Aston Martin exotic style comes a whole lot cheaper on the Jaguar XK. (Photo illustration/All photos: Clifford Atiyeh)
All right, I admit it – I like looking at myself driving in the reflections of buildings, and get absolutely giddy when I’m behind the wheel of something flashy. It’s the sort of vanity guys at the gym indulge in, watching themselves do arm curls in T-shirts two sizes too small. “Yeah, that’s right, this is all mine,” they’re thinking. “You, babe, are gonna have to work for this.”
When I met my girlfriend four years ago, she didn’t exert much effort claiming what little upper body tone I had – and still have. She also didn’t meet me in a Jaguar XK, the graceful, debonair English coupe thoroughly laced with male pheromones. It’s the $81,000 automotive equivalent of that refreshed, endorphin-packed feeling body builders get after dropping a pair of dumbbells. They like how they feel. They know other people are watching them.
You’ll feel compelled, then, to trace the chrome trim outlining the pillarless side glass all the way to the coupe’s bulging rear fenders. Hot looks prompt stares and touches, even if most of the XK’s devoted audience – like the UPS driver opening his truck door to flash a thumbs-up, or the 8-year-old boy in the back of a Volkswagen craning his neck to get a glimpse – aren’t women.
Which comes as a bit of relief, because if all that attracted women was brute strength and a steroidal body, I’d be single for eternity. And there’s a lot more to love about the XK besides its chiseled shape, 19-inch spokes, and that muscled, muted burble from the 4.2 liter V-8.
Once you’re used to the big blind spots – a sacrifice for being blessed with dapper looks – the XK settles into traffic with ease. The accelerator and brake pedals allow enough travel for smooth getaways and stops without lurching or bucking, yet summon full force the instant it's required. Steering is finely weighted at all speeds and never incites twitchiness, as can be the case with high-strung sports cars. The 6-speed automatic is just as satisfyingly quick as it revs to redline in manual mode as it is trolling at 1,500 r.p.m. on the main drag.
Body roll is almost unnoticeable thanks to CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) which firms up the dampers at the hard flick of the padded, three-spoke wheel. On the highway, the shocks ease up considerably, but don’t float. This is a proper Gran Turismo: a fast 2+2 coupe that makes short work of several hundred miles. My trip to central Connecticut and back could have been to Florida instead, and even then the only required stops would be for refueling and restrooms.
Being surrounded by the traditional Jaguar leather-and-wood combo also makes long distances a breeze, and a power telescoping/tilt wheel and the supportive 10-way seats (with power side bolsters) ensure that drivers above 6 feet won’t have trouble getting comfortable. The “back seat” is good only for storage.
Certainly there are faster, more powerful cars. The similarly priced BMW 650i automatic rushes to 60 in 5.4 seconds, a half-notch quicker. Ditto for the Maserati GranTurismo and Mercedes SL550. The Jag’s 300 horsepower isn’t an impressive figure in this class (the upcoming 510 horsepower XKR, 90 more than the current supercharged model, will fix that). But all of these two-doors are heavier than the all-aluminum 3,671-pound XK (3,814, 4,140, and 4,220 pounds respectively).
On the road, the extra half-second isn’t really a bother. As the speed builds, the XK reveals its smooth character, whether at 40 miles per hour or 100. If you must go faster and look more outrageous doing so, the Italians have plenty to choose from. But to get your V-8 fix in such style and no sweat – few cars come close.
There are a few unsettling details. Some cheap-feeling matte black plastic covers some of the interior door handles and instrument cluster, as in the XF sedan and Land Rovers (the rest of the switchgear has a fine tactile feel). The steering wheel and seat heater controls are buried in the infotainment display instead of as actual buttons. The exhaust is almost too soft – I’d prefer a little more snarl – but this is a gentleman’s coupe, and there’s always the XKR.
Buyers won’t care about the 15-mile-per-gallon fuel economy or the tight back hatch. A Jaguar – especially a modern-day coupe with an E-type bloodline – is about emotion and plain old physical attraction. With the company ranked at the top of a J.D. Power reliability study, a Jaguar is no longer about regular, unscheduled trips to the garage.
It doesn’t matter if XK owners have flabby guts they’ve ignored for decades. This car is all theirs.
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