The year was 1961. John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president and would both establish the Peace Corps and launch a failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut to ride a rocket into space. Viewers watched Mr. Ed, Ben Casey and Dick van Dyke on television, while moviegoers lined up to see The Guns of Navarone, Exodus and The Absent-Minded Professor.
That same year the Jaguar E-Type – better known in the U.S. as the XKE – debuted, enticing sports car aficionados with its seductive styling, racing-honed performance and fashionably British heritage. While the XKE would eventually run its course and be discontinued in 1975, enthusiasts continue to revere it as a true automotive icon.
More than two decades later, Jaguar recaptured its essence in a contemporary package, launching the XK8 coupe and convertible in 1997. The current version—now simply called the XK – was introduced for the 2007 model year. It not only preserves the original’s rich heritage, but is also the most technically advanced Jaguar ever built. Again offered in fixed-roof and open-top versions, racier XKR models afford added excitement. A limited edition XKR175 75th Anniversary edition is offered for 2011; only 175 of these will be built, and they come finished in an Ultimate Black paint treatment with specific 20-inch alloy wheels, bright red brake calipers and custom interior finishes.
The XK’s ground-hugging exterior entices onlookers and garners prime valet parking spots with its flowing lines, long sloping hood, and oval mesh grille that pay homage to the original iteration. In a nod to modern technology, the car’s boldly cast oval headlamps can be fitted with intelligent bi-xenon headlamps that automatically pivot based on vehicle speed and steering input to help illuminate the road at night through the curves. The XKR takes the car’s styling a step further by adding touches like a unique color-keyed front bumper with integrated fog lamps, aluminum-finished side “power vents,” black brake calipers and a specific rear bumper treatment with quad exhaust tips.
Performance has long been a hallmark of the XK, and the current iteration does not disappoint in that regard. A 5.0-liter V-8 engine generates a respectable 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque can take the car to 60 mph from a standing start in just under five seconds. Not quick enough? The supercharged 5.0-liter V8 in the XKR generates a pavement-burning 510 horses and 461 pound-feet; it enables the car’s speedometer to hit 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds.
An advanced sequential-shift six-speed automatic transmission allows manual operation via steering wheel-mounted paddles, which adds to the XK’s racecar feel. On the center console, a knob with selectable “park,” “reverse,” “neutral,” “drive” and “sport” modes replaced Jaguar’s traditional “J-gate” shifter design. The fully automatic Drive mode adapts to individual driving styles, while the Sport mode affords more-aggressive automatic shifts. A Hill Recognition feature allows the transmission to automatically choose the proper gear ratios for optimal performance while ascending or descending an incline.
The XK fully utilizes lightweight aluminum materials to create a rigid unibody structure, which affords sporty and secure vehicle dynamics, and a quiet, sophisticated driving experience. A Computer Active Technology Suspension lets the driver switch between a softer-riding Comfort setting and a more-nimble Sport mode to suit the road surface and his or her level of aggressiveness. A four-wheel-disc antilock braking system with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Hydraulic Brake Assist affords quick and confident stopping abilities. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control systems are included to maintain directional stability during cornering, and minimize tire slippage while accelerating.
Meanwhile, the sportier XKR version’s steering, suspension and braking systems have been upgraded to both handle the additional horsepower and to afford improved response for more-enthusiastic drivers.
Inside, the XK’s cabin is richly trimmed in leather with real wood accents and features a petite rear seat that’s best regarded as a padded cargo shelf. A color display, set between analog gauges on the instrument panel, displays vital motoring information. A touch-screen monitor at the center of the dashboard affords access to climate, audio, navigation, and other systems. Front passengers in the XKR are treated to more-supportive sport seats, and the cabin is dressed up with specific “weave” patterned aluminum trim (Burl Walnut, Rick Oak and Piano Black veneers are alternately offered as no-cost options).
Convertible versions feature a triple-layer power-operated cloth top that is well insulated from the elements; it retracts in less than 18 seconds and is stowed neatly beneath an aluminum tonneau cover.
As befits a vehicle of its stature, the XK comes amply equipped, and includes such amenities as a 525-watt stereo with upscale Bowers & Wilkins speakers and a USB input for portable audio devices, Bluetooth wireless cell-phone connectivity and a Smart Key keyless entry/start system. Optional technological gadgetry includes Adaptive Cruise Control system that can not only both maintain a preset speed and interval on the highway, but comes with a Forward Alert system that can warn the driver of a potential collision with traffic or an obstacle ahead.
Times may have changed since the early 1960’s – for starters Jaguar is now owned by India’s Tata Motors – but it’s nice to know that the XK not only keeps the spirit of that era’s original E-Type alive, but also builds upon it in ways even the most forward-looking observers could hardly imagine back when astronaut Alan Shepard first blasted off into the unknown.
Jaguar XK Quick Facts
Engine: 5.0-liter V8, 5.0-liter Supercharged V8
Horsepower: 385 @ 6,500 rpm, 510 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 380 @ 3,500 rpm, 461 @ 2,500 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 15/22-16/24
Transmission: 6-Spd Automatic
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Overall Length: 188.7 in
Width: 74.5 in
Height: 52.0 in
Curb Weight: 3,770 lbs
MSRP: $83,000 - $104,625
Did You Know?
Back in the early 1960’s, during a time when us Yanks were developing a fascination for all things British – from James Bond to Twiggy and the Beatles – Jaguar was best known as the purveyor of one of its largest and most sophisticated models to date, the E-Type. Better known stateside as the XKE, it debuted to universal accolades in 1961 and fast became an icon for the company. It was decimated in power by federal anti-pollution regulations in the 1970’s, and would be discontinued in 1975; it was replaced by the XJ-S. That model lasted until 1997 when Jaguar, by then owned by Ford, introduced the XK8, which was designed to capture the essence of the original E-Type. The higher-performance XKR version was added to the line for the 2000 model year.