar’s promotional video made it obvious that with the stability systems switched off the car is well up for some serious, tail-out, tyre-smoking power oversteer. I didn't try this on the public road.
An impressive drive
In conclusion, the new XK is dynamically impressive and the build quality looks good, while the styling you can decide for yourself. But will it tempt enough people to fork out £58,995+ for a coupé or £64,955+ for a convertible?
Early indications are that Jaguar is onto a winner, raking in over 2,000 confirmed deposits in the UK alone by the end of last year. It's not just pulling in those considering traditional XK rivals from BMW and Mercedes either. Enquiries are also coming in from people seriously considering the new XK as an alternative to a 911.
The new XK might not be quite the F-Type that we’d all really like to see, but it comes pretty close.
© Copyright Graham Bell 2006