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First drive: Fine-tuned feline’s final facelift

No messing around: With only detail changes, Jaguar’s stylists have not messed with the voluptuous XK’s appearance.

Jaguar’s ageing coupe and convertible undergo a minor makeover

18 May 2004

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in TEXAS

JAGUAR has massaged its XK series with a small facelift.

The changes are designed to take the swoopy XK coupe and convertible range through to its 10th birthday in early 2006, when it will be replaced by the still secret X150 Coupe at that year’s Geneva motor show.

And in what has become a tradition for the British marque, the X150 Convertible should follow a few weeks later at the 2006 New York motor show. A similar launch sequence was used for both the XK in 1996 and the E-Type in 1961.

Australian pricing details for the revised XK will emerge closer to its September launch.

The latest facelift, the model’s biggest to date, is still only limited to a full-width grille splitter on the XK8 and redesigned mesh number on the XKR, revised front bumpers with a larger front lower-air-intake, deeper back bumpers and new side sills for better aerodynamics.

Topping off the titivations are exhaust pipe revisions, a larger rear boot spoiler on the XKR, gloss black window finish on the XK8 and new-look 18, 19 and 20-inch alloy wheels. There are no major mechanical alterations.

Jaguar believed it unwise to fettle too much with the Fergus Pollack-penned/Geoff Lawson presided original. Nevertheless, the company felt it needed more road presence as well as a stronger, more masculine stance.

On the features front, an Automatic Speed Limiter device has been included to the specification.

An increase in the already salubrious standard equipment levels should be implemented in the light of the Australian arm’s new pricing strategy, which local general manager David Blackhall says will drive value into today’s Jaguars.

6 center image That will also be phased in during September and should see more (and more appropriate to the marque’s image) equipment added to the smaller X and revamped S-Type ranges.

The XK is in dire need of a fillip, even though it is the fastest-selling Jaguar sports car ever, with over 70,000 units sold. More than 40,000 have headed to the US.

In Australia sales have run to a dozen to the end of April, less than half of those from a year earlier.

In 2003 47 were sold, compared to 65 in 2002. Meanwhile, the Lexus SC430 totalled 118 sales (down 30 from 2002) while the segment-busting Mercedes SL more than doubled its 2002 tally last year with 367 orders.

The series was launched locally in October 1996 and shares much of its internal architecture with the Aston Martin DB7. Aston is also part of the Ford fold.

Australian buyers had a choice of XK Classic and Sport models in 216kW 4.0-litre V8 guise, with the 276kW 4.0 Supercharged V8 XKR models arriving from May 1998.

An electronics and safety upgrade in 2001 was followed by a major mechanical revamp in October 2002. It included upgraded 4.2 and supercharged-4.2 V8s, a six-speed ZF automatic transmission, Emergency Brake Assist and Dynamic Stability Control devices, among other improvements.

Power is rated at 224kW at 6000rpm for the naturally aspirated V8 and 298kW at 6100rpm for the supercharged version, while torque tops out at 420Nm at 4100rpm and 553Nm at 3500rpm respectively.

Amazingly, the XK’s basic underpinnings are that of its problematic predecessor, the 1975-1996 XJS, which served as the replacement for the legendary 1961-1974 E-Type. Still, at the time of its launch, the XK was 80 per cent new.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

MORE than half of all XK sales in America are the convertible variant, so it was no surprise GoAuto was handed the keys to an automatic XKR Convertible on the XK drive day in Austin, Texas.

Facelift or not, the first impressions are of an old-fashioned boulevard cruiser, not helped by the 2588mm wheelbase that looks too short for the longish overhangs front and rear.

Compounding this is a relatively narrow and high cabin that is ample enough for your 178cm tester, but not for anyone much taller or larger. And the twin-set rear seats are suitable only for Hobbits and garden gnomes.

Cosy, then, is the word, augmented by lashings of lush leather and wood for that good old-fashioned (there’s that word again) British grand tourer feel.

More evidence of the ancient XJS lurking underneath is the weird HQ Holden-style handbrake between the driver’s seat and door.

That aside, there’s nothing yesterday about the way the driver interacts with the interior, despite the archly conservative fascia design, with easily reached switches and controls, a good driving position and plenty of adjustability to the front bucket seats.

Full marks go to the console-sited satellite, audio and climate control touch-screen display, which is as intuitive as it gets.

As is erecting the electric roof, which offers coupe-like cocooning from the elements outside.

But it also means that the thick pillars and high window line scupper all-round vision. When the roof is down there’s adequate – but not great – sheltering from winds and chill. The eight-year old design’s age betrays it here.

But firing up that supercharged 4.2-litre V8 engine suddenly brings this century firmly back to mind, with its even but brutish burble barely noticeable under a vast veneer of refinement.

Step on the throttle and the XKR – like the American roads and highways I was driving on – tracks straight as an arrow. Allied to the responsive ZF six-speed automatic, both scenery and speed limits whooshed by even at just a tickle of the throttle, despite the hefty mass this Jag has to haul. That’d be the 553Nm of torque shouting.

Jaguar’s Adaptive Cruise Control function, which reduces the set cruising speed according to how fast the vehicle ahead is going, worked a treat.

Big reserves of power do not seem to corrupt the rear-wheel drivetrain, so all that modern driver-aid elec-trickery like traction and stability controls are certainly doing their work.

On uneven and pock-marked stretches of road, the more surprising aspect was just how settled and absorbing the ride was, despite the huge 19-in alloy wheels and rubber-band thin tyres.

Sure, there was a slight amount of chassis shimmy and scuttle shake, but it was far less than what I had been expecting from this particular British vintage. My only whine was intermittent steering rack rattle and that was only on a certain style of coarse highway surface.

As mentioned earlier, there were not many opportunities to sample the handling and cornering abilities of the XKR Convertible, but the steering seemed to have a satisfyingly weighty feel and precision to its performance, belying the drop-top’s faintly Miami beach persona.

Still, the overriding impression is that this Jaguar is more of a grand tourer than a sports car.

Perhaps the still breathtakingly beautiful XKR Coupe – with its lower weight and tauter body rigidity – fits the latter mould better.

As it stands, the XKR Convertible is still a brilliantly capable, comfortable and cosseting cross-country tourer.

It’s still very much a Jaguar in its design, refinement and opulence, but – packaging aside – there’s nothing too old-fashioned about the way it delivers its performance.

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