Cruising on Royal Poinciana Boulevard in Palm Beach, Florida, just around the corner from the classically timeless Breakers hotel, we're acting like boulevardiers. With statuesque Royal Palm trees lining the street, we feel all is right with the world, in this, our own little slice of paradise. The pasty aging Brit in the E-type next to us (we assume he's a Brit because of the Union Jack badge at the rear of his ride) is wearing a yellow silk ascot. I'm in a Hawaiian shirt. I am also in the 2009 Jaguar XK Coupe.
The coupe is the latest iteration of XK design from Ian Callum, formerly of Aston Martin-design fame. Penned before his latest, the critically-acclaimed XF, it is an update of the car that is a direct descendant of the coupe driven by Lord Pasty in the next lane. In fact, it is the first time I have been in the car since I unceremoniously ripped the door handle out of the concept car as displayed at the Chicago Auto Show about three years ago.
This time, it held together just fine.
What is it?
A two-seat personal sport coupe with a fairly good-sized trunk that carries more than a pair of thong bikinis in a zip-lock bag, which is the case with several other 2+2s. It is a beautifully sculpted sportscar that is as much a vehicle in which you can enjoy the ride, as it is one to show you have arrived.
What's it up against?
Natural competitors from strictly a dollar standpoint include the BMW 6-Series coupe, Porsche 911 and Nissan GT-R, though the Jaguar is considerably more relaxed and luxurious in its motions and entrapments than the latter two.
Drawn first as a convertible, the coupe followed shortly thereafter. Designing the aluminum cat in this fashion allowed for chassis stiffness from the start rather than taking a coupe and cutting here and there and then adding structural pieces back into the mix to tighten things up. New to this second generation (since 1997) XK is a lighter and 30 percent stiffer aluminum chassis which incorporates new epoxy bonding techniques while at the same offering reduced NVH levels and increases in safety and improved ride characteristics, thanks to revised suspension dynamics.
The interior was also gifted with now standard iPod connectivity with touchscreen controls and USB functionality as an external hard drive for storing MP3 files.
How does it look?
Callum's design took the XK from the early part of the new millennium, and contemporized it, giving it new proportions, a new skin, and a new attitude. As the previous version aged, it took on the appearance of a Hollywood star that gets typecast in certain age-appropriate roles. It was clear that the XK series was in need of some serious help.
The result to our eyes is an appealing one, befitting the name of its mascot, the Leaper. Look closely and you'll see recent Aston Martin DB-series coupes in its lines as well. With long nose and short overhang at rear, combined with a pair of widely flared rear fenders, it shows off an athletic pose from the sides and rear. The front though, has taken on a catfish-like appearance that is noticeable from different angles. It's unfortunate as the XK is by no means a bottom feeder.
The mouth, er, grille has taken the mesh design from the high-performance XK-R model and adapted it to its normally aspirated sibling. At rear, a continuous line flows from the far corners of the taillights forming an arc as it cuts across the top of the trunk lid spoiler to meet with the other side. Below the rear bumper, twin chromed exhaust tips add a little bling. Bigger tips would add bigger bling, though.
A true two-plus-two, it is a sports car in virtually every way. One enters by inserting one's right lower appendage into the footwell, then placing one's arse into the nicely-shaped bucket driver's seat, and then swiveling the aforementioned arse so that the left lower appendage is able to be tucked in.
Once in place everything fits as it's supposed to. Staring face to face with the Jaguar logo, your hands curl perfectly around the wheel and fall naturally into contact with the paddle shift levers that control the driver controllable gear changes. Rolling switch redundant controls on the steering wheel operate in much the same fashion as a scroll wheel on a computer mouse. Overall the design is simple and well thought out.
A premium Bowers and Wilkins sound system is a $750 option - and a good one at that - over the standard Alpine audio system that normally ships with the XK. At some point though, is it possible that only a dog can hear the difference in the subtlety that various audio systems pump out?
The video monitor in the center console also enables dual-zone climate controls, navigation, systems preferences, and communication options including Bluetooth functions. It is a model of simplicity, and one other manufacturers should take note of.
Our test model was equipped with the Coupe Lux option that upgrades the interior trim and laid some beautiful American walnut across the dash and around the shift console. The natural finish made it look all the better than if polyurethaned to within an inch of its former life.
We were totally surprised with the available space in the rear of the liftback-equipped XK coupe. The finished cargo area featured "case-glides"ť for ease of storing and removing large suitcases and bags. A nice touch indeed, it harkens back to the days where coachmaking was an art.
But does it go?
The heart of the matter is the Jaguar 4.2-liter V8 engine. Known internally as the AJ-V8, it is a 300-horsepower engine putting out to the tune of 310 lb-ft of torque. The AJ mates to a ZF sequential-shift, six-speed automatic gearbox that offers drivers a pair of well-positioned paddle shift levers. The net result is an engine that pulls the 3,671-pound coupe from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, and trips dragstrip timing lights at 14.4-secs. Jaguar touts this quarter-mile time as just a half-second off the pace of the supercharged engine of the previous performance-oriented XKR. In a lame attempt to protect you from yourself, they have joined with other European manufacturers by electronically limiting the XK's top speed to 155 mph.
An interesting addition to the build is the XK's tuned exhaust note. Using acoustic design, and various tuning chambers, the rumble of the engine is blended to sound powerful, while at the same time less obnoxious than other similar sporting coupes available today.
The XK is equipped with an enhanced Computer Active Technology Suspension (eCATS) with double-wishbones, coil springs and shocks and an anti-roll bar up front, while, according to Jaguar, the rear features an IRS with lower wishbones and the driveshafts acting as upper links. Add in a rear anti-roll bar and control it with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Trac DSC Traction control. Brakes are by Teves and feature 12.8-inch rotors and single-pot calipers at all four corners.
Handling is very good, the result of a sorted suspension system that displays very mild understeer, with excellent road feel. Don't let that road feel go totally to your head. This is a grand-tourer, rather than a sports cruiser that will match a BMW or a Porsche, corner for corner. Having single-pot brakes doesn't offer as much in the way of stopping relief after a spirited run through the twisties. In fairness, the handling felt very balanced, exhibiting minor body roll at sharp corners. But overall, it did not inspire the same "push"ť that makes you want to test the cornering limits while behind the wheel of a car with sportier pretensions.
The Jaguar XK Coupe is a beautifully crafted vehicle that is more at home with the ascot-set rather than plying through the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. If your sporting tastes run to a more English Beat, pony up the extra bucks for the XKR with the Dynamic Handling Package.
Why you would buy it:
You are a fan of Aston Martin designer Ian Callum, and would like beautiful design, and a "near-Aston"ť look at a third to a quarter of the price.
Why you wouldn't:
You are more a fan of schnitzel than bangers and mash!
2009 Jaguar XK Coupe base price, $77,000. As tested, $82,760.
Bowers & Wilkins Sound System, $750; 19-inch Sabre chrome wheels, $1,400; Special paint fee, $1,000; Coupe Lux package with American Walnut trim, $2,300; Destination, $310.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.