The Jaguar XK has been an iconic beauty, its voluptuous fenders flowing without interruption back to the 1954 Jaguar D Type racing car, the 1957 XKSS, and the 1975 XKE. So refinements to its body are almost a no-win situation. But the tweaks to the nose and tail for 2010 pulled it off. That's enough changes for a while.
The XKR has some touches that improve its looks over the XK. The foglamps are located in the headlamp cluster, and there are small vertical vents at the ends of the bumper to help cool the front rotors. There are also vents on the hood of the XKR that open like a clamshell and add muscle-car flavor. The XKR also has fender cutouts behind the front wheels to extract more heat, and two twin exhaust tips that declare horsepower, complementing and balancing the hood vents.
The XKR grille is just mesh and a round growling Jaguar emblem that's pretty cool but not quite like the leaping cat that used to be a hood ornament, until deemed too dangerous to pedestrians and tempting to thieves because it was just too cool.
At the rear of the XK are LED taillamps, which definitely sharpen the car at night, and a lower spoiler, which you don't really notice. The XK gets first-in-class visibility to and from the rear, with twin back-up lights and taillight fog lamps to protect you in soup like in the British Isles.
The standard 19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels are gorgeous, and the other wheel options are just as lovely.
Unlike some, the Mercedes E550 convertible, for example, the fabric top on the XK doesn't look awkward or weird because of its shape. It goes down or up at the touch of a button in 18 seconds, disappearing under the bodywork behind the rear seats. Jaguar calls the headliner material Suedecloth, and from the inside as well as the outside it's almost indistinguishable from a fixed roof. This Suedecloth has been made available as headliner for the XK Coupe for 2011.
But you have to really really want a convertible to give up the sleek roofline of the Coupe. We love wind in our hair and all, but paying $6000 to lose the Jaguar roofline that makes the XK such a racy beauty in profile, as well as from the rear, maybe especially from the rear, seems unfair to art.
The Jaguar XK is a gentleman's sports car and its cockpit conveys that. It's luxurious, not racy like the 1957 Jaguar XKSS, the car that started it all. There was a time when Jaguars felt more like the racing cars they used to be, at least around the edges.
The XK Convertible is very quiet underway with the triple-lined top up. In fact, because the new Jaguar 5.0-liter engine is quieter than the old Ford 4.2-liter, you almost can't hear the growl of the powerful engine any more. Even with the top down, it doesn't rumble unless you're up near redline. Although maybe we couldn't hear it because on our best top-down day, we had the Bowers & Wilkins 525-watt sound system going full blast with the Allman Brothers, loving it.
The XKR we drove had the heated and cooled front seats with 16-way adjustment including bolstering; we used the cooling feature on that same 95-degree top-down rock 'n' roll day. You can snug up the seat around your sides so that you don't slide around when you toss the Jag around corners at the G-forces that its rigid monocoque chassis and fine-tuned suspension can deliver. The twin-stitched leather is available in caramel, charcoal or ivory. But mostly, these seats are made for cruising.
Elegant materials surround the driver, especially the wood, your choice among Rich Oak, Dark Oak, Burr Walnut, Ebony or Piano Black, depending on the model. There's also Knurled Aluminum and Dark Mesh Aluminum. In our two separate Jaguars, we got the Dark Mesh Aluminum with Piano Black trim, and before that the Rich Oak; we'll take the aluminum and black. Always.
It's easy to forget the XK has a back seat. Rear legroom is 27.6 inches, about 70 percent as much as your average back seat. But average back seats don't have 30 percent to lose, so the plus-two part is for kids only (not counting packages, but not forgetting them, either). We have two of them, 11 and 14, and they could only both fit in the XK with one in the front passenger seat moved full forward, the other behind him. Later we put three young girls in the back seat … sort of. It was our hometown's Fourth of July parade, and they rode perched up there behind the seats like trophy queens at the Indy 500. With red and white stripes taped to the nose of the car, a good time was had by all. No one seemed to notice the irony that the car was British.
The back seat might be small, but the trunk of the convertible is large, and the storage capacity of the coupe is massive.
The XK uses the trademarked JaguarDrive Selector, a big knob on the center console. We don't like the knob. Instead of moving a shift lever, you rotate the knob to choose Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive or Sport. We wanted to dial it into Reverse and back up, quicker than it wanted us to; it apparently wanted a secure twist of the knob, not just a flick into place. If you're James Bond and you need to back up quickly, electronic shifters are a poor choice because they are vastly slower than mechanical shifters. Two other times it didn't go into Park, on the first try. Maybe we turned the knob too fast. Or maybe it needs work. If you shut the car off with the transmission in Drive, it will go into Park itself, a good feature. Is the JaguarDrive Selector better than a traditional shifter? We don't think so.
In Drive or Sport mode, you manually shift the transmission with well-shaped paddles on the steering wheel. Well-shaped paddles isn't a given, as some cars manage to mess up the design of these controls. It's a joy when something you use a lot makes you feel good about the shape, every time, and that's the case here.
The gauges and instrumentation have pretty aluminum bezel rings, but they're not performance-oriented. The speedo goes to 180 mph and the tachometer to 8000 rpm, but they're just numbers (except for the XKR 175, come to think of it, or rather 174). The instrumentation too, nods toward luxury. Numbers are white on the gauges, and needles red. They're easy enough to read, though they could be easier; and they don't make you say I love my Jaguar when you look at them. Plus there's not anything distinctive about them that might say it's a Jaguar. A growling cat on the steering wheel is about it.
The big wide center stack is mostly filled by the 7-inch LCD touch-screen. We found the touch-screen controls are not intuitive. Radio tuning, for example, is not easy, even after you figure it out, with too many extra steps to perform a simple function. We usually managed to get what we wanted out of the touch screen, guessing at the descriptions, but we didn't care for it. And on Jaguar forums, with the 2010 model at least, you'll find complaints about the reliability of the computer that controls all the functions. Another bad thing about the screen, on the convertible with the top down, is that it's too hard to read. All of that information they're trying so hard to give you is mostly unavailable when the sun shines on the dashboard.
We liked the cruise control: When you hit Resume it doesn't race to get back up to speed, it gets there gradually and smoothly, going easy on the gas.
Keyless start systems are a popular feature, but we are not fans. We think the convenience keyless start systems add is overshadowed by the frustration and irritation they can cause when the key cannot be located, sometimes at inconvenient moments, like when the driver jumps out of the car and forgets the key is in his pocket. Also, it's more difficult to tell whether the car is switched on with a start button than it is with a key in an ignition switch, which can lead to run-down batteries. Another minor gripe was that the engine revs high on initial startup; makes us feel like we're wasting gas.