Pros: Distinctive styling, satisfying V8 engines, capable handling.

Cons: Dated cabin, transmission needs an upgrade.

Introduction

It would be nice if everything aged like fine wine, but the 2012 Jaguar XK is aging like, well, an automobile. That's not surprising. After all, the XK is in its sixth year of production, and it's hard for a car to stay relevant after all that time. Truth be told, Jag's two-door model lacked competitive cabin technology even when it debuted back in '07, and that gap has only widened in this fast-moving luxury segment. The XK's interior also lacks the opulence that comes to mind when we think of British luxury.

But suppose you're someone who's all about style and performance. In that case, the XK may still hold considerable appeal. We felt the XK had too much Ford Taurus in its snout at the outset, but Jag has made subtle revisions over the years, and the 2012 XK is easily the sexiest model yet. It looks like an Aston Martin red-tag special, and we mean that as a compliment. As for performance, the XK is a much faster car now than it used to be, from the 385-horsepower base model to the nuclear 550-horsepower XKR-S. It's not bad through the corners, either.

So there's certainly a case to be made for this aging cat, and the most compelling XK might be one we haven't mentioned yet: the convertible. While the market is teeming with desirable luxury-performance coupes, there are comparatively few luxury convertibles starting under $100,000 that strike our fancy. If you feel the same way, the curvaceous XK drop-top could be a satisfying solution. Either way, we'd say the 2012 XK is worth a gander. Just don't expect it to have cheated Father Time as successfully as some of Jaguar's Hollywood clientele.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Jaguar XK is offered in three trim levels: Base, XKR and XKR-S. Note that the maximum-performance XKR-S is available only as a coupe, while the others are offered as either a coupe or a soft-top convertible.

Standard features on the base XK include 19-inch alloy wheels, a mechanical limited-slip differential, electronically adjustable adaptive dampers, xenon headlights with LED accents, , push-button start, woodgrain interior trim, a heated power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, heated and cooled 16-way power front seats, leather upholstery, driver memory functions, Bluetooth, a hard-drive-based navigation system with a seven-inch touchscreen interface and a 14-speaker, 525-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system with iPod/USB connectivity and satellite radio.

The XKR adds its own 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, an electronic limited-slip differential and performance brakes with larger discs and aluminum calipers.

The XKR-S coupe comes with 20-inch wheels, quad exhaust tips, a sport-tuned suspension (optional on XKR), a rear spoiler, unique exterior and interior trim and special sport seats that gain bolstering but lack the cooling function (also optional on XKR).

The XK is the oldest car in Jaguar's stable, and it shows when you're sitting inside. Thanks to lingering connections between Jaguar and Ford when the XK was designed, some of its buttons and switchgear have a downmarket vibe. What's more, the quality of the interior materials is merely adequate in this day and age. Frankly, the XK just doesn't feel that special from behind the wheel. At least it's got Jaguar's distinctive rotary shift knob, which dramatically rises out of the center console upon ignition.

Front-seat comfort is quite good in the XK thanks to those standard 16-way power seats, which are much more adjustable than the XF sedan's standard chairs. We do prefer the sport seats with their enhanced bolstering, but disappointingly, you can't get them in the base model. The XK technically has a rear seat, but it's about as useful as the Porsche 911's, which is to say, it's a de facto cargo shelf.

Trunk capacity is 11.7 cubic feet in the XK coupe and 11.1 in the convertible, though the latter figure drops to about 7 cubic feet with the soft-top folded down. Speaking of which, the top only needs 18 seconds to retract fully, and you can operate it at speeds up to 15 mph.

Technology

The XK comes standard with plenty of cool technology features, including Bluetooth, USB connectivity and that high-end Bowers & Wilkins stereo. Its infotainment system is out-of-date, however. The seven-inch touchscreen is put to shame by the larger, higher-resolution screens in rival cars, while the DVD-based navigation system has relatively crude graphics and can be slow to respond. This might be fine with you if you're not a geek, but in any case, we advise giving the XK's infotainment system a thorough once-over during your test drive.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The rear-wheel-drive Jaguar XK starts with a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 rated at 385 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. This is a brilliant engine, delivering strong acceleration set to a beautifully mellow soundtrack. For maximum speed, however, you'll naturally want one of the supercharged V8s. The XKR comes with a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 rated at 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque, while the XKR-S goes bonkers with a 550-horsepower, 502-lb-ft version of this engine. Both are simply brilliant, with seemingly endless thrust and endearingly audible supercharger whines. We don't think the XKR-S's modest acceleration edge and slightly louder noises are worth additional tens of thousands, but you can't go wrong either way.

All XKs feature a six-speed automatic transmission, and this is where the news takes a negative turn. Many rivals have more than six cogs by now, but the real issue here is the shift quality. From its abrupt kickdowns when passing to its delayed, rough downshifts in manual mode, this gearbox feels a bit behind the times.

Predictably, fuel economy for the XK is also underwhelming. The base coupe returns 16 mpg

city/24 mpg highway, while the base convertible gets 16/22 mpg. All supercharged models are rated at 15/22 mpg.

Safety

The 2012 Jaguar XK comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and four airbags (front and front-side). The convertible also features two roll hoops that pop up automatically if a rollover is imminent.

The XK has not been crash-tested.

Driving Impressions

The Jaguar XK isn't a small car by any means, but it nonetheless impresses us with its agility on winding roads. Athletic handling is a timeless virtue, and this Jag's got it. We just wish the sluggish transmission wouldn't get in the way, as it's no fun not knowing quite when or how manual downshifts will take effect. On the highway, the XK is the quintessential grand-tourer, devouring miles like a luxury sedan. It's a car we'd take across the country without a second thought. There's a lot of fundamental goodness in the way the XK goes down the road.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 650i - Boasting a 400-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 that's stronger than the output suggests, the 650i is a very fast car in its own right, and its interior is vastly superior to the Jag's. But if attractive styling is a priority, we think the Jag wins without a fight.

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class - In a transitional period for 2012, the SL will be all-new for 2013. The new styling hasn't grown on us yet, but the SL's retractable hardtop and delectable engine choices make it a tough competitor.

Porsche 911 - Redesigned for 2012, the iconic 911 is more of a luxurious grand-tourer now, which of course means it's more of a threat to the XK. The new Panamera-style interior takes the 911 decidedly uptown.

AutoTrader Recommends

We think the XKR coupe is the sweet spot here. Jaguar's supercharged power is too alluring to resist, but we just couldn't see spending another $30,000 or so-nearly a third of the XKR's base price-to get an XKR-S. We'd be tempted by the beautiful XKR convertible, too, though a hardtop convertible like the SL would be preferable for security's sake.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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