Beauty can be more than skin deep - just take a look at the 2011 Jaguar XK.

Heavily updated in all the right places - and left alone were it was already right - it's now one of the smartest choices in its segment, in addition to being one of the easiest to fall in love with.

WHAT IT IS

The XK is an ultra-luxury GT coupe/convertible. It has four seats but it's really got room for just two plus some overnight bags in the back.

Base price is $83,000 for the coupe; a convertible starts at $89,000. Supercharged XKR versions of both are available, with prices starting at $96,125 for the XKR coupe and $102,25 for the XKR convertible.

A 75th Anniversary special edition is also available, with a starting price of $104,625.

Just 175 of these will be made.

WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011

A much more powerful 5.0 liter V-8 (with or without supercharger) replaces the previous 4.2 liter V-8.

The traditional - but quirky - Jaguar dog-leg shift lever has been replaced with a rotary knob controller similar to the one used in the XF sedan.

All trims get heated windshields (a feature inspired by Jaguar's corporate partner, Land Rover) and a new Adaptive cruise control system that automatically adjusts the XK's speed in relation to the ebb and flow of surrounding traffic.

WHAT'S GOOD

Performance is now appropriate to price. The previous XF looked like a six-figure supermodel - but its six second 0-60 time was on par with Mere Ordinaries such as $26k Mustang GTs.

More sporting than overheavy competitors like the Mercedes-Benz SL.

More elegant than a Porsche 911.

A relative steal compared to all of them.

WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD

It's almost too pretty to take out into the world. You feel nervous leaving it parked unattended.

It'd be nice if you could get a manual transmission - especially in the supercharged XKR.

UNDER THE HOOD

The XK comes standard with a 5.0 liter V-8 featuring direct injection that produces 385 horsepower - 85 horsepower more than the previous 4.2 liter V-8. Step up to the XKR and you get a supercharged version of the 5 liter V-8 that produces 510 hp, 90 horsepower more than the previous supercharged 4.2 liter V-8.

While the 4.2-powered XK was not a slow car, its 0-60 time of about 6 seconds flat wasn't quite exotic. For a car pushing six figures, acceleration was something of a letdown.

The new 5 liter V-8 rectifies this.

The 0-60 time with the standard engine drops to just over 5 seconds - and with the optional supercharged engine, the XKR can get there in about 4.5 seconds.

That's supercar quick - enough to pester 911s with.

The standard transmission with either engine is a six-sped automatic with Sport and Winter modes as well as driver-selectable manual control of gear changes via steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

All versions of the XK are rear-wheel-drive.

Fuel efficiency - not that it matters - is 16 city, 24 highway for the non-supercharged XK coupe, 15 city, 22 highway for the supercharged XKR convertible.

It's actually pretty respectable given the power/perfomance this car offers. For perspective, there isn't a single '60s-era big block V-8 muscle car that can touch the Jag's 0-60 time (let alone its top speed) and those cars were lucky to make 10 MPGs while idling.

ON THE ROAD

The XK greatest charm (besides its looks) is that it can hang with a BMW 6-Series (including the M6) or Porsche 911 as far as acceleration and even handling - yet it's as or more comfortable to cruise around in as a Benz SL550. This arguably makes it a superior everyday/anytime car - one that will satisfy the enthusiast driver's need for speed while maintaining a level of civility, comfort and elegance that very few similarly powerful cars can match.

The 5 liter V-8 has immense power; pushing down on the gas pedal results in a a sensation that's like the roll-on of a big commercial jet with an ex-military pilot at the controls. You feel this huge swell of thrust as you ease into the throttle - and suddenly, you're doing 90.

And that's the standard, non-supercharged engine.

It is well worth mentioning that the XKR's supercharged version of the 5 liter V-8 produces 10 more horsepower than the BMW M6's 5 liter V-10 - and it does it for $6,225 less, too ($96,125 vs. $102,350).

I'd personally enjoy a manual transmission but the Jag's six-speed automatic is impossible to fault. Just toddling along, it's as smooth as 75 year-old Scotch. In Sport mode, it intuits your intentions - for example, holding a lower gear for an anticipated fast pass you haven't actually begun to make yet. It is a "smart" transmission with its own computer brain/learning algorithms that causes it to adjust is operating characteristics based on how you're driving, including factors such as the aggressiveness of throttle inputs and steering angles.

The only thing it doesn't do is chirp the tires on the 1-2 upshift.

Probably, this could be adjusted.

