|The location||The beautiful and challenging mountain roads of Northern California – a true test of any car’s chassis|
|The car||Jaguar’s flagship, the mouthwatering XK-R convertible, sporting a 4.2 litre supercharged V8 pumping out a mammoth 420 horsepower|
|The timing||The perfect time to get a real sense of just how desirable the top of the line Jaguar actually is|
The XK can trace its roots back to the famed XK 120 of the late 40s. This was the first post-war sports car from Jaguar, and one that literally took the world by storm.
The XK marked the beginning of the sensual and slippery shapes from Jaguar. The XK 120 got its name from its impressive top speed of 120mp/h (193km/h) – making it the fastest production car in the world at the time. The original XK was also responsible for laying the foundation for the legendary Le Mans winning C-Type and D-Type Jaguars of the 1950s.
The XK name was revived by the company in 1997 with the XK8, which was a contemporary design with beautiful lines but a car that lacked the dynamic qualities to match the best from Germany. The latest generation XK, launched in 2006, aims to rectify these shortcomings. It not only continues Jaguars heritage of producing gorgeous cars but also revives its tradition of technical innovation as well – it has a lightweight, but extremely stiff, all-aluminum chassis.
The XK-R, meanwhile, takes the driving experience one step further by providing tremendous grunt and, supposedly, handling to match. The latest XK has even been hailed as the best new Jag since the iconic E-type of the 60s – high praise indeed. Let’s find out if it’s warranted.
First things first, this is an absolutely stunning car – if it goes even half as well as it looks, it’ll be a memorable drive indeed. The perfect proportions and exquisite lines of the XK-R convertible certainly drew a lot of attention. But more than that, wherever the XK went, it led to numerous questions regarding the make and model of the car, which suggests that Jaguar has largely fallen off the radar – at least in the US market. On the other hand, it does mean that the XK is more exclusive as a result.
The other thing that you can’t help but notice is the similarity in design between the XK and recent Aston Martins, especially elements such as the high shoulder line of the wide rear fenders. Not that this should be a concern mind you, since the current range of Aston’s are perhaps the most beautiful and elegant cars on the road today. And this similarity is no coincidence either, as Jaguar’s Design Chief, Ian Callum, worked on several Aston Martins when both marques belonged to Ford’s Premier Automotive Group.
Other elements of the design such as the long bonnet and catfish-like face do evoke memories of the legendary E-Type, which is a further credit to design team since today’s cars are required to meet various safety legislations that place great restrictions on design freedom. The XK is also the first production car to feature a Pedestrian Deployable Bonnet System (PDBS). This deploys the bonnet, which is to say it rises up instantly when it senses that a pedestrian has been struck – preventing the head of the victim from colliding with the solid engine block beneath the bonnet, the main cause of fatal injury in such instances.
The two best features by far, however, are the seats that were infinitely adjustable, allowing you to find the perfect driving position, they even had a knob to control the amount of side bolstering (which is highly recommended on all cars), and the adaptive cruise control that quite literally doesn’t require any driver input on the highway other than steering. You simply set a cruising speed and the car does everything else. If the vehicle in front of you brakes suddenly, the XK-R will brake automatically ensuring a safe distance. The adaptive cruise control will then wait for the road to clear and, when it’s safe to do so, accelerate to the previously set cruising speed. All the driver has to do is take a leap of faith, and thereafter make sure to stay awake in order to steer the car when needed.
The only criticisms, if any, were that the 19-inch chrome alloy wheels on our test car looked like they came straight out of a rap video, although these are optional. The only real criticism, then, is that there are a few sharp edges inside the cabin – small details the likes of which you’ll probably find taken care of in any of its German rivals. All in all, though, it’s a breathtakingly stunning car. And like Jaguars of old, the interiors are luxuriously appointed with wood and leather – although I’d prefer the all-aluminum trim that’s more popular in Europe. More importantly, unlike some Jaguars of old, the XK is not only comfortable but contemporary as well with state-of-the-art electronics that won’t go up in smoke after a shelf life of only about a half-dozen years or so.