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We get our claws on Jag's new XK

2006-02-06 07:36

Jaguar XK had its world launch in Cape Town.
View our XK Coupe gallery and the

John Oxley

If you want to skip the sentimental intro and gnaw right at the bone, click here

It was 1965. My pal Eric called me over to where he was having one of his usual very heated conversations at the bar. It was about the local council - again - and I must say I really didn't fancy being drawn in.

"Hey young John, " he said with a Yorkshire accent so thick you can' t convert it into text, "there's a car round t'back for you to look at.

"If yer want ter drive it later, come back at closing time".

Eric knew I love cars, but I expected this was going to be another of his old bangers.

Look, he was quite generous and lent me a van, or an old Vauxhall Cresta, if it was snowing too hard for me to use my motorbike. But they were full of rust and used almost as much oil as petrol, and they certainly weren't what today would be called "babe magnets".

The Jaguar XK13

Old coaches

I walked into the old pub yard, where once horses were victualled and coachmen rested while patrons refreshed themselves to break what was in the old days a long and arduous journey from London to Edinburgh.

I rounded a corner beneath the old arch, and there it was. Eric hadn't even bothered to park it properly - just plonked it right in the middle of the yard, where everyone could see it, which I suppose was his point.

It was that dark bottle green which Jaguar owners called "British Racing Green", but wasn't.

It had a long, long bonnet, with "eyeball" headlights at the end, swooping front wings, a beautifully smooth tail.

It was an XK 150, pristine but for what appeared to be a bit of rust under the sills and around the doors.

The Jaguar E-Type had made its appearance five years before, but at the time I found that a bit ostentatious, too modern. And I didn't know anyone who owned one...

The XK150, on the other hand, was a classic sports car.

Worn leather

Well-worn leather and real wood on the inside, cut-down doors and a feeling of real power - today we'd call it "macho".

Needless to say I was back at 2.45p.m., closing time, and Eric threw me the keys.

Funnily enough I felt at home right away in the car, and we roared off along country roads that allowed me to feel what the car was doing, to get an inkling - just an inkling, 'cos no ways was Eric going to let me loose with the car - of what it was capable of.

It's this sort of stuff that turns a working reporter on a provincial Yorkshire newspaper into a motoring journalist. That definitive moment when you finally know your career path.

Since then I've driven every Jaguar which has carried an XK badge, bar one.

And I saw that missing link this weekend, though no ways was I allowed to drive it - the XK13, a one-off mid-engined V12 special that Jaguar was going to race, and which was the model for the still-born F-Type.

It was on a pedestal, outside the Lanzerac Hotel in Stellenbosch.

One of the most beautiful - and certainly one of the sexiest - cars you're ever going to see.

World launch

What was it doing in Lanzerac?

Jaguar International had decided on South Africa for the launch of its new XK convertible and coupe models.

The first Jaguar XKs not to carry a suffix - they're just XK.

As sexy as the XK13, as macho as the XK150, as beautiful as an E-Type.

All that and more, for the bloated looking XK8 and XKR have been succeeded by new athletic models that handle like real sports cars, that embody the history of the Jaguar XK series of old (in which I'll include the E-Type since it was known as the XK-E in US markets) while taking the marque forward and upward to new heights.

Big statement, but it's borne out the moment you drive the cars quickly.

I started with the convertible, on a warm but overcast day in Cape Town. Ideal drop-top weather.

Cruising around Gordon's Bay, and Betty's Bay, with one eye on the speedo and the other on the blackened burnt-out landscape, showed the XK convertible to be a superb tourer. Refined, cocooning, gentile.

Later, though, when unleashed over Franschoek Pass, another side to its character emerged. Mr. Jekyl morphed into Mr. Hyde, and out popped this ferocious monster, with a roaring V8 that bounced a delicious sound off the valley walls, and a taut and responsive chassis that gave tons of grip, great turn-in, and a nice little waggle of the tail on exit.

No Porsche

Not quite a Porsche 911, but definitely up to scratch with its main opposition, the Mercedes SL500 or BMW 645i.

And so much sexier than any of the above!

The drive up Franschoek Pass also showed another side to the car, for it started to rain and suddenly I found the front end washing away, then the back, and a smooth waltz up the mountain turned into more of a cha cha as I continuously caught it and corrected.

