Swashbuckling Sports Car

January 19, 2009

Have you seen Captain Blood, the classic 1935 pirate movie starring Errol Flynn? Flynn played a wrongly accused Irish doctor, Peter Blood, sentenced to slavery in the beautiful Caribbean.

Have you seen Captain Blood, the classic 1935 pirate movie starring Errol Flynn? Flynn played a wrongly accused Irish doctor, Peter Blood, sentenced to slavery in the beautiful Caribbean. With great tenacity and resourcefulness, he stole a Spanish ship and became Captain Blood. If you remember, he costarred with Olivia De Havilland. He was so powerful and elegant as a benevolent fair-minded leader. His sculptured looks, elegant manner, and sense of adventure won the hearts of millions of independent dreamers worldwide.

The Jaguar XK is the sort of car a swashbuckler with an adventuresome spirit might drive today. Yes, you may be a psychiatrist, living in the coastal Pacific Northwest, yet in your heart of hearts, you long for even more adventure. The ability to sail away in a quick comforting vessel can be curiously refreshing. This is a place where the accelerator becomes the exhilarator.

The 2009 XK is a beautiful luxury car with a sports car body. Jaguar has a rich successful racing history that began in the motorcycle industry. Jaguar automobiles have always been full of rich mammalian curves. Jaguar designers we’ve spoken with have told about how they hold in mind the concept of a pouncing cat while they are drawing the skin of the new Jaguar.

British DNA

Ian Callum has designed many British sports cars in his life, and in the last decade he had worked for Aston Martin. Before coming to Jaguar, he was the designer of the last Aston Martin you saw in a James Bond movie. He is bold, stylish, and aggressive, more so than any other designer we’ve met. Many designers come off like shaky insecure artists. Oh sure, they look fantastic, yet they are insecure about their art. Mr. Callum is as confident as a certain Mr. Bond.

The XK is simplistic beauty, a 2-door available as a hard top with a beautiful classic fastback or a convertible. The overall length is 189 inches; seating is for 4 for short trips; for long trips, seating is for 2 with extra luggage space. This Jaguar has a low wide stance and graceful soft curves. The wide oval grille is distinctive, as the power bulge is in the center of the hood. High and low beam xenon headlights with halogen fog lights are great for seeing road edges. Recently, Jaguar has added a styling cue from Land Rover. Behind the front wheels on the fender ahead of the passenger doors is a rear facing vent. This vent has different treatments depending on which model you purchase.

Rigid Aluminum Body

The XK has an all aluminum body. This is quite unusual, more like aircraft than automobile. The parts for the unibody are riveted and glued. The gentle people of Castle Bromwich and Coventry, England, never anywhere in their literature, do they use the word glued. Body parts are riveted, and “bonded.” Bonded, of course! How else would you describe the fastening of one of the finest sports cars in the world to be assembled in Britain? Special agents from the American-based Corporation Alcoa assisted Jaguar in their original assembly. Some of the advantages are a 60% increase in rigidity, while substantially lightening the whole structure. The hard top is noticeably most rigid.

With such an increase in rigidity, suspension can be designed so that it is more compliant with the road. Engine mounts and other components have to be recalibrated to handle the frequencies in which sound is transmitted around the aluminum structure. The independent suspension at all four wheels is very well done. The standard springs and shock absorbers are calibrated with luxury in mind. So the ride is not Viper harsh. There is an optional suspension that allows the driver to adjust the ride to their preference. It does make a noticeable difference, and you might like this feature, particularly if you’re a gadget person—yet the standard suspension is bloody good.

Photographs just don’t do the XK justice. The styling from the door backward is exceptional. So many designers and stylists handle the back of a car like a box or a trailer. Follow the lines backward as the roof comes down to the tail and the fender rises to meet it. Recently a well-to-do gentleman explained to me how he enjoyed hand washing his Jaguar himself, enjoyed feeling the sudsy water with the sponge in his hand as he would wipe over the large radius curves and smooth paint. The XK has the first, LED backup light, and LED, rear red fog light.

Plenty of Pounce

All XKs are front engine and rear-wheel drive. You have a choice of two V-8 engines. Both are all aluminum 4.2 L V-8 engines. One is naturally aspirated and one is supercharged. Both have the same limited top speed of 155 mph, the supercharged model (XK-R) gets there faster with about 400 hp. The naturally aspirated engine is also fast, smooth, and consistent, with about 300 hp.

The 4.2 L V-8 has four chain driven hollow bore camshafts; two for exhaust and two for intake. Each of the eight cylinders has four valves. Variable camshaft phasing is standard. During hard acceleration this engine remains smooth and strong with attractive exhaust notes.

The 6-speed automatic transmission offers a clutchless manual mode with shift levers on the steering wheel. This 6-speed is the only transmission available. In automatic mode, shifts are most luxurious. If you are aggressive with the exhilarator pedal, the shifts will be quicker. The paddle shifters are fast; in fact, they seemed faster than any of the German cars we’ve driven lately.

Downshifting is just not as satisfying, because of engine revolution matching. You may want to downshift as a method of decreasing your car’s speed. Most of us have done this with an automatic or manual transmission, going down along mountain grade, going from fourth to third or third to second to slow. When you downshift using the paddle shifters, the engine speed revs up to make the gear change less jarring to the whole driveline. So now you’re going down along grade with an uncomfortably high revving engine. It’s interesting to note that downshifting for the purpose of slowing up your car is quite damaging. This sort of engine use causes aggressive wear, and a lot of oil burning in the combustion chamber. Jaguar and the rest of us think you best use the brakes to slow up. So your engine stays clean and runs better, tens of thousands of miles longer.

