2011 Jaguar XK Driving Impressions

The Jaguar XK benefits from a light and stiff aluminum monocoque chassis that's riveted and bonded. The resulting rigid chassis produces superb handling and braking. When we drove them at high speeds we found the XK models felt solid, stable and planted. The stiff chassis contributes to steering accuracy; it's tight and quick but not skittish.

The double wishbone suspension was upgraded for 2010: spring rates stiffened, steering ratio quickened, control arms made stronger and anti-roll bars thicker. The convertible got new crossmembers for 2010, which means a lot to the cornering. You can feel it. The XK has never handled better.

Ride quality, too, is impossible to fault. The Adaptive Damping System provides continuous variable damping for ride comfort or maximum cornering on rough roads. Chassis motion, including roll rate and pitch rate, is analyzed and adjusted 100 times per second. Meanwhile, wheel travel is analyzed and corrected 500 times per second.

The 5.0-liter engine is designed and produced at Jaguar facilities in Coventry, England. It's an all-aluminum 32-valve V8 featuring direct injection, independent variable cam timing, cam profile switching, and a variable geometry inlet manifold. The multi-hole direct injection system sprays pressurized fuel (up to 150 bar) into the center of the combustion chambers. The variable camshaft timing system has its own Jaguar spin, as well. And the naturally aspirated engine has inlet camshaft profile switching, changing the characteristics of the engine for the torque, power or economy that may be needed at any moment. The air intake was totally redesigned for 2010, eliminating the supercharger whine, and also the view of the engine. All you'll find under the hood is a blank sea of black plastic. It works by selecting air tunnels among 14 of them, varying from 27 inches (low engine speeds) to 14 inches (high engine speeds).

The XKR has a sixth-generation twin vortex supercharger. Remember the buzzwords: twin vortex. The Roots-type unit uses two water-cooled intercoolers, increasing thermodynamic efficiency as well as horsepower, from 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque in the normally aspirated XK, to 510 horsepower with 461 pound-feet in the supercharged XKR.

The XKR can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds, boosted by that humongous 461 pound-feet of torque coming on strong at 2500 rpm; it will effortlessly reach 155 mph where it wants to keep on running but is electronically limited. Except in the XKR 175, which lets you run to 175, or maybe only 174.

We didn't get it there (not by a longshot), but we got it up there far enough to see that you can hit 140 mph and still have two gears to go. You can cruise at 75 mph at a lazy 2200 rpm.

The XKR brakes are massive 15.7-inch rotors with six-piston calipers in front, and 13.8 inches with four-pots at the rear, to bring you back from high speed.

With your foot on the pedal, you'll have no complaints with the normally aspirated engine in the standard XK making a mere 385 horsepower. Nor will you have any complaints when your foot is off the pedal, after you climb out smiling. Even the exhaust note has been addressed in great detail. Engineers have accentuated the acoustic feedback into the cabin in order to further enhance the driving pleasure. Intake manifold pressure pulsations are fed into an acoustic filter at the rear of the engine that's tuned to provide a crescendo at high revs. The 6800 rpm redline is some rush.

The exhaust note could be louder, but those days are over. Not all gentlemen like to rumble. So the XK engine is limited to a muted growl.

The XKR will get you past a semi-truck on a two-lane highway as quickly as anything on wheels bigger than a superbike, and it will flick back into your own lane almost as quickly. But since the supercharger has stopped whining, some of the thrill is gone; now it's sheer semi-silent speed. Since now you're not whooping at the whine, you can feel your jaws stretch back from the G-force of the acceleration.

We made a top-down run in a 2010 XK coupe one hot summer night over 120 miles of scarcely traveled two-lane along the Columbia River: a memorable drive. It's what you own a Jaguar for. With its powerful bi-xenon headlamps piercing the backcountry roads, the Jaguar's elegant nose was covered with bugs afterward, its hot metal simmering and ticking in the dark driveway. This is what it's all about. This feels like part of the heritage.

We took another ride over that same route in the 2011 XKR, top down and 95 degrees under the midday sun. Even though there weren't many curves, we set the selector to Sport, so the transmission would make all snappy shifts, and squirted the throttle down to the floor as often as we could, to pass cars and trucks. We got home flying. Oh, the joy! Lewis and Clark couldn't have imagined this when they passed through here.

The 6-speed automatic in Sport mode with paddle shifters is all you'll ever need. Shifts are sharp, quick, and on time. And there's downshift rev-matching, meaning the engine will blip for you, quite nicely. To observers, it sounds like you know what you're doing. There is no manual transmission. Jaguar fans of tradition will just have to get used to today's Jaguar, or buy a vintage Jag. You can have your electro-manual transmissions (no clutch pedal) by buying BMW, Ferrari, Audi, et al. But the Jaguar's paddle-shifting 6-speed ZF automatic feels just as slick as that bunch. We don't like the knob, however. It's our biggest complaint with this car.

The XKR shifts at redline 6500 rpm (6800 rpm in the XK) in Sport mode, by itself, faster and better than you can. In fact, the XKR gets to redline so quickly it's better to not even try to shift it yourself. A good strategy is to put it in Drive and leave it there.

We just wish the XK weren't such a gentleman's car. Its visceral side is screaming to get out, like a wild woman dressed for church. We'd love to see a Subaru-like WRX version of the XKR.

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