2011 Jaguar XK Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Superb grand touring sports car.
The 2011 Jaguar XK lineup features a new limited-edition model, though don't expect to see many of them. The Jaguar XKR 175 was designed celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Jaguar marque. Only 175 will be built, however, making it an exclusive model. The XKR 175 features special aerodynamic enhancements: front and rear spoilers, side sills and an air diffuser. It can go 175 mph, though we don't recommend testing this. It comes in Ultimate Black with contrasting red brake calipers that can be seen through 20-inch wheels. Inside are charcoal leather seats with cranberry stitching.
The Jaguar XK and XKR got superb new engines for 2010, along with some styling revisions. For 2011, Jaguar XK is unchanged, but it gets some new options, including adaptive cruise control.
The newly designed direct-injection 32-valve 5.0-liter engine, first introduced on the 2010 models, is made by Jaguar. The Jaguar engine is more compact than the previous Ford powerplant and it's very powerful. The XKR gets a blown version of the same engine. In the 385-horsepower XK, zero-to-60 acceleration time is 5.2 seconds, but in the 510-hp XKR it's 4.6 seconds, which is head-snapping fast. A new generation of Eaton supercharger, as well as a new air intake system, makes that visceral whine of the blower under hard acceleration a thing of the past (it's the price of progress); so when you floor it, you just shoot forward like a rocket, semi-silently. Watch out, because 100 mph comes in a couple of heartbeats.
The XK chassis was introduced for the 2007 model year, but it's still state of the art: aluminum monocoque, bonded and riveted, very lightweight and rigid. We found the result to be a sleek ride with no harsh spots and magnificent handling, with razor-sharp turn-in for corners and Gibraltar stability at Autobahn speeds. That's useful because the XK is long-legged and really hits its stride at 90 mph.
The brakes are outstanding. You can brake from 100-to-zero in mere heartbeats using the XKR's massive 15.7-inch rotors with six-piston calipers in front, and 13.8 inches with four-pots at the rear.
The 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is smooth and tight with rev-matching downshifting. Unlike so many, it isn't always changing gears for you. You can drive the XK aggressively and use the transmission like a manual gearbox, and it does well with crisp upshifts and throttle-blipping downshifts, especially when you turn the dial on the console to set the car to Sport mode. We are not fans of the Jaguar shift knob, however.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 16/22 City/Highway miles per gallon for the normally aspirated XK, 15/22 mpg for the supercharged XKR, although we only averaged 14 mpg in our 2011 Jaguar XKR because we were either creeping around town on stop-and-go errands, or running wide open on empty flat two-lanes where we could let 'er rip.
Inside is a classy cabin. We thought the Piano Black wood veneer looked sharp on our 2011 XKR. Instrumentation leans more toward luxury than sport, but then the XK itself leans that way, optional supercharger notwithstanding. Bucket seats are adjustable 16 ways including bolstering, so they work for large and small drivers who like to corner hard without being tossed out of the seat.
The 2011 Jaguar XK comes in four standard models: XK Coupe ($83,000), XK Convertible ($89,000), XKR Coupe ($96,125), XKR Convertible ($102,125), plus the XKR 175 coupe ($104,625). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
All models use the new 5.0-liter V8 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The normally aspirated XK makes 385 horsepower, while the supercharged XKR is rated at 510 hp. Otherwise, the two models are similarly equipped.
Standard equipment starts with Adaptive Dynamics with stability control, and includes every power thing you can think of. Twin-stitched heated and cooled leather seats in caramel, charcoal or ivory, with your choice of four interior trim woods (Jet Suedecloth headliner optional); Bowers & Wilkins 525-watt sound system; 19-inch alloy wheels; navigation system with 7-inch touch-screen; keyless entry and starting; bi-xenon headlamps with washers, automatic leveling, and corner beams triggered by turn signals; air sensors to optimize cabin air quality; front and rear Park Assist; and more.
The Advanced Technology Package ($2,500) includes adaptive cruise control and active front lighting. HD Radio ($300) can be added to the XK.
The XKR 175 is a special edition model to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Jaguar marque. There will be 175 units made, and it will be electronically limited to 175 mph (actually it's 174 mph, but we're saying 175 because it sounds better). The XKR 175 comes with unique front and rear spoilers, side sills and an air diffuser; it comes in Ultimate Black with red calipers seen through 20-inch wheels, and has charcoal leather with cranberry stitching.
Safety equipment includes frontal airbags, Dynamic Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control, Traction Control, Anti-Lock Brakes with EBD and Brake Assist, Adaptive Restraint Technology, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and, for the convertible, rollbars that actuate in 0.065 seconds.
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.
The Jaguar XK benefits from a light and stiff aluminum monocoque chassis that's riveted and bonded. The resulting rigid chassis produces superb handling and braking. When we drove them at high speeds we found the XK models felt solid, stable and planted. The stiff chassis contributes to steering accuracy; it's tight and quick but not skittish.
The double wishbone suspension was upgraded for 2010: spring rates stiffened, steering ratio quickened, control arms made stronger and anti-roll bars thicker. The convertible got new crossmembers for 2010, which means a lot to the cornering. You can feel it. The XK has never handled better.
Ride quality, too, is impossible to fault. The Adaptive Damping System provides continuous variable damping for ride comfort or maximum cornering on rough roads. Chassis motion, including roll rate and pitch rate, is analyzed and adjusted 100 times per second. Meanwhile, wheel travel is analyzed and corrected 500 times per second.
