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.
The XK's torpedo shape hearkens back to the Jaguar E-type.
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 cabin tech interfaces uses buttons that slide out from the left side of the screen.
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.
The Bowers and Wilkins audio system produces exceptional quality sound.
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.
Another audio source we particularly enjoyed in the XK convertible was the engine, a finely engineered direct injection 5-liter V-8 producing an aggressive growl whenever we got on the gas. With 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque, that growl was accompanied by immediate and powerful forward motion. Like its brand namesake, the XK convertible leapt forward easily.
This aluminum block direct injection V-8 is a thoroughly modern engine with an excellent exhaust note.
Our repeated desire to hear that delightful growl helped keep the XK convertible's fuel economy on the low side, at 16.4 mpg during our mixed city, freeway, and mountain highway driving. The EPA range for the car is 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, that upper figure not bad for a V-8 with this much displacement.
Jaguar updated the interior controls of the XK convertible with the same sort of shift dial introduced in the XF sedan. This bit of techie gimmickry sits flush in the console when the car is off, rising up when the engine turns over. We found the dial intuitive to use, and it feels solid enough. Along with the usual automatic transmission settings, it includes a Sport mode that requires pressing the dial down past a detent.
We were very impressed with the responsiveness of this six-speed automatic. In Drive mode, it moved through the gears smoothly, and in Sport mode it held on to the low gears well when we encouraged it with the gas pedal. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel throw it into manual mode, where we found the gear changes happened with a satisfying quickness, limiting torque converter slush. With this transmission, we would only want for an extra gear or two, letting the engine run a little slower on the freeway to save gas.
The XK convertible's handling proved a delight, as well. Left in standard settings, the car showed good stability and rotation when we threw it into a corner. But this gentleman's sports car has much more to offer, a set of buttons near the shift dial that loosens up stability control and puts it in an aggressive Track mode.
Although not traditional, the dial selector works perfectly fine for transmission control.
Tackling winding, mountain highways with the transmission in Sport mode and the stability control dialed down, we noticed a bit more rotation in the corners, but it did not feel like a dramatic difference. We expect that the harder cornering possible on a track would reveal more benefit. The checkered flag Track mode button made the accelerator more responsive, letting us more easily modulate power in the turns, and pick up speed fast on the exit.
An open and twisty road was clearly the XK convertible's preferred hunting ground. It was smooth in city driving, its steering radius and power boost helping during tight maneuvering, but the engine occasionally proved a little too aggressive, making the car occasionally leap forward with minor gas pedal input in traffic.
Whether on the highway or the freeway, the XK convertible cruised delightfully. At 70 or 80 mph with the top down, there was a good deal of wind noise, but turbulence was minimal in the front seats. Although we didn't have it in our car, Jaguar makes an adaptive cruise control system available, its most high-tech driver assistance feature.
The 2011 Jaguar XK Convertible wins on performance and looks. Its V-8 delivers immediate power with a pleasing growl, and the suspension and active stability systems help put that power to the pavement. Although an automatic, the transmission changes gears quickly, and our only complaint is that it won't downshift aggressively during braking. Track and Sport modes let the car really stretch out its legs in an appropriate venue.
The sound quality from the Bowers and Wilkins audio system serves as the high point for cabin tech. All else is mediocre. The navigation system lacks advanced features, as does the phone system. This car could really use a blind-spot detection system, along with a rearview camera.
Curved lines give the XK Convertible a torpedo-like look, very appropriate for a Jaguar as it hearkens back to the legendary E-type. But there are too many practical problems with the design, such as the poor sight lines and the minimal trunk space. The cabin tech interface design is particularly poor, requiring too much attention away from the road for simple operations.
|Model||2011 Jaguar XK|
|Power train||Direct injection 5-liter V-8, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||16.4 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible six-CD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Bowers and Wilkins 525-watt eight-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control|
|Price as tested||$89,000|