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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Mike Hanley
September 30, 2009
Every now and then you read a story about someone who says their life was ruined by winning some super-mega-ball lottery. It's hard to imagine, especially when you could find literally millions of people willing to take their place.
I think I know what the problem is for these downtrodden winners: They didn't use some of their loot to buy a Jaguar XK convertible. With head-turning looks, refined V-8 power and a plush interior, this car can only make your life better. The Look There's a timeless elegance to the XK convertible that's appealing. With its low-slung shape, the XK is the road-going equivalent of a cruise missile. Modest exterior changes for 2010 include a restyled front bumper with grates in front of the wheels. For more details on how the XK convertible has changed from 2009, check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
What really makes the XK's look is its sleek rear quarter. Too many new convertibles have bloated trunklids meant to accommodate a lowered roof, but the XK continues the flowing lines set forth by the car's front-end styling. Bravo. This Cat Can Run The XK gets a new V-8 engine for 2010 — not that it needed one. The 4.2-liter V-8 in the 2009 model didn't leave you wanting for power, and the new 5.0-liter V-8 feels very quick, too. Jaguar says the convertible can leap from zero to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.
Befitting the XK's grand touring disposition, its 385-horsepower engine offers effortless performance. You get the sense that it has plenty of power in reserve if you need it, and when you do need it, the XK delivers without missing a step. This car makes you want to forget about going to work and drive across the country instead.
Just as addictive as the V-8's wave of power — which is available at any legal speed — is the sound that emanates from the twin chrome exhaust tips poking out from beneath the bumper. You can always hear the V-8's deep voice echoing from the pipes — even when just cruising around town — but it's such a wonderful sound you might find yourself turning down the radio to hear it better. When you stand on the gas, the exhaust note comes out as a sharp bark. It's different, but it's equally melodious.
The XK has a standard six-speed automatic transmission that's well matched to the V-8. It shifts smoothly during leisurely cruising, but it readily kicks down with just a prod of the gas pedal when you need more power to make a quick move on the highway.
If you'd rather control gear changes yourself, there are paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel. You can take over for the transmission when the XK is in Drive by pressing one of the paddles, and it will remain in clutchless-manual mode for a short time before reverting back to automatic operation. If you want continuous control, you need to move the console gear selector to Sport.
The XK's manual-mode response is quicker than most; there's not much delay between pulling one of the paddles and shifting. While sluggish shift response is a common downfall of these systems, the XK's is quick enough to be entertaining. Surprising Blend of Handling & Ride Comfort The XK is a big sports car, but it handles like a much smaller one. It's surprisingly nimble and athletic when cornering, so there's something there both for enthusiast buyers and for those looking for a comfortable luxury two-door.
The XK's standard adaptive suspension lets you feel the road but offers enough damping to keep the ride from becoming rough. Even with the suspension in normal mode, you can attack corners with confidence, but the XK's Dynamic Mode is specifically designed for such things. Compared with regular mode, Dynamic Mode firms up the suspension, increases the sensitivity of the gas pedal and makes the transmission's shifts faster. You have a greater feel for the road in Dynamic Mode, but you get an improvement in cornering prowess, too. The XK also includes a Winter Mode designed to improve performance on slippery surfaces by making shifts smoother and calibrating the gas pedal to provide more gradual acceleration.
While the XK's handling qualities are nice, they're probably not the main reason people buy this convertible. It's primarily designed to be a comfortable touring car, and it succeeds thanks to its compliant ride and comfortable driving position. Convertible Commentary One of the things that impressed me about the XK convertible was how quiet the cabin is when the top is up and how little wind buffeting you feel with the top down.
While you do get some road noise in the cabin when driving on concrete highways, the cockpit is very hushed on asphalt surfaces at highway speeds, with just a hint of wind noise. It's quiet enough to easily hold a conversation without having to raise your voice. The C-pillar formed by the soft-top, however, blocks quite a bit of your view when checking your right-side blind spot.
