We've always liked the Jaguar XK at CAR Towers. Those Callum curves, that lightweight aluminium build, the effortless performance... To be honest, there wasn't much wrong with the outgoing XK sports cars, so we were anxious to make sure the new, facelifted-for-2010 coupe and roadster didn't meddle with a winning formula.
Now we've driven the new XK coupe, complete with the 5.0-litre iteration of the AJ-V8 and numerous detail changes inside and out, and can deliver the verdict...
So Jaguar's XK has gained a 5.0-litre V8? Hardly downsizing, is it?
True, but the devil's in the detail. The AJ-V8 III might have swollen from 4.2 to 5.0 litres, but it's also gained a direct-injection head complete with independent variable valve timing. The upshot is a serious trip to the gym, the new V8 cranking out a reputable 380 ponies and pounds (up from 296bhp and 303lb ft).
So the new 2010-spec XK is nearly as fast as the old XKR, tipping the 0-60mph sprint from 5.9sec to 5.2sec while top whack remains pegged at 155mph. It feels this quick on the road. The ZF auto box slushes with the best of them (far more comforting at a waft than even the 911's new PDK tranny), but step on the loud pedal and the naturally aspirated XK transforms into a hard-edged sports car.
They've fiddled with the acoustics to give the exhaust timbre a deep, woofling bent eight burble when you're on it and the switch from cruise ship to Cruise missile is more pronounced than before. This brilliant V8 is an endearing companion up front, and suits the bi-polar demands of a 2+2 sports car.
A new car in 2009... guess they're bragging on CO2 rights?
Of course they are! Smelly stuff at the exhaust falls to 264g/km and combined economy stands at 25.2mpg. Jag says that's 7% better than the Mercedes SL500. We say it's 15% worse than the strangely purebred Porsche 997 Carrera 2, which has also gained direct injection.
We're slightly perplexed why Jaguar chose to upsize the V8 in an age when most people are downsizing, which could have guaranteed even lower emissions. But we guess the decision was taken back in a booming economy, and there's no arguing with the improvement in key figures.
UK buyers can choose between the XKR and this 5.0, but US dealers will still offer the choice of the old 4.2. And the XK range will get even more interesting in the coming year when Jag finally launches the new 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 diesel XK...
Talk me through the driving experience
To pilot a new 2010 Jaguar XK is to experience a lesson in dieting. It feels really nimble, despite the 5.0's large dimensions. Thank the aluminium construction that keeps weight down to 1660kg (significantly lower than a Merc SL and BMW 650i, but a couple of hundred kilos above the smaller 911).
It's apparent after a few hundred metres, the way the XK glides over the tarmac. The ride is nothing short of exceptional, especially considering our car ran on 20in rims. You're aware of an absence of bulk; the steering is quick acting, the whole car pointily switching direction as you dial in inputs. It's no Lotus Elise, but there's a hint of that alacrity in the XK's DNA somewhere.
Thank the (relatively for the class) light weight, Jag's suspension tuning skills and the new Adaptive Damping System. Unlike the old CATS system, which had just two settings equating to soft and firm, the new ADS can variably alter the damping rates hundreds of times a second. And rather than purely react, it can actually predict what lean, roll and pitch is likely and prepares the car in advance. Sounds complex, works well.
And inside the new XK?
You settle down behind a steering wheel nabbed straight off our long-term Jaguar XF saloon. There's the pop-up JaguarDrive selector, too, although it's not quite as ideally positioned in the XK – sitting too far back on the centre console, forcing you to crick your arm to swivel the rotary dial. Must be some packaging reason behind its siting.
But everything in that cabin works well and there's no iDrive or MMI complications to baffle you. Just simple buttons and a touch-screen. You won't use those rear seats much; much better to flop them down and bung bags on them. The XK's boot is a curiously strange shape, but easily accessed and okay for most weekend touring and day-to-day needs.
Jaguar XK (2010): the range choice
There's a delightfully simple range structure here. You can buy the XK 5.0-litre naturally aspirated coupe, as tested here, for £59,900, or pay an extra £6k for the Convertible. Both are available for the first time in new top-dog Portfolio trim, which adds £5k to the price and 20in alloys, keyless entry, 16-way adjusted, heated and cooled seats, suede headlining and an uprated Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi.
If 380bhp isn't quite enough, you can stretch to the new £72,400 XKR Coupe and £78,400 Convertible. They share the same firecracker engine as the latest Jag XFR and you can read our first drive verdict on the supercharged coupe here.
So what don't you like about the new Jag XK?
Not much to be honest. We drove a Portfolio example sporting that excellent B&W hi-fi on board, but were worried by an exceptionally loud fan sound from the driver's side rear seat, later traced to an over-active amp cooling fan. The actual stereo sounds brilliant, mind you.
The interior ambience is luxurious, pampering, snug. Which is what we expect in a Jag. But there's something about the XK's cabin which is beginning to feel old-hat. It's like the XF has come along and moved the design benchmarks, and a rotary dial here and suede headlining there aren't quite enough to disguise the XK's older origins.
The XK remains firmly ensconced in our affections. The design has been kept fresh by those reprofiled bumpers, jewel-like rear lights and new chromed front inlets. It's just enough to retain this 2+2's stylistic simplicity that's so rare in today's over-wrought world.
That the XK is better by degrees in every department seals the deal. It's a desirable sports coupe and provides a beautiful, slick-driving alternative to the cool Germanic logic of its rivals. Each of the competition has its individual strengths, but the XK serves up a strong performance in every critical area.
Was the facelift a success? You bet. Job done.
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