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Click to view road test review picture galleryJaguar’s latest XK
  Convertible has more
  than enough ability
  to make  it a ‘head’
  choice alongside the
  likes of Porsche’s 911,
  Mercedes’ SL and
  BMW’s 6 Series.
  And if your heart has
  already said Yes,
  signing the cheque
will be the easiest
  thing you ever did...”

BY RIGHTS, JAGUAR'S LATEST XK SPORTS CAR should have a six-figure bounty on its head — because it's been Number One on a lot of people's 'most wanted' lists since it was launched.

In some respects, not a lot has changed in the DNA of Jaguar's sports cars since the sexily iconic E-type first drove out of Coventry and into the automotive history books. The formula — sensational looks outside with impressive power under a long bonnet — is much the same today: capably demonstrated by the latest incarnation of the XK. Like the legendary '61 E-type, the XK is at its sleekest with its top off — which is why we've tested the convertible as opposed to the fixed-head version.

And just to make doubly sure that nobody missed it, Jaguar sent us a bright red XK. So we can say categorically that, if you don't want to get noticed, then do not under any circumstances buy a bright red Jaguar XK Convertible. The consensus of opinion is that this latest XK's undoubted 'presence' easily outweighed its TV-ad 'gorgeousness'. This is exactly how most owners would see it.

What few of the XK's many car park admirers considered — unless they're dyed-in-the-wool Jaguar fans — is that it is precisely the new XK's bodywork that's the key to this latest generation Jaguar sports car's dynamism. The XK's shapely metalwork is, in fact, an epoxy-bonded and riveted aluminium monocoque of the type first used on the XJ saloon in 2002. Thanks to an all-aluminium construction, this latest generation of XKs are both lighter and stiffer than their predecessors. On the engineering front, Lightness is today's seriously cool Holy Grail.

Not that the XK's newfound 'lightness of being' has taken anything important away. In fact, the opposite is true; because the new XK Convertible has 50 per cent more strength and rigidity than the pre-vious model. Not to mention the accompanying emissions and fuel economy gains. And significantly, right from the word 'Go', the new XK was designed and engineered as a Convertible. Unlike many roadsters, it is not a fixed-head coupe with the roof lopped off as a marketing-
led afterthought. Which explains why it doesn't suffer from flexing or scuttle shake.

Its 'slimline' kerb weight is light enough to ensure the 300bhp Convert-ible is as fleet as it looks: 155mph and 0-60mph in six seconds dead. But despite the totally usable performance, the XK is also very much about comfort.

If you really want to go the whole hog, you can always buy the formidably quick XKR. It pumps out 420bhp and 413lb ft of torque and scorches to the benchmark 60mph in 5 seconds dead and for some drivers losing that whole one second is important enough for them to fork out an extra 10K — the 300bhp XK drop-top costs 66,097; its
'R' big brother is priced at 76,097. Whichever you buy, you definitely won't feel short-changed.

Jaguar has done a first class job of fitting out the XK. And they've used first class materials, too. The seats are soft leather with per-forated inserts and the fascia is classy without veering too close to fashionable. This is good news, because fashion often dates. Style, however, is always in fashion — think Coco Chanel — and the XK's cabin is certainly stylish.

The XK's fascia, dash and centre stack is neat and there is real alumin-ium trim around the selector gate and centre stack. The every-which-way well-shaped, powered seats are extremely comfortable over even the longest journeys. The seat controls are sited handily on the door where they are easy to operate, even at night. Sitting up front, room in all directions is very good. Better yet, the cabin seems to fit around the driver like a glove.

The elegant, three-spoke multi-function steering wheel has a thick leather rim that's great to grip and to use. It also houses audio, voice control and cruise control switches. The 7-inch touch-screen (a stan-dard item) is also refreshingly straightforward. All the Jaguar's audio, climate and SatNav settings are managed via the attractively integ-rated touch-screen monitor. Information and menus make use of fool-proof colour coding and are displayed in a professional and extremely easy to read format. No doubt (unlike the 2012 London Olympics logo!) it was designed by somebody who really did know what they were doing. As far as computers go, the XK's touch-screen infotainment display is unquestionably creative Mac as opposed to clunky Windows.

Other highlights deserving a special mention are the superbly tactile 'thumbwheel'-style switches used to control the four fascia air vents and also on the steering wheel crossbar for the audio and track/station scrolling and the cruise control. These rotary switches are beautifully crafted with a cross-cut rubber centre sandwiched between wafer-
thin chromed outer rims.

