Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Big, beautiful, luxurious, powerful, fast.
The Jaguar XK should be getting a little long in the tooth, having been introduced in 1996, but it's not. Its styling remains contemporary because it's so classically sleek and gorgeous, while mechanical and electronic upgrades, along with some sheetmetal tweaks, have enabled the big Jag to keep pace with the competition. Although not much if any competition exists, because the car is pretty much in a class by itself. Not really because of its engineering (power, handling and brakes), but because of its exclusivity. Its Jaguar-ness.
The XK is a powerful sports car with two-plus-two seating and accommodations that are more luxury than sporty. It looks and feels like a luxury car inside, handles like a tight luxury sports coupe or convertible. But it offers only an automatic transmission, a six-speed that technically doesn't even have a separate manual mode, although it can be operated manually with the Jaguar J-gate. Even the supercharged XKR, despite its 400 horsepower and brutally fast stance, can't be considered a fully track-worthy sports car because of the automatic transmission, not even with its heritage or its big Brembo brakes. And while it looks like the ultimate sports car, it feels like a cross between a British gentleman's coupe and a big ol' American stock car.
But maybe that's missing the point. Its lithe lines are breathtaking. Mild styling revisions freshen the XK models for 2005, but Jaguar knew not to tinker too much with its work of art. Inside is a forest of rich burl walnut and leather. In some ways, it feels more luxurious than the XJ, Jaguar's flagship luxury sedan. Yet unlike luxury cars overburdened by technology and menu-driven commands, the XK is refreshingly easy to operate, with clearly marked buttons. In short, driving this car is pleasurable and makes you look and feel like a million bucks.
You can get the Jaguar XK8 either as a coupe ($69,830) or convertible ($74,830). The supercharged XKR is also available as coupe ($81,330) or convertible ($86,330).
They all come with a 4.2-liter, 32-valve, 90-degree V8 with aluminum block, heads and pistons, and a six-speed automatic transmission; both engine and transmission were introduced for 2003. The XK8's engine is rated at 294 horsepower and 303 pound-feet of torque.
The XKR seems like a bargain here, when you consider that the Super V8 version of the XJ sedan adds nearly $27,000 to the price, not merely $12,000 (though the XKR gets slapped with a $1,000 federal gas-guzzler tax. The XKR, which Jaguar also likes to call the Super V8 4.2, adds an Eaton Roots type supercharger which boosts horsepower to 390 and torque to a tire-smoking 399. The XKR also uses more deluxe 18-inch alloy wheels, and bigger ventilated brake rotors (14 inches vs. 12.8 inches); not only bigger, but they're the famous Italian Brembos, with floating aluminum calipers. Also standard on the XKR are a computer-controlled active suspension that's unavailable for the XK8, and a DVD navigation system and Xenon headlamps, which are $2400 and $675 options on the XK8. For the XKR Coupe only, there is a special-order Handling Package ($3000) which consists of firmer shocks, springs and antiroll bars, a retuned speed-sensitive power steering, and cross-drilled brake rotors.
Standard equipment for all XK Jags includes Dynamic Stability Control, ABS with Electronic Brake Assist, front and side airbags, an anti-theft engine immobilizer, Alpine audio system with 6CD changer, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats, plus all the luxury equipment you would expect from a $70,000 car, including burl walnut galore.
Adaptive cruise control, which maintains a programmable distance between your XK and the car in front, costs $2200. For the XK8 only, there are 19-inch alloy wheels ($1200). XKR offers optional 20-inch BBS wheels, of which three sets are available, each for a stunning $6000. For the XKR you can also get a performance steering wheel with Momo shift knob ($300), cross-drilled rotors with red calipers ($500) and Recaro seats ($2000). If only you could get a six-speed gearbox, you'd be ready for the track, where a car like this belongs.
Finally, special paint is available for your XK, ranging from $1000 to $7000.
