When Ford purchased the British Jaguar company in 1989, the fear was that the American automaker would somehow ruin this historic marquee.
That was, to many, laughable. While Jaguar has a long, illustrious racing history, the old Jaguars were so unreliable that owners joked they needed two, because one was always in the shop for repair. For this troubled make, Ford paid $2.5 billion.
Ford implemented improvements, and over the years Jaguars moved up in reliability ratings kept by the likes of J.D. Power and Associates. The brand was not, however, profitable. How many years would it take for Jaguar to match the standards of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Infiniti? Ford said publicly it would take a decade.
That proved optimistic. It's been 17 years and Ford now says it is willing to entertain offers to buy Jaguar. So when the 2007 Jaguar XK convertible pulled in for testing, I knew I was looking at what might soon be an orphan. And the questions I needed answered from behind the wheel had little to do with its beauty and everything to do with its competitiveness against the world's best today. This XK, you understand, costs $88,000.
Squint your eyes at this beauty and you can see its heritage. The first XK morphed into the D-Jaguar that Stirling Moss raced in the '50s and early '60s. That beauty became the public's E-Jaguar. Then came the more modern, drop-dead gorgeous XK. Remember the first Jaguar ragtops in this line? The front fenders bulged up and then sloped like a teardrop to the low doors, where a jaunty driver rested a left elbow in America, a right in England.
Same for the beautiful E-series. The body looked as if a junkyard crusher had struck a first blow from above, smashing the car a few inches lower toward the ground. It was a joy to drive this top-down dream with a single hand resting atop the slim steering wheel.
Now look at this XK. The waistline is much higher and the car appears more substantial-and is undeniably safer-but not as carefree looking, and not as carefree to relax in. Maybe that's less important when the V-8 under the bonnet produces 300 horsepower for a 0-to-60 romp of six seconds.
With today's powerful engines, all attention belongs on driving, not relaxing. But where on Florida's west coast can such power be utilized? Today, traffic often creeps bumper-to-bumper. Acceleration takes us from one red light to the next. And we pass service stations with gas prices in constant flux, mostly going up.
The 2007 Jaguar XK does have much for going for it, however. Its interior is among the best in the world. There's even an available windscreen behind the passenger compartment (which has two ridiculously cramped rear seats that could not accommodate even an English Springer spaniel). The top lowers at the press of a button, but leaves little room for luggage in a small trunk.
And something troubled me: When the top is closing, settling into position, it visibly pulls the windshield up. You can see the windshield flex. The slope of the windshield is radically steep. Result? No protection in a rollover accident.
Behind the passenger compartment are two pop-up rollbars that deploy if the car senses a rollover is imminent, but ask yourself if protection only behind those in this car is adequate. I think not. Humans strapped inside a rolling car need front and rear pivot points for the car to strike. And I think any windshield should support the weight of the car, even one dropped from 10 feet up. I doubt this XK would pass such a test.
Also troubling was this problem: After powering the top up, I walked around the car to retrieve an object from the passenger side and discovered that the entire chrome strip along the passenger window sill had popped up when the electric window powered up and brushed it. I pushed the strip back down, but frowned at finding this kind of quality problem on an $88,000 car.
The car has numerous luxury and convenience features, as might be expected. There's Jaguar's radar cruise control, which maintains a set distance from cars ahead. There are voice commands for everything.
But the navigation system was not connected to a rear-view camera, like the better luxury models today. What an oversight. Once you've experienced this safety feature, you'll never want a car without it.
And let it be noted that a young granddaughter was most upset that the XK didn't have the leaping hood ornament she adores on other Jaguars. Such an ornament would also help a driver visualize the front of the car beyond that long hood. Pity it's not there.
The XK is a pleasure to drive, however, and drew favorable reactions all test week. People crossed parking lots to walk around it, to put hands to glass and look at that hand-stitched leather interior.
And Ford knows how to produce great exhaust notes, as evidenced by the throaty roar of its Mustang. The Jaguar has a similar growl to its exhaust, burbling at idle, roaring under full acceleration.
From a styling standpoint, too, the XK is a leader. But the problem for Ford is that other automakers haven't stood still while improvements were made at Jaguar. The bar continues to be raised, particularly by Lexus and Infiniti. At this level, a car must have everything. There's no compromise when $88,000 is exchanged for nuts and bolts.
Finally, consider this: There is arguably more prestige and status attached to a classic Jaguar XK or E than to this new model. In today's creep-along traffic environment, it might make sense to buy a classic Jaguar ragtop, drive it slowly with the top down, and watch it appreciate in value in years to come.
Today, almost all but the rarest SS models of the Jaguar XK and XKE series are less expensive to buy in show condition than this 2007 model.
Of course, if you'd like to buy Jaguar itself, Ford is ready to talk with you.