Few grand touring sports cars have a longer or more storied history than the Jaguar XK. Though the coupe and roadster have always been admired for their classic, elegant design, make no mistake about it: These cats were meant to go fast. The XK line traces its roots back to 1949 with the XK 120, the numeric portion of the name an indicator of the car's top speed (although it would take a brave soul to test those limits, with the car's skinny tires and low cutaway doors). When it comes to speed, the Brits at Jag continue to push the envelope, and the 2012 XK lineup is the fastest and most advanced in Jaguar history.
The entire 2012 Jaguar XK lineup gets updated with new front and rear fascias, new headlamps and LED running lights. Inside, the 2012 XK receives upgraded interior materials. Also new for 2012, a rearview camera comes standard on all trim levels, useful when backing up in any sports car due to their poor visibility rearward.
New for 2012 is Jaguar's top-of-the-line XKR-S Coupe and XKR-S Convertible. Its 5.0-liter supercharged V8 churns out a breathtaking 550 horsepower and has a top speed of 186 miles per hour, making the XKR-S the fastest production Jag ever. Both coupe and drop-top are estimated to leap from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Hand in hand with the hearty powerplant on the XKR-S is an exterior design focused on aerodynamics, with stability at speed and reducing drag is of primary importance. Production of the XKR-S will be limited to 100 coupes and 25 convertibles for 2012, and 100 of each body style for 2013.
The 2012 Jaguar XK is available in three levels of tune, each in coupe and convertible body styles. Jaguar XK models are powered by a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 385 hp and 380 pound-feet of torque. Jaguar XKR models feature a supercharged version of the same engine, with 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. All variants are rear-wheel drive and come with a 6-speed automatic, the only transmission available.
The XK models feel solid and stable even at very high speeds. Ride quality is tough to fault, with an Adaptive Damping System automatically adjusting for ride comfort when cruising along or tightening it down for hard cornering. The 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters is smooth and tight with rev-matching downshifting. The standard 385-hp engine has plenty of power, while the supercharged versions move the XK into supercar territory.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 16/24 mpg City/Highway for the XK Coupe; the XK convertible achieves 16/22 mpg. The supercharged XKR and XKR-S coupe and convertible models are all rated 15/22 mpg.
The 2012 Jaguar XK runs against tough company. The Porsche 911 is all-new for 2012, with most complaints seeming to center around the theme of it being too good. Add options and the 911 gets pricey, however. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class rivals Jaguar in technology and good looks, but its roadster-style seating leaves backseat occupants out in the cold. The XK or XKR are closely matched in price and performance by the BMW 6 Series and Mercedes E-Class, while the XKR-S competes against supercars such as the Audi R8, Mercedes SL65 AMG, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and Nissan GT-R.
The XK chassis was introduced for the 2007 model year, but it's still cutting edge. The engines were introduced for 2010, and the convertible joined the lineup for 2011. The styling was revised for 2012, and the XKR-S joined the lineup.
The Jaguar XK is a beauty, its long hood and voluptuous fenders flowing without interruption. Design cues give a nod to the car's history while achieving a modern look. And while designers might admit that today's XK is more about reducing drag than looking beautiful, the sleek lines are nothing to shake a stick at.
Revised for 2012, the broad, oblong grille makes the front fascia look classier and more approachable than Jaguar's competitors. The long hood and short overhangs keep the sporty appearance while clearly remaining luxurious.
The XKR has performance detailing, including a black mesh grille, special wheels and R logos.
On the XKR-S, vertical side air dams channel air along the side of the car for improved aerodynamics. A carbon fiber front splitter, rear air diffuser and rear lip spoiler also help to keep the car grounded at high speeds.
The coupe is particularly attractive, with its sleek roofline and beautiful silhouette. The convertible isn't as awkward-looking as some of its rivals, the Mercedes E-Class among them. The convertible's fabric top can be raised or lowered in a speedy 18 seconds.
The Jaguar XK is a sophisticated sports car, which is well conveyed throughout the cockpit. Most models are more luxurious than sporty, with the exception of the XKR-S, with its racing-inspired seats and contrast stitching. Fit, finish and materials on all variants are superb, and seats have a nearly endless range of adjustability, including side bolsters, which keep driver and passenger firmly in place around corners.
The XK uses the trademarked JaguarDrive Selector, a big knob on the center console, instead of a moving a shift lever. Turning the knob will put the driver in Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive or Sport. It's relatively easy to use, but we'd prefer a traditional shift lever. Knobs are for navigation systems, not shifters.
The XK instrumentation nods toward luxury. The gauges have pretty aluminum bezel rings. The gauges use red needles, with white numbers indicating 180 mph on the speedometer, 8000 rpm on the tachometer. On the XKR-S, a blue and black scheme stands out nicely on a black background, and the speedo goes to 190 mph, which is nearly possible to reach, given the car's top speed of 186. We don't recommend that, however.