It's difficult to imagine a real-world car that's any dreamier to walk around than the Jaguar XK8 Coupe. How many times, in its eight years of lusciousness, have those curves been described? Come to think of it, how many times in half a century? The shape of the hood can be traced without interruption back to the D-Type racing Jaguars of 1955 (yet we don't take back our opening adjective, 'contemporary'). Italian designers seem to get the credit for being the masters of sensuous automotive shaping, but there is no Italian shape that can touch the XK8, or, for that matter, the occasional Aston-Martin coupes, also British, also now owned by Ford. The lines make you short of breath from longing and sighing.
It's not just the silhouette; in fact, it's not especially the silhouette. The three-dimensional depth of the smooth bulges needs to be seen for the sensuality to be felt. From the A-pillars forward to the open oval mouth, the fender lines look like the shoulders and arms of a muscular female swimmer diving perfectly into the pool to begin her race. There's a single horizontal chrome bar in the open oval mouth. The front bumper/dam is invisible, as if the nose of the car were molded; one short, slim seam trails back from the headlamps to the wheelwells, marking the only separation of bumper and hood. The XKR features a larger spoiler.
The nose, tail and side sills are all revised for 2005, but few will notice; Jaguar was wise enough not to mess with near-perfection. The sills are deeper, so from the rear there's an evident V shape, with the sides tapering down from door-handle level. It all seems to flow back to the tail, fattening as it goes but not making the car look fat; in fact, the tail seems to sharpen again, a brilliant design effect.
That long tail contains a capacious trunk for a sports car, and inside the steeply sloped rear window can be seen a big tray behind the headrests of the rear seats, indicating more length. One can only imagine what the XK8 would look like, and handle like, if there were no jump seats at all. The space behind the front seats could be used for storage and the trunk, and many inches could be chopped off the long tail with its long overhang. But the Coupe would then lose that stunning sense of proportion, wouldn't it?.
Maybe the best thing about the interior is that everything thing is operated by old-fashioned and clearly marked buttons; and not only that, but they're good buttons. No menus, no touch-screens, no confusion, no doubt about function, just a panel full of buttons on the center stack. Even the DVD navigation, on a tidy small screen, uses buttons.
Overall, maybe ironically but maybe not, the XK interior feels more luxury-oriented than the flagship XJ sedan. It's all the burl walnut, and especially the seats. The XJ seats are both lusher and sportier, with more bolstering; the XK seats, as often criticized since 1996, are too hard and especially too flat. The driver slides around in them during hard cornering. This is a case where springing for the optional Recaro seats makes sense, even for two grand. Maybe you can buy just one seat, for one grand.
The big walnut-and-leather steering wheel has four thick spokes, and the cruise control and sound system buttons are half-tucked behind the hub. It feels like a luxury car steering wheel, so we'd love to see the optional performance steering wheel and Momo shift knob, for $300. We'd probably go for it. Anything to get the XK8 feeling more like a sports car than a luxury car. In that mood, we'd also like to wipe out the vast expanse of dark walnut on the dash, and replace it with brushed aluminum. We'd also make sure the leather upholstery was black, not the light gray of our test car.
There are two pop-up cupholders in the center console, which isn't very deep; but the glovebox is good, and the owner's manual that may be stored in there isn't thick, unlike those for most German cars.
There's tons of leg room. The driver's left knee can't even touch the door, while his right knee comes in comfortable contact with the tunnel that's padded by the leather. There are soft spots under each elbow, too.
As for the rear seat, we tested it for five hours of errands with two boys back there, seven and nine years old. The 5-foot, 10-inch driver only had to slide his seat forward a couple inches, so he wasn't too cramped, and the kids found room for their knees and feet. They managed. And there was plenty of room for groceries in the trunk. Child seat tethers are standard.
We tested the XK8 Coupe for one week, after spending one good day in the new long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ sedan. It's weird and ironic that the XJ corners more nimbly than the XK8, although maybe not surprising because the XJ's remarkable aluminum monocoque chassis is eight years newer.