Traction Like a Cat

The complete driveline, propeller shaft, final drive unit, half shafts and wheels make for a tight responsive package. Although the tread is a wide 275mm, the traction control system plays an important part in keeping power to the road. Traction control applies the brake to the wheel that is slipping so that power through the final drive is then transferred to the tire that’s gripping. To regain traction, this system might cut back the throttle a bit.

The traditional hydraulic power-assisted steering uses rack and pinion for precise feel. The steering effort is calibrated to the luxury side, not as light as a Buick, yet lighter than most sports cars. The brakes are very good front and rear. There are large diameter ventilated discs with cast iron calipers at each at each wheel. We would like a little more brake, but you can make your own judgment during your test drive. Nothing beats a great brake pedal at the limit of traction.

What is the brake fade like after three or four stops in quick succession, say from about 40 mph? Don’t press on the brake pedal so hard as to initiate the antilock brake system. Be firm, did the pedal go away? How far down? Did it touch the floor? Good brakes will have about the same pedal play when getting hot. As brakes overheat and are overworked, the pedal will move closer to the floor. I have been in cars where the pedal went to the floor with little braking power left. I was sure happy for my hand brake’s direct connection to the rear wheels.

The XK has an electric handbrake. Directly behind the gear shift lever on the center console is a little switch of the lever meant to replicate the lever of the hand brake which you would usually set for parking. Now check your owner’s manual. If I remember correctly, you pull up on the lever three times in quick succession to give you the most emergency stopping power possible from the rear wheels. This technique is a completely different system to actuate the rear brakes. On all automobiles sold in America, the parking brake, foot brake, hand brake, emergency brake, or whatever you call it is a completely different system of actuating the rear wheel brakes than the hydraulic system you use with your right foot when driving.

Intuitive Electronics

As you walk toward the car with the key fob in your pocket, the door unlocks just as you reach the handle. The aluminum door is pleasantly light and the highest point in the roof is naturally where you move your head into the car, making it easier for tall people. Press the red start button, no key needed. Your Jaguar comes to life as the electricity surges through your instrument panel illuminates with well defined soft backlights. As you would expect, nighttime lighting is romantic on the interior except for the focused reading lamps.

The instrument panel is traditionally well done with a large speedometer on the left and an equally sized tachometer on the right. In the middle is your gear shift indicator and other bits of selectable important information you can choose to put up on your little screen in front of you. You have a choice of instrument panel materials for no additional charge. Yes, the woods are real and handcrafted. Of course the steering wheel has a variety of hand controls at the nine and three o’clock positions. Just behind the spokes are the paddle shifters. As with any good luxury car, the steering wheel and seats are heatable.

Of course, the leather bucket seats are sumptuous with a vast array of individually adjustable support mechanisms. It was disappointing to see that no perforated leather with seat cooling was available. Shorter drivers may find the seating in this car uncomfortable.

Bluetooth, navigation system, and touch screen are standard equipment. The graphics are elegantly different than the other vehicles and take a bit of getting used to. Everybody enjoys a touch screen except for the one who cleans the greasy finger marks off of it. Like all vehicles with a navigation system built in, some features you love and think are quite intuitive, and others frustrate. Overall, the electronics in the XK series are very pleasant and allow for ample personalization.

Look Under the Luxury

When you’re in the showroom, be sure to look under the XK. It’s very attractive and well done. Of the few different XKs we examined, the interior fit of all materials and the exterior fit of the aluminum skin appeared symmetrical and flush. All colors and textures chosen are surprisingly sumptuous and rich feeling. Look closely at the quality and the symmetry of the stitching.

Many pure luxury cars are just too soft riding, and thus, boring. Many sports cars even in this price range are just too harsh riding to be comfortable all around. What sort of ride or control do you like? The most direct competitor to the Jaguar XK series is BMWs 6 series.

So you’ve decided to be a little outrageous, and you’re going to test drive the supercharged XK-R. It's a luxury steal when compared to the BMW M6. You might even find the front seat more roomy and comfortable with simpler controls. While the BMW 650i is similar in size, weight, and price, they are very different executions, designed for different tastes. Test drive your choice a minimum of two times on different days—maybe even three times before you decide exactly which vehicle you choose.

New Corporate Home: Mumbai

As you probably noticed, the world's economy is in a bit of a shakeup. Ford Motor Company just sold Jaguar and Land Rover of England to Tata Motors of India. Tata Motors is India’s largest automobile company that is also the world’s second largest bus manufacturer and fourth largest truck manufacturer.

Soon Tata Motors will build the world’s least expensive automobile, the Nano. It’s clear by agreements reached to date that Jaguar and Land Rover will continue with their independent identities and business plans for at least 2 to 5 years. This will be a tremendous learning process for Tata Motors. As Toyota learned from General Motors how to build a better car for North America at NUMMI, so Tata Motors will use Jaguar and Land Rover.

A new model variation, more luxurious and more powerful than its predecessors is available. It’s the XKR Portfolio with approximately 420 hp. I can just hear the pirate Captain Peter Blood, demanding that test drive in the XKRRRRRRRR, Aye, Aye, matey.

2009 Jaguar XK Coupe

Length 188.6 in.

Width 81.5 in.

Wheelbase 108.3 in.

Weight (lb.) 3759 lbs.

Passengers Four

Drive Rear

Engine 4.2-liter, V8

Hp@rpm 300 hp @ 6000 rpm

Ft-lb@rpm 310 lb ft @ 4100 rpm

Transmissions 6-spd ZF auto

City/Hwy** 16/25

Gas Requirement Premium

Built Birmingham, England

Safety Score Not tested*

Real price $72,029.00

Website jaguarusa.com

*informedforlife.org

** fueleconomy.gov