Driven: 2010 Jaguar XK Coupe

February 19, 2010
Jaguar had already achieved what was, we thought, darn close to the perfect grand-touring coupe, with the current-generation Jaguar XK that was introduced for 2007. But they just made it even better for 2010.

Most notably, Jag has fitted its new 5.0-liter V-8 to the XK; it makes 385 horsepower at a high-revving 6500 rpm, along with 380 pound-feet at 3500 rpm, and although the 75 extra horsepower than last year doesn't give the XK a full-on personality transplant it now makes it feel almost as fast as the former XKR (for a review of the new 2010 Jaguar XKR, you'll want to check out Michael Frank's take on it over at MotorAuthority). With weight only up about a hundred pounds versus last year, the XK moves with a lot more authority.

The 2010 Jaguar XK does an even better job than before in its straddling of the line between grand tourer and sports car. All XKs have the Adaptive Dynamics suspension, with continuously variable dampers, and it just does its job without the driver ever having to worry, filtering out abrasive road surfaces and jarring patchwork yet able to command quick changes of motion with surprisingly little excess body motion. Also cool is the semi-active exhaust system, which keeps a nice quiet note in gentle driving, changing to a much more vocal, trumpety sound at full throttle. Grab the steering-wheel paddles and downshifts are prompt and firm, with a very slight blip of the throttle to smooth it out. But we were much happier with this six-speed automatic transmission than we are with most; it feels completely clued-in to your right foot, with none of the rolling start indecision that some units are plagued with.

The steering is a little bit on the light side, but it centers nicely and builds some weight just when you need it, with just a hint of road feel.

The driving experience feels a lot more intimate, with a warmer feel overall, than vehicles like the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class or the BMW 6-Series, and much more elegant and luxurious than a base Porsche 911—all of which (except the SL) would be in about the same $80,000 price range. For those who haven't driven the XK since its last major redesign for 2007, the big grand tourer isn't as limited in headroom or confining in its overall driving position as its predecessor. Especially with a tall driver like this one, you sit closer to the rear wheels than to the fronts, so you feel more in command of the vehicle's dynamics than in most vehicles.

Step down on the gas a little too eagerly when making a right turn from a stoplight or stop sign, as is easy to do, and the tail steps out just a little bit—a behavior exaggerated somewhat by the damp roads that persisted for much of the time that we had the XK. When they had the chance to warm up on dry roads, the Dunlop SP Sport 01 rubber became noticeably stickier. For those who want a little longer dynamic leash—or a little more hooliganism—there's a competition mode, plus a snow mode.

EPA fuel-economy regulations appear to give the XK a bum deal, as they often do with large-displacement engines; in about a hundred miles of mixed driving—plenty of it spirited—we averaged a solid 18 mpg, while the XK's official estimates stand at 16 mpg city, 24 highway.

This year, the XK Coupe also gets some slight front-end changes, new side mirrors, and better-detailed, LED-powered tail lamps. Otherwise, the XK has changed little for 2010, and that's a good thing.

Take a look at the XK Coupe's interior very closely, and you still won't be disappointed. The door trim has real stitches holding together the pieces of leather of the trim, and it's kind of comforting to see that they're ever slightly irregular; the wood is glossy but has a real grain to it; and even the carpets and headliner are noticeably plush compared to what you get even in other luxury cars. Oh, and the uniformly heated steering wheel was lovely. We'll post more on this sumptuous interior next week.

Jaguar has replaced the old Jaguar 'J' gate shifter with the simple, elegant JaguarDrive Selector knob that made its debut in the XF sedan. Press the ignition button and the shifter knob ascends from the center console to about two inches high; just after you turn off the ignition it descends to flush.

Our only complaint with the 2010 XK was that the 525-watt Bowers and Wilkins sound system felt a little lacking in bass, and we kept having to adjust the bass way up and the treble and mid-range down to get what we thought of as a balanced equalization. We hadn't noticed the same issue at all in the XF.

The back seat is strictly 2+2 territory, and any backseat passenger is likely to be kissing knees; we can't even see how it would be large enough to mount most child seats back there, even if it might have the proper anchors. And while the huge strut-supported hatch provides a mammoth opening into the back, actual cargo space is impractically tight, with the hatch coming down quite low at the back for paper grocery sacks (watch those eggs, and the window), and the cargo floor quite high (and containing a step just behind the seat where it would be deeper). All said, the XK has just enough daily practicality for personal users who don't have to wrangle kids or pets, but want space for their weekend bags.

One thing we noticed in driving the 2010 Jaguar XK Coupe is that people it earns envious looks, even when driven in places where political correctness reigns king. There's a certain classy, romantic appeal, crossed with quintessential British understatedness, that the XK carries no matter what, and you don't have to be driving it fast to enjoy that. While the XK feels opulent and lavish, it doesn't offend people the way that other displays of luxury do, and we appreciate that.

Simply put, you can drive the 2010 XK Coupe like a sports car and get nearly as much real-world satisfaction as some hard-core track stars; then when you tire and just want to cruise in comfort and quiet it won't break a good mood. Whichever way you look at it, we're still quiet smitten with the XK.

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