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MORE CREAM FOR THE CAT

Jaguar's fastest range is looking better than ever, now more affordable and just as good to drive, as Jonathan Crouch discovers.

Ten Second Review

Jaguar's XK luxury sportscar is now the model it always should have been, thanks to styling updates, the introduction of more affordable 'Signature' and 'XK Dynamic R' variants and the fitment of a choice of 5.0-litre V8 powerplants that sound as gorgeous as the car looks. Whatever engine you choose, there's the usual coupe or convertible choice and whichever you prefer, you'll find that this car still has a sense of occasion missing from its German rivals and remains a Grand Tourer par excellence.

Background

The letters X and K are in fact an integral part of Jaguar's heritage. Over sixty years ago, the company redefined the sportscar with its 1948 XK, a car that offered beauty, Grand Touring panache and effortless performance. The Coventry marque has been bringing us pretty much the same sort of thing ever since, perhaps most notably with the XK's successor, the legendary E-Type, launched in 1961 and badged the 'XKE' over in the US. This was exactly the kind of thing a Jaguar sportscar should be: massively rewarding when you were in the mood: massively relaxing when you weren't. Successive XJS and XK8 models in 1975 and 1996 failed to replicate it and it was only when the XK we're looking at here was launched in 2006 that we could once again start to talk about a Jaguar sportscar in the same breath as cars like Porsche's 911.

Even this XK took a while to get into its stride. The original version wasn't quick enough as a 4.2-litre V8, despite its supposedly lightweight aluminium underpinnings. Nor was it dynamic enough as a supercharged XKR. Hence the 2009 introduction of a 380bhp 5.0-litre V8 for base models, supercharged to 510bhp for a sharper XKR version. It all made a big difference - but more work was needed yet. By 2012 with a new, more affordable Jaguar sportscar, the F-Type, on the horizon, the XK needed a subtle up-market upgrade to maintain its position as the brand's sporting flagship. So the looks were sharpened, the cabin smartened and an even quicker XKR-S variant added in at the top of the range, the fastest car the company had ever made. In early 2014, a high value Signature model was introduced in the normally aspirated range, while a more potent-looking XK Dynamic R variant offered to XKR buyers.

Driving Experience

If you were to design a template for how a grand touring coupe or convertible should drive, there are a few givens. You'd need a very stiff, modern chassis that allowed the suspension to do its work. You'd also want a modern, powerful engine, great steering and a quick-witted automatic gearbox. Check all of those for the Jaguar XK. One word of advice would be to skip the 20-inch alloy wheel option as these do have quite a noticeably detrimental effect on ride quality. Plus you probably won't want to look like Rio Ferdinand on a shopping trip.

The XK coupe's 385PS 5.0-litre V8 will wallop the car to 60mph in just 5.2s and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. This is a glorious engine, ever-eager to rev with a wonderful burble that becomes an almost angry snarl as you ascend the rev range. Switch the lovely JaguarDrive rotary selector into manual mode and the exhaust even pops and crackles as you go down the standard 6-speed automatic gearbox using the lovely steering wheel-mounted paddles.

But how often will you really want to do that? The original XK was more comfortable on an autobahn than a B-road: if you wanted a more focused luxury sportscar, you bought a Porsche 911. Today, it's not quite as clear cut as that, thanks to this Jaguar's clever Active Dynamics system. Here, a computer linked to active dampers reviews road conditions and steering inputs 150 times a second to decide whether the driver needs a luxurious ride or optimal grip. The XKR's limited slip differential makes it even more capable, as it needs to be with 510PS and sixty from rest just four and a half seconds away and the XKR-S is more formidable still and the best-handling car Jaguar makes. Porsche 911 drivers beware.

Design and Build

This XK certainly remains an assured piece of work, with the oval front grille and the way the rear cabin tapers in over the haunches both classic E-Type-inspired touches. Even the front badge is a nod to that illustrious sports coupe. The car looks sinewy and muscular, the sheet metal stretched over something seriously purposeful.