The wide center stack is mostly filled by the 7-inch LCD touchscreen. We found the electronic interface not as intuitive as we'd like, and certain functions, like adding an address or modifying a destination, take far too many steps. For example, one has to hit the Home button to switch functions, instead of going straight to, say, the audio controls. Also, the fonts and graphics on the interface do not look sophisticated for a $100k-plus car. In the convertible, the screen can be tough to read on a sunny day with the top down and we did get some glare off the dash.
On the XKR-S, additional touches impressed us, like three unique interior combinations and the all-leather headliner, designed and supplied by Poltrona Frau, an Italian company (despite the German-sounding name) also known for manufacturing Ferrari interiors and $20,000-plus sofas.
Rear legroom in the XK comes up short when compared to larger cruisers such as the BMW 6 Series but it's pleasingly spacious compared with a Porsche 911. Most cars that compete with the XKR-S, such as the Audi R8 and Mercedes-Benz SL 65 AMG, have no back seat at all. The 2+2 configuration also helps reduce insurance rates, we're told. Because of its sloping roofline, headroom in the XK coupe or in the convertible with the top up restricts the rear to children or petite adults. We view it as a two-seat GT able to occasionally transport children.
Luggage space in the XK is plentiful at 11 cubic feet, and much more than the Mercedes-Benz SL Class. With the top down, the convertible only loses about 2 cubic feet, which is especially roomy for a drop-top.
A lightweight, aluminum chassis that's riveted and bonded makes for a rigid and nimble foundation for the Jaguar XK. We found handling and braking superb. Even driving at high speeds, we found the XK models solid, stable and planted.
Ride quality, too, is tough 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. All of that boils down to a thoroughly enjoyable ride without making the driver or passengers feel beat up.
Shifts with the 6-speed automatic transmission are sharp, quick, and on time. And there's downshift rev-matching, meaning the engine will blip for you. Unlike so many flappy-paddle transmissions out there, this one isn't always changing gears for you. You can drive the XK aggressively and use the transmission like a manual gearbox, and it does well with crisp upshifts and throttle-blipping downshifts, especially when you turn the dial on the console to set the car to Sport mode.
We have no complaints with the normally aspirated 385-horsepower engine that comes in the XK and have found it quite enjoyable.
The XK Convertible is very quiet underway with the triple-lined top up. For some, it might be too quiet, as the growl of the powerful engine is faint inside the cabin, even with the top down, unless you're up near redline. And because the top can go up or down in just 18 seconds, it's easy to soak up sunshine or take shelter according to mood.
The supercharged XKR, with its 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque, executed passing moves effortlessly. That humongous amount of torque comes in on the tachometer at 2500 rpm, so we always had plenty of low-end thrust. The XKR's massive brakes always brought us back from high speed in a snap.
The XKR-S was all about speed, at least in a straight line. We were able to take the coupe on a secure runway at El Centro air base in Southern California and got it up briefly to 180 mph. Even at those speeds and with strong winds, the car remained incredibly stable and composed. Braking was effortless as well, and although we slowed down gradually, the car was smooth, poised and able.
On the road, the XKR-S felt very powerful. A few times while driving back country roads, we felt the tail come out a bit when we'd get on the throttle coming out of a turn. This car has serious low-end torque. As with other models, the adaptable suspension ate up the bumps in the road nicely without sacrificing performance.
In an XKR-S convertible, while trying to beat ominous gray clouds hovering above, wind buffeting was minimal with the windscreen in place and the windows up, and moderate with the windows down. The audio system sounded loud and clear, even at high speeds. When the sky darkened and drops began to fall, we decided to outrun the rain, rather than stop to put the top up. At upper highway speeds we stayed dry and comfy, with the exception of the occasional splash we'd get from water accumulating at the intersection of the A-pillar and the side window. The heated seats and steering wheel, combined with the powerful climate control system, kept us toasty as the temperature around our bubble continued to drop. When the storm worsened and we were no longer able to keep up speeds necessary to channel the water over our heads, we finally pulled over to put the top up. This was perhaps the only time when 18 seconds seemed like an eternity.
Still one of the most tasteful and able cars in its class, the Jaguar XK excels as a luxury GT. The brilliant, British 5.0-liter V8 in all its variants, along with the aluminum chassis and sophisticated suspension make for a sensational driving experience. Elegant exterior design and luxe interior pay homage to Jaguar's past while bringing it into the future. Pull up to a five-star resort in one of these and you will be given the full VIP treatment.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein reported from San Diego after her 180-mph test drive in the XKR-S; with Sam Moses reporting from Portland on the XK convertible and XKR coupe.