Between The Lines: AutoWeek's Long-Term Jaguar XK-R

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Press cars are specially selected, carefully prepared and meticulously maintained. Why wouldn’t they be? You can hardly expect a manufacturer to pluck a car from the assembly line and trust their model’s reputation to the vagaries of quality control– even though the car’s less likely to receive a harsh critique than a seventh grade production of The Wizard of Oz. To their credit, the manufacturers eventually “let go;” surrendering specially selected, carefully prepared new vehicles to the buff books’ long-term fleets. When things go wrong, as they do, the result betrays the tension between payola and editorial credibility.

In the August 20 issue of Autoweek, Mac Morrison provides an update on the mag’s long-term 2007 Jaguar XK-R drop top. “IT’S SO FINE, IT’S SUNSHINE” dismisses any thoughts that the mag’s Jag might have some of those pesky reliability issues that have dogged the brand since, um, ever. The strapline pours on the feel good: “Jaguar’s XK-R is a universal favorite" (also all caps, but it hurts my ears).

“Opinions on our new Jaguar in its first three months with us are nearly unanimous, with each driving experience a carbon copy of those preceding it. And those experiences are good."

Morrison’s paean to pussycat perfection begins with that most revealing of collective possessive pronouns: “our.” From the fourth word, the author signals objectivity’s defenestration; as the Zen saying goes, that which you own owns you. Of course, the $97,875 XK-R in question ($92,500 plus $5,375-worth of Autoweek selected options) doesn’t really belong to Mr. Morrison or Autoweek. But the responsibility to maintain more than a modicum of editorial independence does.

Anyway, describing the staff’s reaction to maximum Jagitude as “nearly unanimous” is like saying that Parindsehole Hiltohanchie is “virtually clean and sober;” we instantly want to know about those exceptions. No wonder Morrison feels compelled to calm us down and call it good.

“The exhaust gurgle sounds genuinely like an agitated cat on full alert. If that strikes you as a cliché, then you’ve never heard an XK-R on wide-open throttle. The taut yet comfortable suspension compresses and rebounds fluidly through corners as the gearbox cracks off perfect downshifts with a flick of the paddle. Passengers absorb it all from the confines of a cockpit born for long, top-down, sunset cruises.”

Although a cliché is a cliché because it’s true, you get the picture: it’s a fantastic automobile. Well, fair enough. But none of this adds much to J.P. Vettraino’s original review. What we want to know– still– is how the blown cat has held up to long term scrutiny.

After three paragraphs of passionate reverence, including the reassurance that “not one driver voiced disappointment with the overall experience,” Morrison finally gets down to business.

The scribe slates the XK-R’s touch screen for its user-antagonism, condemns the trunk-mounted antenna’s aesthetics as “ridiculous on a $98,000 car," slates it for its sloth-like retraction and blames the tardiness for a $500 post-car wash repair bill. And then, the real money shot…

“Our XK-R also exhibited some strange electronic (ahem) glitches. Once it would not detect the key. Another time, the backup sensors went beserk for no apparent reason, while one editor claimed multiple warning lights illuminated and disappeared just as mysteriously. Yet another driver experienced cruise-control failure. None of the problems repeated and the car spent no days out of service.”

It’s a damning indictment of Jaguar’s quality control, wrapped in (ahem) qualifiers and obvious backpedaling (the editor “claimed” idiot light malfunction). Nevertheless, it was said, and Morrison ends the update with a justifiable blend of boosterism and foreboding.

“We certainly do not question the enthusiasm that exists for Jaguar’s latest. Here’s hoping the next nine months provide no significant reason to do so.”

We certainly do question the need for AutoWeek, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, etc. to run manufacturer-sponsored long term fleets, the lack of full disclosure and the unanswered question of whether or not the dealers who service the vehicles know that they’re doing so on behalf of a motoring journalist.

Obviously, readers want to know the real world livability and reliability of new-to-market cars, and how they’re treated down at the dealership when things go awry. But that information is best provided by real world drivers driving honest-to-God production vehicles. In fact, AutoWeek does just that in an excellent regular feature sampling owners’ comments. So what’s the point of the long-term fleet?

No matter how you answer that question, a larger one looms: what effect does such an expensive freebie have on a publication’s editorial integrity? There’s an implied quid pro quo: don’t be too harsh on our products and your multi-thousand dollar ticket on the new car gravy train is assured. It’s an ethically unjustifiable extravagance.

There. I’ve said it. The cat is out of the bag.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Sep 02, 2007

    As I remember it, several months later GM brought their advertising back to the LAT. Agree completely w/ plugot's comments about Dan Neil. He does a great job. But I suspect the Pulitzer he had recently won had a lot to do with his not being fired. The LAT would have looked really stupid among journalists firing the first person ever to win a Pulitzer for criticism over something like this.

  • Plugot Plugot on Sep 07, 2007

    Yes, GM did bring it's ad$$ back to LAT. Now it's Chysler he p.o'ed, but they're stil advertising. And yes, if not for the Pulitizer, he'd probably be writing for TTAC. ;)

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.