I must state here that I had the car in what's called Trac DSC mode, a sporting setting in the dynamic stability control that allows more aggressive driving without taking off belt AND braces.

Leaving DSC fully on would have cut power and stopped the cha cha - but I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much!

I must confess that I was little worried about the way the car had behaved until I spoke to colleagues, who all complained about how slippery the pass had been.

The next day - yesterday - I drove the XK coupe, again over Franschoek Pass, but this time in the dry.

Well mannered

And it was crisp, and taut, and beautifully mannered. Yes, the pass HAD been very slippery the day before.

Later, at Killarney Racetrack we were able to drive the car in controlled conditions, testing lane changes, slaloms, high speed corners and heavy braking.

And the cars performed beautifully.

Enjoyment. That's what the XK is all about.

But there's even more to the new car than that.

This new XK is lighter, faster and roomier than the car it replaces. And its body is so much stiffer that the new convertible is actually tauter than the coupe version of the outgoing XK8 and XKR.

Yet at the same time its all-aluminium construction, using special bonding methods developed by Jaguar, makes the body lighter than either the Mercedes or BMW.

The engine is a carry-over, a 4.2 litre quad cam V8 that pushes out a generous 219 kW at 6 000 r/min, with 420 Nm of torque at 4 100 r/min, but it's mated to an all-new gearbox, a beautiful 6-speed automatic that's one of the quickest shifters around.

Gearbox modes

It has three modes. The first is a fully automatic setting that allows one to drive quickly, smoothly, and easily.

We called it "granny mode".

Then you flick the lever over to the left into the "sport" gate, which gives an adaptive mode that analyses how you're driving, and adjusts shifts etc. to suit.

And available at all times is a steering wheel paddle mode, fully sequential, with the left hand paddle for down changes, the right-hander for up changes.

You can use this in either "granny mode" or sport, at any time.

Great for quick down changes when overtaking, or for "pre-selecting" before a tight bend.

In the latter case, if you expect you're going to need, say, second for a tight bend, but you're travelling too quickly at that point, you select second, and the gearbox will change down when speed has dropped sufficiently.

Jaguar says the gear change is almost as fast as BMW's latest SMG on its fastest setting, and faster than Audi's double-clutch DSG.

That's fast!

High tech. chassis

Under the skin is a lot more aluminium, in the suspension, which sees a new version of Jaguar's Computer Active Technology suspension (CATS) which is a two stage adaptive damping system which gives great balance between ride and handling.

The system measures the rates of yaw and pitch of the car, constantly adjusting the dampers individually.

It's awesome.

There are also big, big brakes, ventilated front and rear, and fitted with the latest ABS system; as well as stability and traction control programmes, including that aforementioned Trac DSC, which allows experienced drivers to get the XK a bit out of shape before stability control cuts in.

Dual front airbags are fitted as well as side bags, and a unique feature is Jaguar's pyrotechnic bonnet, which helps prevent injury to pedestrians.

The interior of the car is as impressive as the outside. Like the exterior there's lots of attention to detail; again like the exterior, the car looks MUCH better in the metal than in photographs.

The look is classic Jaguar, with lots of hand stitched leather and rear wood trim, or you can opt for a more modern aluminium trim look.

Roomy and comfy

The car is roomy, and comfortable, though the back seats aren't much good except for short journeys.

The convertible has a triple layer soft top that allows reasonable boot space, and opens and closes in just 18 seconds, while the coupe features a lift-up hatchback for easy access to the stowage space.

Naturally there are all sorts of standard features, including satellite navigation operated using a logical touch screen, as well as great aircon, electric windows and mirrors, Bluetooth cell phone integration, and a 6-disc in-dash CD player/radio.

There are 18 inch alloy wheels as standard, with 19 inch or 20 inch optional, and bi-xenon headlamps are also standard, as is keyless entry and start.


The Jaguar XK - both convertible and coupe - though offering sports car handling and performance, are Gran Tourismo cars, not road rockets.

With a zero to 100 km/h time of 6.2 seconds and 6.1 seconds respectively and a top speed limited to 250 km/h, they are certainly not slow.

But nor are they massively punchy like the Mercedes SL55 or BMW M6.

That will come later with the supercharged XKR versions...

Cars will be available in South Africa towards the end of May/beginning June.


  • XK Coupe: R950 000
  • XK Convertible: R1-million

    Photo galleries

  • XK Coupe
  • XK Convertible

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