Entered in an automotive beauty contest, the 2011 Jaguar XK would certainly come away with the crown. Even in convertible form, where its soft top loses the lines of the coupe's roof, the long nose preserves the car's essential sleekness.
That smooth as silk exterior comes at a price, though, with poor sight lines to the sides and rear. Jaguar could have made lane changes and parking safer with a backup camera and blind-spot detection, but these features are not available.
Putting the top down increases visibility around the car, but the convertible XK suffers from compromised trunk space, not something we usually see with a soft top.
The cabin of the XK convertible competes with the exterior design for elegance, its handsome coachwork using metal switchgear, leather coverings, and wood trim. There is not much plastic to be found in the XK convertible.
Jaguar attempts to make the cabin tech interface as lovely as everything else, but ends up with a menu system that looks like 1990s Web design. This interface, built on Adobe Flash, slides menu buttons in from the left side of the screen, slick animation that ultimately proves more spectacle than practical.
We found ourselves having to drill down through multiple menus to choose music from a connected iPod, place a phone call, or enter a destination in the navigation system, too frequently pulling our attention from the road. There is also a voice command system, but it only offered the basics, not sophisticated enough to let us dial contacts by saying a person's name or choose music.
Aside from the audio system, the cabin tech in the XK convertible lacks the kind of advanced features we've come to expect from other luxury automakers. The navigation system was particularly disappointing, its DVD-based maps only showing in 2D, with no traffic information overlaid. At least the resolution was good, and the navigation system calculated routes quickly. The only thing we really liked about the navigation system was that it showed route guidance instructions on the instrument cluster display.
The Bluetooth phone system went a little beyond the basics by downloading contact lists to the car, making them available on the touch screen. Instead of a simple list of contacts, the interface made us enter letters, then push a search button, a process that seemed a bit strained for an automotive interface.
We were pleased to find a dedicated iPod connector in the console next to a USB port. The iPod connection worked reasonably fast, but we felt that the number of menus we had to go through to select music was distracting. The car also offered satellite radio, but no HD radio or Bluetooth audio streaming.
Much of the interface hassles we could forget, if not forgive, when listening to the stunning audio quality from the Bowers and Wilkins system, which comes standard with the XK convertible. Using eight speakers and a 525-watt amp, this system lives up to the high-end reputation of is maker.
Music that really stood out with this system seemed to be simple acoustic tracks with a singer. For example, listening to the Kings of Convenience album "Riot on an Empty Street," the vocals were broadcast with a pleasant warmth, and every sound from the acoustic guitar strings came through in detail. Heavily produced tracks were also amplified with an attention to detail, bringing out every layer. This system is truly audiophile quality, making the XK convertible's cabin a place for music lovers.
At least, that is the case with the top up, which does a good job of damping external noise. The system does not compensate well for fast, top-down driving, losing out to wind noise. Digital signal processing settings include Dolby surround sound, three-channel, and simple stereo, but nothing to combat the rush of air. We appreciated the staging of the system, which did an excellent job of centering the sound near the windshield, but Bowers and Wilkins should come up with a setting specifically for top-down driving.