Not that the whole look hasn't needed refreshment - as you'd expect it would given a spell on the market that dates all the way back to 2006. The 2012 model year wash 'n brush-up saw the adoption of slimmer front headlamps that incorporate LED signal functions and running lights. Combined with a larger grille and a sleeker bumper design, this all gives the XK a bit more 'rear view mirror' recognition.

Opt for a Convertible version and you'll find that like Porsche and BMW - but unlike Mercedes - Jaguar has opted for a fabric roof, this triple-layered hood rising or falling in under 18seconds and slotting neatly beneath an aluminium tonneau cover when not in use.

Inside the wonderful snug yet spacious leather and alcantara-clad cabin, owners of earlier models will notice that the fit, finish and choice of materials is noticeably more up-market - once they've adjusted to the replacement of the original XK's J-gate auto gear lever with a neat rotary JaguarDrive Selector. It rises up into the palm of your hand after you press a Start button that pulses red on the centre console while around you, the dashboard illuminates and the cabin features are highlighted in a cool phosphor blue.

Market and Model

Standard range list pricing suggests that you'll need a budget that starts at around £65,000 for a 385PS V8 XK and around £80,000 for a 510PS V8 supercharged XKR, with a premium of around £6,000 in each case if you want this Convertible version rather than the Coupe. However, two special variants offer more equipment at substantial price saving. If you're looking at the normally aspirated V8 version, you're going to be tempted by the 'Signature' model priced from around £55,000 that comes with smart 20-inch Kalimnos wheels and a reverse parking camera. XKR potential purchasers meanwhile, will want to look at the XK Dynamic R variant that gets a 'Black Dynamic' styling pack, XKR-S suspension and dynamics, a 'Speed Pack' with aerodynamic upgrades and 'Diamond Sewn' performance seats. It costs around £70,000.

Other standard Jaguar features include Bi-xenon HID auto headlamps, front and rear parking sensors and rain-sensing wipers. You also get heated leather seats, cruise control with a speed limiter, keyless start and Bluetooth connectivity via a 7-inch colour touchscreen display you also use to access a 525watt audio set-up that of course has DAB radio, aux-in, USB and iPod connectivity. Tyre pressure monitoring and power-folding mirrors are the only real omissions of note.

Cost of Ownership

Any car with a 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine is going to have quite an appetite for fuel: get used to it. That said, the quoted 23mpg combined cycle fuel figure of the XKR (duplicated for the XKR-S) is only a couple of mpg behind that of the standard 5.0-litre V8 model, which seems a fair price to pay for all the supercharged version's extra performance. Unfortunately though, the 71-litre fuel tank is rather small and you'll empty it within 200 miles of spirited driving. On the plus side, the economy of this car is unaffected by ordering it in Convertible form.

And that's also true when it comes to the issue of CO2 emissions. The XK model's standard 264g/km return rises to 292g/km in both of the XKR models, which seems a bit excessive when direct German rivals are edging down towards the 200g/km mark. It's a showing that predictably won't win you any Christmas cards from the green lobby, though you could try telling your green-minded friends that 50% of the XK's body structure is made from recycled aluminium and that the engine's cylinder heads are recycled to lessen the manufacturing environmental impact.

Summary

The XK remains a genuine five-star luxury Grand Touring sportscar that can compete with and face down the best that the German prestige brands can throw at it. In most respects it's competitive and in a few, it's clearly superior. The fact that the closest you can get to the very special feel of an XK is to spend far more on an expensive Aston Martin V8 Vantage speaks volumes about this Jaguar's blend of abilities.

It still isn't quite the driver's car that, say a Porsche 911 is, but these days it's a lot closer and, choosing a set of keys for a long distance drive, you'd pick up the Jaguar's every time. There's certainly a much more appealing balance between these two extremes than you'd get from, say, a BMW 6 Series or a Mercedes SL. In short, the 5.0-litre engine and an evolving package of updates have made this XK the desirable benchmark sportscar it should always have been. Timeless, classy and quintessentially British.

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