The Jaguar XK should be getting a little long in the tooth, having been introduced in 1996, but it's not. Although not much if any competition exists, because the car is pretty much in a class by itself. 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. 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.
Mild styling revisions freshen the XK models for 2005, but Jaguar knew not to tinker too much with its work of art. 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.
You can get the Jaguar XK8 either as a coupe or convertible. The supercharged XKR is also available as coupe or convertible.
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, 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. For the XKR Coupe only, there is a special-order Handling Package 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. For the XK8 only, there are 19-inch alloy wheels. For the XKR you can also get a performance steering wheel with Momo shift knob, cross-drilled rotors with red calipers and Recaro seats.
It's difficult to imagine a real-world car that's any dreamier to walk around than the Jaguar XK8 Coupe. The lines make you short of breath from longing and sighing. 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 sills are deeper, so from the rear there's an evident V shape, with the sides tapering down from door-handle level. 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.
Overall 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. 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. Anything to get the XK8 feeling more like a sports car than a luxury car. We'd also make sure the leather upholstery was black, not the light gray of our test car.
There's tons of leg room. 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. 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. 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 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. 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. The track is not so wide for a car this size. You sometimes find yourself at high rpm in second gear or low rpm in third, which is why it kicks down a lot.
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. Left Lane News Says of the current XK "It is a beautifully sculpted sports car that is as much a vehicle in which you can enjoy the ride, as it is one to show you have arrived."
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.
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