Handling feel is superb in part because the car is not unreasonably heavy - about 3,800 pounds for the hardtop coupe. Compare this with the hulking Benz SL550, which weighs more than 4,200 pounds empty. Even with driver on board, the Jag is still under two tons - while the SL550 with driver will be tipping the scales at about the same weight as a mid-sized V-8 SUV.

Part of the reason for the Jag's advantage in weight is its mostly aluminium body vs. steel for the Benz. The alloy is also probably part of the reason for the Jag's gorgeous curves since it's easy to form aluminum into such artistic delights than it is using steel.

Less weight equals less unsprung mass, which usually means an agile, more athletic-felling car. Add in an auto-adjusting suspension and you've got an exotic GT that is as ideal for a lazy drive all the way from LA to San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway as it is capable of keeping up with a BMW M6 or even a 911 Porsche when the pace picks up.

AT THE CURB

The XF is a car you can spend many happy hours viewing from different angles, each of them immensely pleasing to the eye. Though the styling is sick and modern, it is still clearly a Jaguar - the iconic lineage of drophead coupes and E-types past practically pulses through the curves.

One design touch that helps give the car its slinky proportions is the ratio of length to width and height. The XK is a full 3 inches wider than the Benz SL550 - and an inch-and-a-half wider than the BMW 6.

It also rides on a long 108.3 inch wheelbase, similar to the BMW 6 (109.4 inches) but it rides about two inches lower to the ground.

The end result is a car that's fittingly feline in its gracefulness and poise; an aluminum-paneled incarnation of its namesake.

The only thing I'm not a huge fan of is Jaguar's new rotary controller for the transmission. It's definitely nothing like the old dog-leg design that everyone complained about, but whether the knob is an improvement is very debatable - because it makes what ought to be a simple function overly complicated.

And take longer than it ought to.

Here's the process: You get in and key the engine to life by pushing the start button on the dash. This causes the rotary knob on the center console to gently rise up to meet your hand... which takes a second or three. Only now can you rotate the knob to the desired range - Drive, Reverse and so on.

It's neat to watch, no doubt - but if you are someone who likes to jump into your car and just go you may be irritated by the slight delay you have to wait through before the system will let you put the car into gear. It's like those auto-closing tailgates some SUVs have. The lawyers have assured the process is nice n' slow to make sure no one gets their fingers pinched and sues the company. Besides, it just doesn't have the solid, tactile feel of a convention shifter handle.

Plus, when - not if - the system develops a problem, the car will be stuck - and very probably, expensive to repair. The latter may not matter to the clientele in this price range, but hassle is hassle no matter you're net worth.

No one likes to be stuck by the side of the road waiting for a tow.

The thing is, all cars in this class have been saddled with something similar. BMW, for example, has that infernal iDrive mouse; Mercedes its aneurism-inducing COMAND interface.

It's partly due to the tech-lust of some buyers and partly due to the manufacturer's perceived need to make their six figure cars different in every conceivable way from $20k Prolemobiles, many of which now come with or offer many formerly high-end-only features such as remote/keyess start, GPS and automatic climate control.

Regardless, the fact remains that pulling on a handle to place the transmission in Drive or Reverse works. It is straightforward; it gets the job done.

I wish they'd bring 'em back.

Other small things:

The XK's back seats are Not Fit For People - or even kids. There is literally no clearance between the backs of the front seats and the seat bottoms of the back seats - so no place for legs at all. To get back there, you'd need to assume the fetal position, with your knees tucked up against your chest.

On the other hand, the fact that there is at least some potential cargo space back there makes the XK a bit more everyday useable than two-seaters like the Benz SL550 or Porsche 911.

THE REST

It used to be said in defense of Jaguar's historically spotty quality control and overall reliability that a Jag still looked better on a mechanic's lift than most cars do on the road. That's less a worry today. After Jaguar partnered with Ford (since divorced) the quality control at Jaguar factories improved geometrically. Today's Jags are on par with comparable models from other high-end manufactures like BMW and Benz - and let's not forget that BMW has had its issues in recent years, in particular with its iDrive controller and the buggy software that ran it.

Benz, meanwhile, makes up for its high quality with exorbitantly high prices. A 2011 SL550, for instance, starts at $102,600 - or nearly $20,000 more than the XK coupe.

Even if you assume the Jag will need service more often you could use the leftover $20k for a pair of first-class, round trip tickets to Europe.

By the time you get back, your Jag will surely have been tuned-up, waxed and gassed.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Buying a Jaguar used to be mostly an emotion-driven experience that sometimes came with a few headaches later on.

You can still get just as carried away - but now you won't regret it in the morning.