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2009 Jaguar XK: Muted muscle

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  May 28, 2009 11:20 AM

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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29 comments so far...
  1. xk is boring. NOW XKR is something to get excited about and may just get your girlfriend going buddy

    Posted by xrkfan23 May 28, 09 01:13 PM
  1. Does it come in hybrid? I don't want to cause global warming.

    Posted by RS May 28, 09 01:14 PM
  1. RS - then walk or ride your bike. And don't eat beans.

    Posted by CD May 28, 09 01:31 PM
  1. Looks like a Classic SAAB 900 rip off...hood, hatch, rear window, fin, albeit a bit nicer....and more expensive.

    Posted by Anonymous May 28, 09 01:38 PM
  1. "Gorgeous Deserves Your Immediate Attention"
    "Gorgeous Makes Effort Look Effortless"
    "Gorgeous Can't Be Ordinary Even If It Tries"
    "Gorgeous Pays For Itself In the First 5 Seconds"

    ...as the classic XK8 commercial goes

    Amazing car. simply amazing.

    Posted by Andy May 28, 09 01:44 PM
  1. What happened to going green? Not very impressed, I have to say. Who in this day and age can't make a sexy car that goes fast and burns tons of fuel? I know, I can't, for those of you dying to say so.......but come on........just not that exciting.

    Posted by Anonymous May 28, 09 01:56 PM
  1. RS - stick with your smart car. Let the men drive the real cars.

    Posted by Anonymous May 28, 09 02:38 PM
  1. My friend Ryan wants one of these.

    Posted by Ryan's buddy May 28, 09 03:11 PM
  1. Beautiful car. Too bad it took so many years to get back to their roots. Tata motors will be wise to save the type. 15mpg can be improved upon. Turbo V6, cylinder kill at cruise. Please keep the time tested types in circulation. The old XJS can rot in the srapyard as far as I care.

    Posted by JohnEK-1 May 28, 09 03:34 PM
  1. guys, I'm guessing RS was being sarcastic....

    Posted by jag fan May 28, 09 04:37 PM
  1. John, back to roots? Let's face it, once upon a time you could spot a Jaguar in a second in any group of one hundred cars. Look at this body type and tell me that it doesn't resemble just another "japanese sports car?" Jaguar is still trying to regain or rediscover what it once enjoyed, an air of remarkability. (And yes, I've owned Jags for the last 16 years).

    Posted by johnpaul May 28, 09 04:59 PM
  1. Saab 900 ripoff? Hmmm. Fevered imagination at work. Sure you did not mean Sonett III copy? lol

    In any case, the RS is beautiful. But I just do not get those side vents showing up as a cliche on numerous makes now. Without the vent, the RS would be gorgeous. Alas, my next car appears to be a used Hyundai Accent.

    Posted by TexLeeger May 28, 09 05:40 PM
  1. Meh, my Volvo looks much nicer.

    Posted by The D-Man May 28, 09 05:58 PM
  1. Glad to hear you've been faithful to Jag, Johnpaul. Yes, it's not as remarkable as it once was. I'm just glad to see them getting closer. You might say the last couple models were closer still. How about they add a smaller, more fuel efficent type and remake the D in all it's sculpted glory? It would compete directly with Lotus. Alas, I don't make enough honestly to partake. It's the everyman's Miata for me.

    Posted by JohnEK-1 May 28, 09 08:03 PM
  1. WOW! I can drive to WORK in this car, and when I do, everyone who knows that I am a jerk will say "Oh look, that jerk can marry vain women now, and have vapid children who are still dumb, still jerks like their father, but at least they will THINK they are better."

    Posted by BtU May 28, 09 09:20 PM
  1. These cars get about 25 MPG highway, so I guess the author was getting on it a bit. Jags are special cars, having owned a couple, and like a Ferrari, are a car every car guy should own at least once ( if you have the scratch).

    Posted by Daniel May 28, 09 10:05 PM
  1. this is the best looking jaguar in the current lineup. you can't expect the modern day jags to bring the air of the classic ones. does anyone remember how Jaguar released this new version of the xk and didn't give it an electric antenna? now that was bad. I also see a little aston in the rear of the xk . interested to see the new XJ

    Posted by jagman May 28, 09 10:11 PM
  1. Daniel, I should have noted that 15 m.p.g. was from mostly city driving. On the highway I indeed got over 20 m.p.g. at a steady 70 m.p.h. cruise.

    Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 29, 09 09:32 AM
  1. I have the same engine in my VdP of similar weight the the XK and it gets 32 mpg on the highway. Very few cars have the sex appeal of Jaguar and Jaguar is the least expensive of those cars.

