2007 Jaguar XK coupe
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Review and photos by Tony Whitney

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Stellenbosch, South Africa – It was an awful long way to go to drive the new Jaguar XK, but there were few complaints from the international media attendees once they got behind the wheel of the car.

Stellenbosch, not too far from Cape Town, is in the heart of South Africa’s wine country and some of the scenery is so like the Napa Valley it’s all too easy at dinner to make the mistake of ordering a bottle of Mondavi, rather than a fine local Lanzerac or something similar.

There are some amazing roads in the Cape region, many of them winding through spectacular mountains and others taking in some of the most impressive coastal scenery in the world. It all adds up to a great location for a drive in a superlative automobile like the new XK.

Late this Spring, the new XK will arrive in both coupe and convertible guise and it promises to set the industry on its ear – not only for its looks and reasonable price (for its class), but also for its innovative engineering and construction features.

2007 Jaguar XK convertible
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Interestingly, both coupe and convertible were developed in parallel – there was never any question of designing a coupe and “cutting the top off.” When asked whether any thought was given to developing a retractable hardtop coupe instead of offering two models, the design team’s answer was that the style, overall look and essential “Jaguarness” could not be retained by going that route.

Making its debut as a 2007 model, the car is the latest in a long line of classics, going back to the SS of the 1930s, the wonderful XK 120, the legendary E-Type and all the great XKs that came along since. I suppose that every Jaguar built falls into the “instant collectible” category and although the company had its share of ups and downs until the Ford takeover, the name has never lost its status among people who love serious motor cars.

2007 Jaguar XK coupe

2007 Jaguar XK coupe

2007 Jaguar XK coupe

2007 Jaguar XK coupe
Click image to enlarge

The new car is as sleek and as slippery as an automobile can get and follows, to some extent, the general lines of its predecessor introduced in 1996. The design of the new XK has its origins in Jaguar’s Advanced Lightweight Coupe concept first shown at the Detroit auto show early in 2005. There isn’t a crease anywhere – it’s all clean, voluptuous, flowing lines that have something in common with earlier cars like the E-Type and XK120. “Influences from our heritage” is the way design director Ian Callum describes it.

It could be argued that some Aston Martin models and maybe a Ferrari or Lamborghini or two are more dramatic, but they come at something like twice the price and often with poor levels of practicality.

The XK uses an aluminum monocoque structure similar to that of the XJ sedan. The entire body is aluminum and it’s exceptionally stiff and rugged. It uses not only conventional aluminum sheet, but also diecastings and extrusions. Conventional welding techniques are supplemented by advanced bonding process to help create a stiff, flex-free bodyshell. Jaguar looked extensively at aircraft construction techniques where a combination of strength and light weight is critical. The new car is being built at the company’s Castle Bromwich plant in Britain’s West Midlands, where Spitfire fighters were turned out in large numbers during World War Two. Old timers in the Birmingham area can still remember the days when traffic would be stopped outside the plant so aircraft could be towed across the road to an airfield opposite from which they would be flown to their squadrons – often by legendary fighter pilots whose signatures can still be examined in a logbook in the plant lobby.

2007 Jaguar XK coupe

2007 Jaguar XK coupe
Click image to enlarge

Of course, the Castle Bromwich plant has been updated many times and is now very much state-of-the-art.

The bodywork includes a decent-sized rear liftback, which should improve luggage-carrying capability and is probably a “best in class.” A whole lot of soft luggage can be stowed back there, making the XK much closer to being a real Grand Tourer than some of its competitors.

As might be expected these days, the body was designed to be as safe as possible in an accident with all kinds of beefy structural features as well as the usual crush zones. And for those worried about the costs associated with repairing aluminum bodywork, Audi, which also produces aluminum bodies for its A2 and A8 models, has stressed that it can actually be cheaper to repair aluminum than steel. The headlights, described by Ian Callum as “a car’s jewellry” look and function exceptionally well and have bi-xenon beams.

Power comes from a 4.2-litre V8 of advanced design developing 300-horsepower.

2007 Jaguar XK coupe
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It’s mated to a 6-speed sequential transmission operated using steering wheel-mounted paddles, race-car style. This new-generation Jaguar transmission should please everybody from those who just dawdle around cities to owners who love to drive fast on winding mountain roads. The sequential transmission provides very fast shifts, though even in straight automatic mode, this car will really “get up and go.” It really is the “best of all worlds.”

Jaguar claims a zero to 100 km/h figure of around six seconds, which is very quick by any standards. Will we eventually get an “R” version with supercharger and even more power? You betcha!

One of the major talking points among media folk at the launch was the fact that although this is a very refined and silky automobile, Jaguar made serious efforts to ensure that the car boasted a nice throaty engine note. It reminded me that there are “sports coupes” out there with far too much of the noise refined out of them. Jaguar calls the XK exhaust “mellow, powerful and modulated” and few who drove the car in South Africa disagreed.

2007 Jaguar XK convertible
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The interior is a fine piece of work and well up to the traditions Jaguar has been developing for generations. The car seemed roomier to me than the earlier model – with possibly more hip and shoulder room than an older XJ sedan. As one might expect, extensive use is made of fine leathers and wood veneers (although there’s a non-wood option). As far as instrumentation and controls go, the XK is a good mix of modernity and traditional touches. The seats are very supportive, but there are no grab handles for a worried passenger on a twisty road – something that Jaguar said couldn’t be engineered into the car without interfering with the general look.

2007 Jaguar XK coupe
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Probably the best compliment I can pay this new Jaguar is to say that it handles like a much smaller car. We were able to evaluate the car at the Killarney track near Cape Town and it acquitted itself well on what is basically a tight little club circuit. These Jags have always been quite large and heavy, but intensive work the company has done on the suspension, damping and stability control systems has paid off. Drive one of these in anger and you’ll think you were piloting a Miata – until you accelerate out of a tight corner and experience all that power. Mind you, the XK is lighter than its predecessor at 1,665 kg for the coupe and 1,705 kg for the convertible.

This is a highly desirable car at a reasonable price for its class. The coupe will cost $103,000 and the convertible, $113,000 – quite a bit under some class rivals. Main competitors, according to Jaguar, are the Lexus SC430, Mercedes-Benz SL500, BMW 650i and Cadillac XLR. The last XK, introduced in 1996, sold very well for Jaguar with 90,000 rolling off the line during its fairly long model run.

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