Modern evolution of a classic automobile

OFTEN REVERED BY AUTO ENTHUSIASTS and collectors as one of the most beautiful sports cars ever, the Jaguar XKE of the 1950s is a near-impossible act to follow. Yet with the newest edition, Jaguar has done an impeccable job of blending sensual tradition with fresh technology and stunning performance.

Fear not, as the classics remain: the XKR’s oval grill, the unmistakably arched hood and the rounded fenders.

But the evolution truly begins with the interior. As with storied Jaguar tradition, large swatches of polished wood surround the dash. Luscious, soft leather encompasses the remaining spaces, or those not emblazoned with gauges. The craftsmanship here – noticeable in the double-stitched lines – is flawless.

Acoustics haven’t been neglected in the new XKR, further pressing your senses. With four large exhaust pipes behind you, punching the start button lights up the 5-liter, 510 horsepower supercharged V-8 with a deeply satisfying (and downright thunderous) roar. However, the power plant in front of you immediately settles to an exceedingly quiet idle, which gives way to near silence as the road slides past.

With the gadgetry available today, Jaguar wasn’t going to overlook many places where it could be utilized. The modern-day XKR experience starts as you approach the car with the “key” in your pocket. Touch the door – and it opens. Once seated in the highly adjustable seat, punch the start button, turn a dial to the appropriate gear, release the electric parking brake and you’re off.

From this point, your technological involvement can be active or passive: Automatic headlights, wipers and climate system are each at your fingertips as are controls for cruise control, the eight-speaker stereo system and Bluetooth phone.

But the real tour de force is a 7-inch touch video screen that anchors the dash. Controls for navigation, audio, video and other information are handled with simple, clear graphics.

Acoustics are under the care of Bowers & Wilkins’ symphonic 525-watt speaker ensemble, which purports crisp and powerful amplification, whether tuning in NPR, jamming your iPod or wirelessly connected to a phone. (The latter two can be connected via USB port from the center console.)

Two rear jump seats precede a trunk that is not only lined with carpet and metal strips in true artistic fashion, but has a surprising amount of stowage. And while there may be a rather narrow view from the rear window when the top is up, experienced drivers may relish a quick glance at the rear cabin, mid-flight.

Of course, it’s the road experience that attracts car buffs to this ride. Power is dramatic and immediate: You’ll launch from zero to 60 in the 4.6-second range. Again, the automatic six-speed can be controlled either with the dial-a-matic knob or paddles fitted behind the steering wheel. Custom settings can be programmed and saved through a selection of buttons.

The 19-inch wheels absorb punishing road conditions (all too familiar here in the Islands) quite well. But the suspension can be tightened down two more levels, if desired.

For those who only feel alive when their hair is dancing in the wind, hit a single button and the top disappears into the trunk in less than 20 seconds.

In fact, during our test drive it was with the top down that each of the senses received the full XKR experience – sun on the face, wind in the hair, the sound of unleashed power and the sensation of a beautiful vehicle.

Luxury Asides

LOTUS EVORA ARRIVES

Lotus, the maker of ultra-nimble sports cars, has introduced to Hawaii its first completely new model in years.

While it retains its classic Lotus shape (which never ceases to turn heads), the Evora has, unlike the current Elise, four seats plus a substantially larger, rear-mounted 3.5-liter V-6 motor that is tied to a six-speed stick shift. In keeping with the “lighter is better” creed, the Evora ignites to 60 mph from zero in less than five seconds – even with a relatively small power plant under the hood. However, a nice byproduct is an EPA mileage rating of 18 in the city and 27 on the highway.

Pricing starts at $75,000, with plenty of luxury and performance options available.

PARK IT

We’ve all been there: A line of cars behind you and the perfect parallel park job is nowhere to be found.

The fine folks behind the new Lincoln MKS and MKT have come to your rescue with a hands-free parallel parking system. Thanks to a combination of electric power steering, front and rear sensors, the car will find a stall and gracefully park you in it.

Here’s how it works: After activation, the parking feature alerts you when a legitimate spot is located. You maneuver the sedan into “start” position, let go of the steering wheel, and the car backs into the stall by the grace of … technology. You still control the speed and braking, thanks to interior audio and video cues.

Not only does this save you time and effort, it’s also a gas-saver; the electric power steering eliminates the need for superfluous hydraulic steering pump usage.

MINI … EXPANDING

Honolulu has certainly become a Mini haven. With three basic models (coupe, convertible and semi SUV), its small size, go-cart handling and optional turbo engines have attracted an impressive following.

Here’s a mini scoop: More models are coming. Headed to production in the near-future are a two-seater, as well as an electric model.

Keep your ears to the gravel for more on these lil’ wonders.