Also deserving praise for making life easy are the 3-memory settings
on both front seats (the driver's also memorises the steering wheel position), the powered 'Easy Entry' steering column and the electric-ally-operated up/down, in/out lumbar support. Reversing is easy, thanks to front and rear parking sensors that display visually on the screen as well as give audible warnings. The 3-stage heated seats reach almost every part of your back and the auto-dim rear view mirror is, as always, appreciated — as was the keyless entry and start system that is completely glitch free.

Dials are limited to just two: a 180mph speedometer and rev-counter. Both are smartly classic with white on black easy-to-read graphics and slim chromed bezels — and when you're driving as spiritedly as you could in this car, that's all you need. And, like everything else in the cabin, they're well finished. That's all you need to know, really, apart from the final treat and the one thing everybody wants to touch — the red start engine button just ahead and to the right of the stubby leather-covered selector lever knob.

Look over your shoulder and you'll notice that the XK comes with '+2' seats in the back. And while they're as smartly upholstered and shaped as the front pair, leg space in the 2+2 XK's rear is — not unexpectedly — minimal. They're also upright and flat-backed although we did actually accommodate a single adult in one for some short top-down trips. Best to see the XK as a sports car bought primarily for the owner/driver's satisfaction — sometimes you just have to be self-serving! Whatever space is back there is perhaps best left for shopping or extra baggage.

The storage compartment for the electronically-operated fold-away roof means you get 313 litres of boot space as opposed to the 320 litres of the fixed-head coupe. The good news is that the multi-layered fabric top stows tidily below the rear deck. When it's raised, it not only provides outstanding insulation — you often forget you're travelling in
a convertible — but it looks really classy.

The mesh wind blocker works efficiently and can be left in-situ as an extra privacy aide: the roof can be raised/lowered irrespective of whether its up or flipped forward over the rear seats. Used thus, it provides extra security for items left on the rear seats. Driving topless at motorway speeds — when the V8 is turning at a lazy 2,000rpm in top — is no problem as far as conversation goes. Above 85mph, how-ever, it's a different matter. Wind rush will force you to raise the hood if you really want to chat.

The interior of the XK is, as you will have gathered, that of an out-and-out luxury sports car. Better still, the standard equipment is very high — much higher than that offered by current comparable German sports cars, who charge extra for much of the equipment that with the XK Convertible comes fitted with as standard.

Buy the XK and without spending a penny more than the list price you'll get a touch-screen satellite navigation system, keyless entry and start, 10-way electrically-adjustable and 3-stage heated front seats each with its own 3-setting memory function, Bluetooth telephone connectivity, dual-zone climate control A/C, cruise control with speed limiter, electronic parking brake, CD/MP3 player with 6-disc auto-changer, rain sensing wipers, auto lights, one-shot up/down windows, reverse park assist, bi-xenon lights and a six-speed automatic trans-mission with a fully automatic Drive mode that adapts to individual driving styles, a Sport Auto mode and steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear with.

Also fitted as standard is an improved version of Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) system that ensures the opti-mum balance between ride, handling and traction whatever the road and driving conditions. The system uses electronically controlled suspension dampers that switch continuously between settings to optimise grip, comfort and control. You also get a multi-layered, fully-electric soft-top — with a proper heated glass rear window — which opens or closes in around 18 seconds.

And it doesn't end there. The new XK bristles with the most up-to-date technology and safety systems, including Jaguar's Traction Control System (TCS) and TracDSC and — of course — ABS with brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist functions. TCS assists traction from rest or on slippery surfaces.

Dynamic Stability Control uses selective braking and controls engine torque output to prevent excessive oversteer or understeer, excessive or fast transient roll, and unwanted wheel lock under hard engine brak-ing. TracDSC is a feature aimed at the sportier and more experienced driver. It is a driver-selectable second stage of the DSC stability con-trol that retains the full TCS traction control function (and ABS and EBD functions) but raises some of the sideways slip thresholds by delaying the intervention of the DSC functions.

TracDSC allows the skilled driver to take more responsibility for con-trolling the car's cornering attitude. It is not possible to select the function unintentionally — the driver has to hold the switch for three seconds or more to select this level of DSC.

