First impressions can be everything when evaluating a car. We got our first look at today's test car, a 2007 Jaguar XK convertible, on a raw New England spring day that promised rain. And rain it did -- for six days, stopping only on the morning the Jag had to go away. That was enough to affect my impression of the car, because it's an entirely different animal when the top is down, becoming a true head-turner.
As it should. The XK carries a price tag of $84,800 and comes from those emporiums in the automotive industry that sell "large premium sports cars."
By any of my standards this is a terrific car. It delivers substantial performance from a reasonably sized 4.2-liter V8 engine and offers rear-wheel drive, a luxury interior, finely tuned exhaust, true Jaguar ride, and negligible torsional body twist for a convertible.
If you can afford this Jag, you will also be able to shop it against the top-of-the-line convertibles at Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus, and maybe even wonder if it's possible to "step up" to see what they offer at Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and
Some of those models will offer more luxury; others may have bigger engines and better handling. None has much cargo space or real passenger room in the rear seat. But no matter what the price tag on any car, trash talk still is cheap among those of us who usually just watch these top-end cars go by.
My peeve with the Jaguar is the lack of a manual transmission. Isn't the ability to shift a part of the sports car mystique?
My son-in-law Steve, a lawyer who probably could afford a Jag, was aghast when he looked at the sticker and saw a $3,000 luxury package as the only real option.
"Why does an $80,000 car have to offer a luxury package?" he asked. "Isn't that why you're buying it in the first place?"
For the record, the package adds soft-grain leather seats, a heated leather-and-wood steering wheel (trust me, it's to die for), 19-inch wheels, and leather-wrapped doors, instrument panel, dashboard, and console.
The other negative was the poplar wood trim inside. Poplar, with its knots and dark streaks, is one of three interior options on the XK. We'd opt, sight unseen, for either of the others -- burr walnut or aluminum. The poplar trim is so light and variegated that it's overwhelming in a vehicle that is otherwise the essence of class and good taste, starting with the oval grille that's right out of the E-Class styling book, and continuing along the sides, which are marked with new-style power vents and lead to a nice rounded rear deck.
This Jaguar proved to be a wonderful wet-weather car. We came to appreciate the rain-sensitive windshield wipers and light-sensitive headlights more than the three-layered soft top that stows itself in 18 seconds at the push of a button.
Jaguar differs from its competition with its aluminum unibody construction. Instead of welding, the cars are built using the company's own system of riveting and bonding. The XK -- while not a lightweight at 3,759 pounds -- is lighter than its predecessor, and the result is better power-to-weight ratio, performance, handling, and fuel economy.
The handling is clearly more tuned to touring than weekend rallying, which is proper for this particular package. Jaguar, which first introduced the XK line as the XK120 in 1948, has retained the cockpit feel for the front-seat passengers, but it's not as confining as in past models. With no clutch (or emergency brake pedal), there's lots of room for the driver's left foot alongside the other pedals.
Storage space is limited with the top down. If you're traveling with it up, there's a storage separator that can be removed to make enough space for two to get away for a weekend with some gear. Jaguar opted to build the XK with a soft top -- as opposed to a hardtop convertible -- a choice that allowed engineers to keep the configurations of the coupe and convertible almost identical.