Imagine strolling into a Jaguar dealership, heart set on a 2007 XK convertible, and have the salesman tell you:

"The XK will cost $84,000 plus tax, oh, and by the way, for $1 billion more we'll throw in the company."

Jaguar is in a fix because Ford Motor Co., which owns it, is in a jam. Jaguar doesn't make money, one reason Ford doesn't either.

So, the rumor mill is working overtime that Jaguar will be awarded to the highest bidder, and Ford can rid the books of at least one splotch of red ink.

The hot rumor is that former Ford President Jacques Nasser will ride to the rescue to take the luxury British marque off of Bill Ford's hands. That would be bitter irony because one of the reasons the Ford chairman pink-slipped Nasser was his fetish for acquiring other companies.

While Ford has put a "for sale" sign on Aston Martin, he's been mum about his intentions to unload Jaguar.

The fact Jaguar may be part of a garage sale is one reason we opted to visit the newly designed 2007 XK convertible that, along with its coupe partner, replaces a version that's been around since 1996.

Had to get behind the wheel in case the name is changed and the price goes even higher than $80,835 before the first option is added.

Jaguar spokeswoman Anne Clinard insists the fate of Jaguar isn't keeping folks out of the showroom and, in fact, the new XK is bringing folks in who haven't visited recently or ever.

Jaguars for decades have been for the well-to-do who, it was said, couldn't venture out in the rain for fear that their snouts would fill with liquid and they'd drown.

Have to admit that since Ford bought Jaguar and helped create the S-Type sedan that looked like a Buick, there's been little motivation to slip in one.

However, the XK brought a smile and an eagerness to slip behind the wheel, hit the button to hide the top in 18 seconds and motor down the pavement.

Though the '07 XK won't be mistaken for a Buick, stylists seem to have gone out of their way to keep it from looking like a Jaguar. The XK features a sharply sloping coupe-like profile and from the front looks a tad like an Aston Martin, which might rile those who want to take that division off Ford's hands.

Of course, the attraction is that it's a convertible that offers scenic top-down driving. And the top motors up so fast the well-to-do need not fear a downpour, much less sprinkles.

The XK is one of those push-button-start units that eliminates an ignition key (you'd think they'd knock a few bucks off the $80,835 to account for the savings, wouldn't you?).

The 4.2-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 cranks out the power quickly and takes flight in earnest, thanks in part to the car's light-weight aluminum body replacing the heavy steel. The zero- to 60-m.p.h. claim is 6 seconds. A little exhaust rumble adds to the pleasure. The engine is teamed with a 6-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Fuel economy is far better than expected at 18 m.p.g. city, 27 m.p.g. highway.

The XKR rendition with a supercharged 4.2-liter developing 420 h.p. and claiming zero-to-60 rocket status of less than 5 seconds, comes out early next year. Don't look for 18/27, however.

Kudos as well to the engineers in charge of the standard Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS). CATS uses computer sensors to control body pitch and roll regardless of road conditions. No up and down or sideways wiggle or jiggle. Treads planted firmly on the pavement whether moving straight ahead, to either side or traveling over uneven roads. The body held a flat pose into and out of even serpentine routes. Can't beat the feeling of being in control.

It also features stability control with traction control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes.

A couple other nice touches are rain-sensing wipers that, when switched to automatic mode, turn on along with the headlamps when it rains. And with the roof down, the ventilation system automatically distributes the airflow--warm or cool--to the face.

Of course, even $80,000 cars aren't perfect. With the top up, the trunk barely has room to hold a briefcase and forget even that with the top stored there.

There are two rows of seats to hold four bodies--in theory. Because the front-row seat backs nearly touch the back-row seat fronts, best to use those seats to store all the stuff that won't fit in the "trunk."

Another gripe is that you don't find many Jaguar ID badges or nameplates on the vehicle. At $80,000 plus change, let folks know what it is.

Though admittedly not a fan of navi systems, it was particularly hard to see the screen in this car when the sun was out and, if memory serves, when the sun is out the top usually will be down, making it harder to see.

And, sorry, but the warning appears that on the navi screen at start-up--"Most functions inhibited whilst vehicle in motion"--kills the little allure the system had to begin with.

When we could see the screen, a blinking yellow triangle appeared to show where we were, though the names of any and all roads in the immediate vicinity at times were conspicuous by their absence. Sort of defeats the purpose of knowing where you're going when you don't know where you are.

Whilst the top is up, seeing anything approaching out the rear window or along the sides of the car is pretty much impossible.

Sight lines are even worse in the hardtop XK coupe we briefly drove earlier this year.

Have to note that whoever was in charge of designing the roof drip rails on the coupe to keep the rain from entering the cabin when the window is open a tad must have been on holiday that week.

The XK, of course, isn't for everyone, in large part since when last we looked, neither the poverty nor middle-class level started at $80,835.

The XK coupe starts at $75,500, the XKR coupe at $86,500, the XKR convertible at $92,500.

Strictly personal: Birthday greetings to son, Brad, as well as anniversary greetings to Brad and wife, Lori.

TEST DRIVE

2007 JAGUAR XK CONVERTIBLE

Price as tested: $83,335*

THE NUMBERS

Wheelbase: 108.3 inches

Length: 188.6 inches

Engine: 4.2-liter, 300-h.p. V-8

Transmission: 6-speed automatic with paddle shifting for manual operation

CITY: 18 m.p.g.

HIGHWAY: 27 m.p.g.

THE STICKER

$80,835 Base

$2,500 Advanced technology package with adaptive cruise control to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and adaptive lighting that turns headlamps on at dusk and allows them to move in the direction of turns

*Add $665 for freight.

PLUSES

Pleasant, if understated, styling.

Open-air motoring with power top that moves up or down in a flash.

Lots of kick.

MINUSES

Where to put people and things.

View with top up.

Will Jaguar be sold to highest bidder?

Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation and Tuesday and Thursday in Business. Hear him on WBBM Newsradio 780 at 6:22 p.m. Wednesdays and 11:22 a.m. Sundays.

jmateja@tribune.com