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Auto Test Drives

2007 Jaguar XK Seduces Both Driver and Track at Willow Springs Raceway
By Andrew Gardner; photos courtesy Jaguar except where noted
Dec 3, 2006, 19:22 PST
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The Jaguar XK8 was a gorgeous, curvaceous, bodacious babe of an automobile, embodying the best of Jaguar and English sports car heritage. It featured the finest of grand touring luxury interiors. It dazzled with its appropriate use of gleaming trim inside and out. And it had a solid V8 with power delivery richer and smoother than the finest sherry wine. It was a true delight - good reason for it to be Jaguar's fastest selling sports car ever.

So what happened? Along came Callum, pen in hand, dressing a body made with modern engineering, aluminum structures and extrusions. These all went into a backroom with the XK8, and from this emerged a re-invigorated cat. It is immediately recognizeable as the XK8 successor, and yet it is appreciably unique and refreshingly new with Callumís design direction drawn through every curve. You feel and smell the inspiration of the XKís (the "8" was dropped for the 2007 model year) design team in the fresh, soft leather on the steering wheel, doors and seats. You are enraptured in the luxurious, sensual aroma of the entire interior as you sink slightly into the driverís position, glide the seatbelt across your front, and push the starter button to bring this hungry catís rumbling V8 to life.

 

 

Guiding the wooden shift knob through the notched gate, you are given the chance to enjoy more polished wood and brilliant trim adorning the shifter bezel; once in Drive you enjoy a smooth takeoff and light steering, which match perfectly the exquisite interior. 

Although itís a bit like being too involved in a relationship before you really get to know the person you are with, our first driving experience in this sexy new street-cat was on the Willow Springs track in Lancaster, California. Jaguar has every right to feel at home on the track because of its fantastic racing heritage -with a stint in Formula1 recently and numerous Le Mans victories to its credit -yet the persona of modern Jaguar automobiles is far more seemless luxury than racing bred street car. As a result of these two influences, this cat was expected to display a certain nimbleness and eagerness and accelerate while not willing to be pushed too aggressively on track.

The hot laps on average pushed the XK to not much more than 90% of a full out race mode, with the exception of a few quicker corners. It was a very fast drive but sensibly navigated. The XK did its job and proved more capable than all the brilliant luxury would suggest. The fact that the XKís new aluminum monocoque body is 50% stiffer in torsion than the predecessor plays no small part in enhancing he dynamics of this cat on track. The turn-in was soft as the springs gave way to roll, and steering was a bit numb and light at speed, but the Jag dug in and held a nice racing line, proving stable and eager to be driven hard. It is tossable and, despite its wildcat name, not prone to turn around and bite you for getting hard on it. Your efforts towards smoothness are rewarded by quick execution of corners, but if you work steering and throttle angles aggressively this tamed beast will forgive; it is not overly sensitive to small changes, and thus is not too responsive. It is a great pleasure to drive fast on an open road course.

 

 

 

The power delivery is overly smooth for the race track. You have to dig in to get kick down, and the engine computer is not prone to hold a lower gear while you hold mid to high rpm through the middle of a corner. There are instances of gear holding but the XK is more likely to upshift when forward acceleration subsides.

The throttle response is relaxed; the torque is high. Power has been bumped from 294 to 300 for the new XK, and torque went from 303 to 310 lb-ft (which is reached at 4100 rpm). The XKís performance improvement in the engine bay is negligible; the significant increase in acceleration is due to the shedding of 300 pounds versus the outgoing convertible, thanks to the stronger but lighter aluminum chassis.

During acceleration from pit lane onto the racetrack, the 4.2-liter V8 sang a melodious soprano soliloquy - something carefully tuned through controlled underbody resonance chambers as well as through good intake and exhaust gas flow management - bringing the XK past 80 mph through a significant uphill stretch before moderate braking and smooth turn in led to an extra upshift into fourth gear. Extra throttle on corner exit brought it back down to third for a short scream into turn 2, a LONG uphill sweeping right hander, where the transmission did hold its gear for a good long while. Great acceleration led to a significant need for heavy braking going into turn 3, a tight uphill left hander which provided another opportunity to flex and show off its muscle at the exit.

Carrying excess speed through turn 4 was not easily corrected by lift-off and extra steering input, as this sports-cat remained more stable than nimble. Coming down the hill out of a short series of small right-hand bends which never quite let you get straightened out leads you into an off-balance braking zone for a left hander. You transition from significant body roll through the end of the right-way turning exercise into gradually increased to near full nose dive and then rolling all the way over as you ease off the brakes into the left hander (the above of course alters with chosen racing line and abruptness of braking and turn-in). This tumultuous exercise displayed nearly the full extent of the XKís suspension travel (excluding significant squat), and the XK for all its motion remained confidence inspiring and in control of its relationship with the asphalt. It makes you feel like you can try most anything you want with this car and it will carry you safely through. Marvelous.

The XK held low triple-digit speeds through Willowís famous downhill sweeping right hander turn 8, was on all four paws through the dicey braking zone for turn 9 which incorporates the end of turn 8 and a very short straight section. The XK leaped up the front straight and powered up the hill with feline ferocity. Every lap, properly driven, was fantastically inspired post-grand-touring intensity and pleasure.

 

 

The satisfaction didnít end with the driving. Because as soon as you cruise into the hot pits and down into the cold pits to park, your attention is once again stolen by the beauty of this sexy cat. The gorgeous leather interior, either in single or double-tone, the lovely veneer wood trim that is made in-house by Jaguar, and simplistic design that leaves the interior uncluttered are sure to bring a warm smile to your face. Having the opportunity to step out of the car and admire those sensuous curves is greatly rewarding; this Jaguarís beauty is enough to make anyone reach for their pocketbook or for the keys, anything to get this diva to lie in their driveway. She is lovely.

 

Ian Callum with the Jaguar Advanced Lightweight Coupe at 2005 Detroit Show - what became the 2007 XK design. Photo by A Gardner

© Copyright 2005 by MotorSportsCenter.com

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