Between the Lines: The Car Connection on the Jaguar XK

It s nice to know that automotive websites are finally welcome to suck on the corporate tit alongside their buff book brethren. For The Car Connection s recent review of the new Jaguar XK, scribe Marty Padgett joined the glossies go-getters in South Africa for a romantic interlude with the Ford s division s latest two-seater. As our fearless leader recently indicated, Jalopnik is not entirely averse to that kind of action. We will simply state our cooption up front, and report on the bacchanalia as well as the whip. Meanwhile, Marty starts his automotive post card (from the company that makes the Edge) by waxing lyrically about luxury brand imagineering.

In the rarified sphere of luxury cars, brands stay relevant as long as buyers believe they stand for one or two simple things. Lexus's hallmark is impeccable reliability, while BMW's is sporting attitude. Audi has sleek design and all-wheel drive to its credit, while Mercedes-Benz still carries the purple aura of Teutonic engineering despite what we in the South would call "the recent unpleasantness.
Lead writing is a bitch. One wrong move and the readers immediately start to wiggle off the hook. Padgett s waffling on the luxury hallmark issue is a perfect example. Why two USP s for Audi? It s Unique Selling Point, not Points. The failure to distill Audi s brand message to a single characteristic does no favors for either Padgett s prose or Ingolstadt s rep.

On the positive side, Marty gets full marks for dissing Mercedes for their betrayal of their core brand value. I have no idea what a purple aura is, but suddenly I don t want one. [BTW: is Padgett implying that southerners refer to the Civil War as the recent unpleasantness, or is the expression used more widely? Either way, again, I like it.]

At Jaguar, the keyword of the day, as you might know from some fluffy high-gloss ads, is "gorgeous." But underlying that airy, accurate notion is something more substantial, and nearly as light: aluminum. Aluminum construction has changed the XJ sedan from a slight, ponderous sedan into a strong, sleek animal. And this year the already gorgeous XK undergoes an aluminum-based transformation that effects the same kind of change, making it quicker, roomier, and lighter than the former XK8.

OK, now I m confused and nauseous. We've gone from a discussion of the fundamental characteristic underpinning a luxury brand s existence to the keyword of the day. Padgett s ode to aluminum whisks us away from Jag s aesthetic USP to a discussion of their automobiles newfound athleticism. Marty s pro-Jaguar rant also borders on sycophancy. Calling the ponderous, distinctly wafty XJ sedan a strong, sleek animal is like calling a Maybach a Miata-beater.
The new XK coupe and convertible have reclaimed the edge lost to the last two generations of Jaguar sportscars, and tight bodies are two reasons for it. Two reasons? The XK is rigidly built and beautiful to behold - but it also comes as either a hardtop or a ragtop. The two versions can be quite different in character. As a convertible, the XK is almost femme, with poplar trim and 18-inch wheels and sensuous leather trim. In Coupe shape it's a credible alternative to a cramped, noisy 911 what with its 20-inch wheels, aluminum trim, muscular engine note, and masculine stance.

Since Jaguar steered away from making the XK a hardtop convertible, you'll have to make your choice early, now, won't you?

Oh dear. Any hope of an objective analysis of the car that s critical to Jaguar s continued existence has been lost inside Padgett s increasingly bizarre advertorial. I mean, what 911 driver — potential or actual — would call the Porsche Carrera s cabin cramped or noisy? Marty s condescending won t you? comment also places him squarely inside the Jaguar camp, even before he s made his case for XK ownership.

Which he does without fear, with favor. Under the heading A real growler (Jaguar, cat, geddit?), Padgett sings the praises of the Jag s 4.2-liter V8, smooth shifting gearbox and sprightly pace. Then we re back to beauty, and then we re back to the sporting advantages of aluminum. On this front, Padgett does a yeoman s job, with occasional flashes of brilliance.

With a structure so stolid, the jobs of the steering, brakes, and suspension get a little easier. The XK amplifies its own lightness of being through the controls. No autobahn anvil on wheels, the XK's steering is anti-911 light and clean, though the 18-inch wheels keep a good margin of feeling on center that's lost on cars with the optional 20-inch wheels.

Padgett s second cheap shot at Stuttgart s finest may raise Porsche fans hackles faster than a 911 s spoiler deploying at 75mph, but I could say autobahn anvil on wheels all day. I m also good with Marty s comparison between mouse-driven iDrive Hell and Jaguar s touch-screen Heaven that follows. In fact, Padgett s sales job is beginning to take its toll on my XK8-as-pseudo-sports-car-for-elderly-white-men cynicism. In particular, Padgett s junket-revealing handling graphs speak to me:
The roads of South Africa's Western Cape region proved out the XK's newfound mission to be two cars in one: a convertible with effortless performance and a coupe with a more pronounced sportscar edge. Unflappable at triple-digit speeds, the XK bristles with the confidence of a league leader.

While most of the former XK8's charm came from its woody interior and lissome looks, the new XK gets nods for gusto. It grabs as much pavement as it can, responding to every subtle command you deliver. Blip the throttle and it snarls back; paddle it down two gears for the next corner and it takes a flat, unruffled set for the corner ahead. Switch off the traction control and it's ready to play, with wheelspin to make a GTO jealous and supremely composed responses. It's as delightful to drive fast as it is to see disappearing on the curves ahead in the road — a view designer Ian Callum wants you to see often.

I love the general tenor of the writing; but I would be remiss if I didn t point out that there are a few rhetorical problems that need answering out. Is the writer saying that the Jaguar XK is two cars in one because it comes in two different versions? How does a throttle snarl back? Wouldn t Ian Callum want us to be IN a Jaguar XK rather than watching one? Anyway, Mr. Padgett s headed for the hotel bar and a sumptuous South African repast. A conclusion needs writing out.
Times may be tight at Ford, but the XK signifies the magnitude of the great patient changes at Jaguar. With the XK and the promises of a revamped XJ and S-Type, it's evident that Dearborn has done right by Jaguar by investing in good design and world-class technology to endow the brand with real meaning.

You gotta laugh at the expression great patient changes ; the British brand has been so ill for so long it s no wonder Ford wants to change patients. As for the startling conclusion that Ford s investment in Jaguar is finally going to pay off across the board, methinks Mercedes, Audi and BMW will have the last laugh at that one. But the most jarring aspect of Padgett s summation is his assertion that Ford has endowed the Jaguar brand with real meaning. If anything, Ford s meddling has spayed the cat. Now, how bout some boerewors and pap?

RF

2007 Jaguar XK Coupe/Convertible [The Car Connection]

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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Between the Lines: AutoWeek on the Jaguar Super V8 Portfolio; More Between the Lines Columns [internal]