In a world where (quite rightly) people not in cars also matter, all XKs feature a contact-sensing system which includes soft front areas for the protection of pedestrians' legs and a deployable bonnet which acts as a soft shield to reduce pedestrian head injuries. Additionally, con-vertible models get automatically-deployable roll-over hoops fitted behind the rear seats to protect the front and rear occupants.

Now it's about to let the good times roll. Thumb the starter switch and the 4.2-litre powerplant bursts into life with a delicious and unmistak-able V8 rumble and an evocative growl from the twin exhausts. Jaguar have tuned both the exhaust and induction noise to give the XK a distinctive tone. And it sounds great. Listening to it with the top down is one very enjoyable perk of choosing the convertible over the coupe.

You don't have to be a petrol-head, but if you're a driving enthusiast press on. Not only will you discover a 'soul mate' in the XK, but you'll probably switch off the CD because the sporty 'bark' from the exhaust under acceleration, as well as the restrained induction roar during cruising, is all part of the XK's aural experience.

With the all aluminium body/chassis and 300bhp, the XK has more than enough silky grunt to get it off the line with ease. The ZF six-speed auto 'box serves up smooth clean shifts in both fully auto mode or when using the manual override paddle-shifts on the steering wheel. The XK's high-ish maximum torque band (310lb ft at 4,100rpm) calls for working the engine hard for grin-inducing sporty driving. Few drivers will see this as a chore — more a case of: 'play it again.'

Drivers have a choice of leaving the 'box to its own devices in 'D' or engaging Sport mode. Manual override gear shifts are possible at any time in both modes via the paddles on the back of the steering wheel (left is for changing down; right for changing up). Our favourite posit-ion was to flick the lever into Sport and simply leave it there. Changes are not only quicker, but also executed cleanly and crisply.

The transmission's software is amazingly good at first-guessing what's best for the road conditions — be it hanging on to a gear as you power out of a quick corner, changing down early for a tricky bend as you brake or picking the best ratios to maximise the power and torque when really going for it. If you do prefer to take command, then cog-swapping with the wheel-mounted paddles is equally pleasurable. The near-instantaneous response from the torque-converter transmission
is brilliant.

The feel through the rim is good and the steering responds precisely to a finger touch. The powerful and very positive brakes also respond instantly. Like a well-schooled horse, a Jaguar sports car doesn't need heavy-handed inputs to do your bidding. Of course, should you feel like taking it easy the XK is more than happy to oblige — thanks to a long-legged gearing, an unstressed drivetrain and a soothing cabin ambi-ence, it makes a perfect high-speed cruiser.

Even the stability control is on your side, allowing some horseplay before subtly cutting in with a flicker of the warning light to let you know, politely, that it has had to intervene. Not that this happens often because grip and traction are so reassuring. And through it all, the XK's comfy seats cup you firmly — the vertical side bolsters
can be electrically adjusted in and out for a perfect fit — so you can concentrate on wringing the best performance out of the XK.

Actually — and just for the record should the term 'wringing' have given you the wrong impression about this new Jaguar's abilities — the new XK is not one of those sports cars that needs grabbing by the scruff of the neck and thrashing to within an inch of the red-line. Not at all — the key word here is 'graceful'. This is a machine that is more than capable of doing 'express' whenever you want it to. But, like its namesake, whether slow or fast it always moves with the grace of a big cat.

Nose to tail, this 'Cat' measures 4,791mm. So it's not exactly a short car. Yet it is remarkably nimble; yet another benefit of its light weight. Catapult it into a series of bends and it darts forward with a willingness and poise that's delightfully impressive. On the optional 19-inch rubber, the ride is accommodatingly pliant. Even 'wild card' dips and cambers don't upset the XK's chosen line. Just about whatever you do, it feels 'planted'. No surprise then when we say that the new XK is a sports car you'll not just enjoy driving, but will really want to drive hard.

The last XK — the XK8 — quickly became the fastest-selling sports cars in Jaguar's history, with over 18,000 sold in the UK out of a worldwide total of ninety thousand. There is a strong demand for this breed of sporting driving machine and the global premium sports car market currently takes 100,000 every year. The latest XK — the most advanced Jaguar sports car ever — has all the right ingredients: the enticingly well-balanced combination of style, speed and civility to make it another likely best-seller for Jaguar. And Jaguar's customers? Well, they simply can't lose.

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Jaguar XK Convertible | 66,097
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 19.6mpg | Power: 300bhp | Torque: 310lb ft

CO2 269g/km | VED Band G 300 | Insurance group 20
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