    Posted by brighton_corgi May 29, 09 09:50 AM
  1. Re: "Jaguar XK, the graceful, debonair English coupe thoroughly laced with male pheromones." Not to rain your testosterone parade Clif, but I always thought of Jaguars as being deciding feminine. Just about all my friends love Jaguars - even without a man sitting inside. Maybe even more so since then they could imagine it is their car! :-) I think there are lots of other cars that exude much more male pheromones - without being crude about it: Aston Martin, for one.

    Grace and elegance, lythe smooth lines all lend a feminine look to these cars that seem to be as attractive to men as women. But yes, if you want the testosterone special there are the R versions for all the macho men. (But be forwarned, we like the regular cars looks better,)

    My question - how far back in time can you get one used and still fall on the "good" side of the reliability divider? I was surprised to see that Jag shows better than Mercedes on the JD Powers survey's now, but I don't know when the turn around happened.

    BTW - Larz Anderson, nice choice of backdrop. But again - with all the photos we could use one of the inside - where the driver spends her/his time.

    Posted by Marie May 29, 09 12:38 PM
  1. The old XJS can rot in the scrapyard, JohnEK??? Think of me lovingly polishing mine today before a little top down cruise to the beach! While you're hosing out your Element!

    Posted by whosknockin May 30, 09 08:19 AM
  1. My first car at age 18 was a '67 XKE convertible my dad sorta "restored" for me. Although I thought life couldn't be better when sitting in that classic (seems like I did a lot of sitting vs driving), the lustre for my dad wore off quickly. Just changing the oil filter required removing an engine mount and jacking the engine up high enough to remove the filter. But if there was a classic XKE, the '67 was it. Sold it for parts after wrapping it around a tree (my dad was secretly ecstatic). But that's another story.

    Jaguar has removed any styling distinction between the XK and XKE except for the engine which is the biggest shame. The XKE had more muscular front end styling while the XK was more graceful. You can assign genders if you want.

    And you can take that insipid gray color that's in vogue these days and bury it. Why would you own a masterpiece of expensive metal and not cover it with flair?

    But I think it's still a distinctive Jag with classic British blood lines and I sink my old flabby gut behind its wheel in most of my car fantasies.

    Posted by Gary Unger May 30, 09 08:49 AM
  1. lol @ anonymous - SAAB 900 ripoff? Who would want to rip off that awful design? This looks nothing like that car.

    Posted by FJ June 1, 09 09:28 AM
  1. Marie - calm down a bit on the feminist schtick - if you can't deal with typical male BS on a car review, not sure how you're getting by in other facets of life.

    The turnaround happened only very recently, to answer your question. The past year or two. So don't buy anything more than a year old from Jag.

    Posted by FJ June 1, 09 09:30 AM
  1. Great looking car. Anything that POs the ecoweenie crowd is a good thing.

    Drive it like you stole it.

    Posted by I stole it June 1, 09 04:28 PM
  1. FJ - Thank you for the answer to my question. I appreciate that.
    I went back and re-read what I wrote. It was intended to speak to the grace and beauty of Jaguar and maybe poke light hearted humor at refering to an XK as really macho, I am sorry if I failed in my attempt so that you thought I couldn't handle male car talk or that it hinted at that I couldn't handle life. (Didn't realize I could say so much in so few words). Girls like pretty cars too. That's it.

    Posted by Marie June 3, 09 01:41 PM
  1. GREAT CAR FANTASTIC LOOKING & BODY VISE VERY GRACE FULL THIS IS MY FAVOURITE CAR.I LIKE THIS.
    AMAZING CAR.SIMPLY AMAZING.
    sadysady@yahoo.com

    Posted by sady June 3, 09 11:30 PM
  1. i think its ugly

    Posted by Anonymous June 4, 09 09:40 AM
  1. A few comments about this generally new Jag XK. It's suffers not from Ian Callum overlooking how to make its front end elegant, but from conformance to European pedestrian safety laws. This is a tragic thing hitting all car's styling now. Nobody would finish off the front of this Jag in this way. It's because the front has to resemble a snow plow now so that people get flipped over the proper and safe way and bounce off the hood comfortably. My only personal reservation about wanting this car is this too tall and to straight up and down front. Now look at a car like the new 370z. They elected to lift the whole beltline of that car upward toward the back because of the too tall nose and flat front. I tink they are claiming it's just a new inspiration of some kind. Many people like it but I don't think it's much of a success really.
    With the Jag, I still think they could have done better with this nose though. The restyle that is due out any time now here in the States, does not solve this problem. And now it has some cheap chrome bits on it. If you drive a Jaguar, then if pedestrians aren't looking and watching out themselves, then why should they be saved in a collision?

    Posted by John Secuda June 7, 09 01:29 AM
 

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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