Lowering the power-operated top is a cinch; push a button above the rearview mirror and it automatically retracts and stows into the top of the trunk. With the top down, you can definitely feel air swirling around you on the highway, but it's more like a light breeze than a wind tunnel. The XK convertible comes with a windscreen that you can set up behind the front seats, but it makes the two-person backseat unusable (not that it was very usable before).
Where some convertibles have poor structural rigidity, the XK benefits from all-aluminum construction, and the car feels solid even on rougher roads. I felt a slight chassis shudder on some worn roads, but it's not significant enough to detract from the experience of cruising with the top down on a warm summer day. Cabin Hits & Misses The most noticeable change to the 2010 XK's cabin is its new console gear selector, which is similar to the one in the XF sport sedan. Instead of a traditional gated shifter, the XK uses a knob. The knob retracts until it's flush with the center console when the car is turned off, then rises from its hole when the engine is started. The new design has a clean appearance and the knob is easy to operate, but some Jaguar fans may bemoan the loss of the J-gate shifter.
Jaguar made some smart decisions in the cabin, but there are a handful of questionable ones, too. While most of what you'll touch — the steering wheel, leather bucket seats and door-mounted seat controls — has a level of luxury appropriate for a car that starts at more than $88,000, some items don't measure up. Take the silver-colored air-conditioning controls and buttons behind the gear selector. They could be straight out of a run-of-the-mill family sedan. It's even more surprising when you consider the highly detailed chrome controls for the power seats, which would pass muster in a Bentley. Also, the Volvo-style power-mirror controls are an example of parts-sharing gone awry. (Both brands were owned by Ford during the XK's development.)
The cabin has a minimalist look, partly because of the few physical buttons on the center control panel. This is possible because many of the car's systems — including the standard navigation feature — are operated by a touch-screen display. The interface is easy enough to learn, but the electronics need more processing power; switching between feature menus, like air conditioning and the radio, takes longer than it should — and longer than it does in other cars.
The XK's two-person backseat is amusing — as long as you don't have to sit back there. Very few people would be able to fit comfortably due to its nearly nonexistent legroom. The XK isn't a car in which you'd want to bring the kids along for the ride — or one you'd want to use for a double date. It's designed for the driver — and perhaps a passenger — but no one else.
The inclusion of a backseat, though, prevents taller drivers from adjusting their seat exactly how they want. I stand about 6-foot-1 and like to sit a good distance from the pedals. As I was moving the seat backward, the backrest began to angle forward automatically the farther back I went. I imagine that's to protect the seat and its electric motors from straining against the backseat cushion, but if that seat weren't there in the first place, there'd be more room for the front buckets. Cargo Even though the backseat is no good for carrying people, you can use it to stow luggage. That's a good thing, because the trunk, at 7.1 cubic feet with the top down, isn't very big. A partition in the trunk can be moved out of the way to make the space taller if you know you're not going to lower the top, and that increases volume to 11.1 cubic feet. When the partition is there, there's only enough room for a few small items under it and one or two soft bags behind it. The XK's cargo volume puts it closer to the Mercedes-Benz SL550 retractable hardtop (10.2 cubic feet with the top up, 7.2 with it down) than the BMW 650i soft-top (12.4 up, 10.6 down). Safety Standard XK convertible safety features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, an electronic stability system and active front head restraints designed to prevent whiplash injuries. When equipped with optional adaptive cruise control, the XK can warn the driver of an impending collision and build pressure in the brake lines to enhance stopping performance when the driver presses the pedal. For additional safety information, check the Standard Equipment & Specs page. XK in the Market The XK and cars like it — including the Mercedes-Benz SL550 and BMW 650i convertible — have very specific purposes that can be summed up in a few words: Get me where I need to go in comfort and style. Based on these criteria, the XK is a resounding success, and its quick acceleration and surprising athleticism even offer something for driving enthusiasts. Now, does anyone have any secrets for picking winning lottery numbers?