The 5.0-liter engine is designed and produced at Jaguar facilities in Coventry, England. It's an all-aluminum 32-valve V8 featuring direct injection, independent variable cam timing, cam profile switching, and a variable geometry inlet manifold. The multi-hole direct injection system sprays pressurized fuel (up to 150 bar) into the center of the combustion chambers. The variable camshaft timing system has its own Jaguar spin, as well. And the naturally aspirated engine has inlet camshaft profile switching, changing the characteristics of the engine for the torque, power or economy that may be needed at any moment. The air intake was totally redesigned for 2010, eliminating the supercharger whine, and also the view of the engine. All you'll find under the hood is a blank sea of black plastic. It works by selecting air tunnels among 14 of them, varying from 27 inches (low engine speeds) to 14 inches (high engine speeds).
The XKR has a sixth-generation twin vortex supercharger. Remember the buzzwords: twin vortex. The Roots-type unit uses two water-cooled intercoolers, increasing thermodynamic efficiency as well as horsepower, from 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque in the normally aspirated XK, to 510 horsepower with 461 pound-feet in the supercharged XKR.
The XKR can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds, boosted by that humongous 461 pound-feet of torque coming on strong at 2500 rpm; it will effortlessly reach 155 mph where it wants to keep on running but is electronically limited. Except in the XKR 175, which lets you run to 175, or maybe only 174.
We didn't get it there (not by a longshot), but we got it up there far enough to see that you can hit 140 mph and still have two gears to go. You can cruise at 75 mph at a lazy 2200 rpm.
The XKR brakes are massive 15.7-inch rotors with six-piston calipers in front, and 13.8 inches with four-pots at the rear, to bring you back from high speed.
With your foot on the pedal, you'll have no complaints with the normally aspirated engine in the standard XK making a mere 385 horsepower. Nor will you have any complaints when your foot is off the pedal, after you climb out smiling. Even the exhaust note has been addressed in great detail. Engineers have accentuated the acoustic feedback into the cabin in order to further enhance the driving pleasure. Intake manifold pressure pulsations are fed into an acoustic filter at the rear of the engine that's tuned to provide a crescendo at high revs. The 6800 rpm redline is some rush.
The exhaust note could be louder, but those days are over. Not all gentlemen like to rumble. So the XK engine is limited to a muted growl.
The XKR will get you past a semi-truck on a two-lane highway as quickly as anything on wheels bigger than a superbike, and it will flick back into your own lane almost as quickly. But since the supercharger has stopped whining, some of the thrill is gone; now it's sheer semi-silent speed. Since now you're not whooping at the whine, you can feel your jaws stretch back from the G-force of the acceleration.
We made a top-down run in a 2010 XK coupe one hot summer night over 120 miles of scarcely traveled two-lane along the Columbia River: a memorable drive. It's what you own a Jaguar for. With its powerful bi-xenon headlamps piercing the backcountry roads, the Jaguar's elegant nose was covered with bugs afterward, its hot metal simmering and ticking in the dark driveway. This is what it's all about. This feels like part of the heritage.
We took another ride over that same route in the 2011 XKR, top down and 95 degrees under the midday sun. Even though there weren't many curves, we set the selector to Sport, so the transmission would make all snappy shifts, and squirted the throttle down to the floor as often as we could, to pass cars and trucks. We got home flying. Oh, the joy! Lewis and Clark couldn't have imagined this when they passed through here.
The 6-speed automatic in Sport mode with paddle shifters is all you'll ever need. Shifts are sharp, quick, and on time. And there's downshift rev-matching, meaning the engine will blip for you, quite nicely. To observers, it sounds like you know what you're doing. There is no manual transmission. Jaguar fans of tradition will just have to get used to today's Jaguar, or buy a vintage Jag. You can have your electro-manual transmissions (no clutch pedal) by buying BMW, Ferrari, Audi, et al. But the Jaguar's paddle-shifting 6-speed ZF automatic feels just as slick as that bunch. We don't like the knob, however. It's our biggest complaint with this car.
The XKR shifts at redline 6500 rpm (6800 rpm in the XK) in Sport mode, by itself, faster and better than you can. In fact, the XKR gets to redline so quickly it's better to not even try to shift it yourself. A good strategy is to put it in Drive and leave it there.
We just wish the XK weren't such a gentleman's car. Its visceral side is screaming to get out, like a wild woman dressed for church. We'd love to see a Subaru-like WRX version of the XKR.
The Jaguar XK excels as the gentleman's sports car. Brilliant British 5.0-liter V8, aluminum monocoque chassis, active suspension, big brakes. Sensational and sensuous classic styling. Rocket ship acceleration from the 510-horsepower XKR. Luxury interior. We aren't fans of the JaguarDrive control with its round shifter knob, and the LCD touch-screen is hard to read in bright light and hard to understand in good light. Overall, however, Jaguar engineers have outdone themselves, and the mechanical/electronic improvements in the powertrain make this an enjoyable car.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report after his test drives of the Jaguar XK and XKR in Oregon's Columbia River Valley.
Jaguar XK Coupe ($83,000), XK Convertible ($89,000), XKR Coupe ($96,125), XKR Convertible ($102,125); XKR 175 coupe ($104,625).
Options As Tested
Jaguar XKR Convertible ($102,125).
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