The XKR tried to change all that, but at the time of its inception, Jaguar had a younger, sexier sibling in the Ford stable: Aston Martin. The flagship XKR simply couldn't upstage even the V8 Vantage, but German tuning house Arden has stepped in to give this sleek feline a new set of teeth. The Arden XK AJ20 is the latest result, a car so strong it could drag two tons of broken and bloodied DB9 into the wilderness.
Compared to Aston's ever so slightly breathed-on, normally aspirated version of the Jaguar lump, the 4.2-liter supercharged powerplant was a fine starting point with room to maneuver. So Arden bored out the block to 4.5 liters, which can only be done at the company base in Krefeld that houses all manner of oddities, from a Ferrari F40 to a bubble car, and of course an arsenal of Range Rovers and Jaguars.
Company boss Joachim Arden has stayed faithful to the flagging Jaguar marque since his AJ1 hit the road in 1983. His work culminated in the A-Type Lightweight RS with a 542-hp engine and a road-legal racer's finish that cut 600 pounds.
This is the civilized new generation because it comes with the same power and a full, yet subtle, conversion to come up with just as many creature comforts as ponies under the hood. There are several power upgrades, but while the engine displacement work must be done at Krefeld for the full 542 (requires a new crankshaft, pistons and con rods), they can ship the new supercharger that adds a hundred horsepower to dealers worldwide for on-site fitting.
This one, though, was the complete article and a rural road provided the perfect chance to stretch its legs. This is every bit the soft Jag with its sense of instant, easy travel, with ridiculous acceleration thrown into the bargain. Just throw it in D and plant the throttle. The 60 mark falls in just 4.4 seconds and this car now won't stop clawing until it has breached 192 mph.
It's loud and the sound of burning excess fuel in the exhaust at tickover hints at the available aggression and power. As the revs rise, the extra power comes in a creamy, rich, straight line. There are no peaks or troughs as the AJ20 seems to just claw in the middle range and my head is sucked back towards the seat-it's only then I realize I'm hunched over the steering wheel in a faux racing-driver pose. It doesn't fit the beige-pants image.
Switching to manual mode brings a whole new sporting agenda to proceedings. Arden has dropped the car 35mm on the CATS active suspension. What that really means is the pitch and roll of the elder statesman is gone. The car feels every bit as luxurious as the original, although ruts and humps still thump their way through the aluminum chassis. But the car will now turn in on the nose, something the base car pretty much always failed to do.
Three-piece, 21-inch Speedline wheels take a touch more effort to turn the car into the bends, but it just wouldn't understeer into whatever it was thrown at. In fact, with the electronics turned off it feels like it could drift through each and every bend despite its size.
And when it comes to stopping, six-piston calipers close on 15.4-inch discs in front and four-piston rears clamp onto 13.4-inchers. The brakes are smaller than those of the DBS, and they're steel instead of carbon ceramic, but they offer infinite feel and the Arden can slither to a stop on its tip-toes without losing any control.
There's also a chuckability about the AJ20 that might just make it a more complete car than the more lauded DB9 or even DBS. Those too come with heritage, and the designer label, and the V12 engine. So they aren't the easiest targets, but on a technical level the AJ20 seems a more complete car.