When you try to play with the XK8 like a sports car in the curves, it transforms from a luxury car to a big ol' stock car. You have to be firm with it, but not too firm. You mostly want to let the big Jag do what it feels like doing, because it's going to do it anyhow. Let it be boss, and don't try to argue with it. It's a likable beast. It's fun to drive fast, even if it's not terribly precise. The XK8 doesn't have a very long wheelbase despite its overall length.
It even sounds like a stock car. The 4.2-liter V8 is remarkable in the way its voice changes; its silky silence around town turns into an animal growl when you hammer the throttle. The difference is really extreme, a Clark Kent/Superman kind of thing, and it's nice. Almost the best of both worlds maybe, if total silence around town is what you want and assuming your idea of an animal growl isn't quite an older Chevy 454 pickup truck with glasspacks. The 4.2-liter engine and ZF six-speed automatic were introduced for the 2003 model year.
We found the speed-sensitive power steering to be too light at speed. The XK8 doesn't like to be tossed, pitched, or to abruptly change directions in switchback corners. But you can still love it, as long as you accept it and know what not to expect. What it really loves is to squirt out of traffic and pass other cars.
We've also driven a 2005 XKR convertible. It loves blasting past traffic even more than the XK8. So much so, that you want to do it over and over again. With its sensational whining supercharger, it takes off like a bullet when you mash the gas. You may not even anger other drivers, because the sight of the gorgeous XK flying past them has to be awesome, and a treat.
The suspension is by no means soft during such spirited driving and cornering, as one might expect given the car's luxury slant. Nor is it stiff at other times, although we were once rudely jolted by a modest pothole at 10 miles per hour. But it doesn't match the BMW level of precision, and tends to bob and weave a bit. The track is not so wide for a car this size. You can live with it, but on roads with ripples and undulations you need to keep both hands on the wheel.
The XK convertibles lack the structural rigidity of a Porsche 911 cabriolet, so they don't have that same feeling of being carved from a single block of hard material and you can feel the chassis flex over bumps. Still, the convertible is probably the one to have. If you're going to ride in style, you may as well have the wind in your hair.
The Directional Stability Control is not intrusive, which is nice. We probably got the XK8 in situations where it would have activated, if it had been programmed to do so early, but it didn't.
The engine produces a very healthy 303 pound-feet of torque, which peaks at a relatively high 4100 rpm, meaning it's not always there when you need it. Like any automatic transmission, it kicks down when you floor it, and this one kicks down from third gear a lot, partly to find more torque from higher rpm, and partly because the gap between second and third gears is wide; there may be six gears, but fifth is a solid overdrive and sixth is a super overdrive, so it's not really a close-ratio transmission. You sometimes find yourself at high rpm in second gear or low rpm in third, which is why it kicks down a lot. These would be the gears you most use on winding roads.
Jaguar's J-gate allows the transmission to be manually shifted (although ultimate control is up to the computer sensors); there are slots for gears 2, 3, 4 and 5, with 1st gear combined into 2nd and 6th combined in.
It's easy to forgive the XK8 its imperfections because it's so beautiful, and most of those imperfections only appear when it tries to be a sports car, so they might not even be considered imperfections by the right gentleman or gentlewoman buyer. The XK8 is called a sports car but it's really a luxury coupe or roadster. And the macho aggressive XKR is a sports car that's missing a manual gearbox.
The XK8 has plenty of V8 power, a good six-speed automatic transmission, and a good ride. The interior is luxurious though the seats aren't plush. The two-plus-two seating allows for things to be stowed behind the front seats, or for kids to ride back there, or for adult passengers in a short-term pinch. But mostly, the big Jaguar sports car is considered gorgeous and classy by all.
Jaguar XK8 Coupe ($69,830); XK8 Convertible ($74,830); XKR Coupe ($81,330); XKR Convertible ($86,330).
Options As Tested
adaptive cruise control ($2200); xenon headlamps ($675); navigation system ($2400); special paint ($1000).
Jaguar XK8 Coupe ($69,830).
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