New Car/Review

1997 Jaguar XK8 Convertible

by John Heilig

Jaguar

SEE ALSO: Jaguar Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            4.0-liter DOHC V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 290hp @6100 rpm/284 lb-ft @4250 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      mpg city, mpg highway, 18.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         101.9 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    187.4 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    51.4 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     72.0 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3867 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     19.9 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  9.5 cu. ft.
TIRES:             Pirelli P Zero 245/50ZR17
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, oil pressure, 
                   battery voltage, fuel management computer,
                   analog clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
                   cruise control, air conditioner,
                   AM-FM stereo radio with cassette and CD changer,
                   heated seats, anti-lock braking, traction control,
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $73,000 (est.)

Over its 64-year history, Jaguar has been known as an innovative engineering company. The company was born as a custom body builder on mundane Austin Seven chassis. After World War II, it introduced the XK120 sports car with an all-new XK double overhead cam inline six cylinder engine. In 1971, Jaguar introduced its second all-new engine, the marvelous V-12. An all-new all-aluminum inline six followed in the late 1980s, and the dohc V-8 in the XK8 sports cars is only Jaguar's fourth new engine.

That's amazing.

What is also amazing is that the XK8 convertible, which is this week's test car, has all the sportiness of the XK120, 140, 150 and E-type with an automatic transmission. It also has all the creature comforts of a small coupe, but one where you can remove the top with one switch and have a convertible's benefits as well.

What first impresses you about the XK8 is its styling. With a gaping air intake that's not at all unlike the E-type's and a marvelous swoopy profile, the XK8 is in the running as one of the most beautiful Jaguars ever built. I loved the E-type and drove a V-12-powered Series III in the early years of this column, but the XK8 has it all over the older car. It's more modern, has better sound deadening properties, and is a lot safer as well.

Let's talk about the sound deadening properties for a moment. Because of the flow of traffic around me and the Jag's new V-8 engine (and my heavy foot), I had the XK8 up to around 100 mph on one stretch of highway. My wife and I were both impressed that there was no wind noise, no road noise, no engine noise. Here was one of the few cars that can compete with the Lexus LS400 is terms of road silence. It was almost eerie.

But just because it's quiet doesn't mean it can't perform. We had a chance to drive the XK8 on Pocono Raceway's short road course during a training session one day and were able to whip it around the tight turns and blast through the banked turns with ease. My only fear was that big cement wall lurking on my left, but once I learned to ignore it I was able to extract a few more mph out of the beast. Top speed in the Convertible is an electronically limited 155 mph, so you know it can do more. The E-type was only able to get to 150 mph. Only.

Handling is equally exquisite. Whether you're negotiating the tough turns of a race course, zipping through a pylon-lined obstacle course, or just blasting down a winding road, the XK8's suspension is up to the task. The front suspension is by double wishbones, with the inboard ends of the wishbones mounted to a cross beam, which also acts as a structural member. The rear suspension is similar to the front, with a control arm design, with coil springs and shocks combined into a single unit. There's a lower wishbone, while the drive shaft for each wheel serves as the upper member of the suspension.

Inside, the XK8 is all Jaguar, with plenty of leather and wood. The seats offered excellent side support and were comfortable on a long trip. The leather-and-wood steering wheel is an excellent design that is comfortable to use and gives a feeling of luxury. We've seen similar wheels on other cars since the test and like them. It's good to see wood steering wheels coming back. The transmission offers Jaguar's J- gate shifter, that allows you to operate it in full automatic or use the left side of the "J" to shift it manually. On the track we shifted for better response, although the automatic was no slouch.

Jaguar's new XK8 Convertible will compete against cars like the Mercedes SL500 and Corvette. It's cheaper than the Mercedes and offers performance that is in no way inferior. And, the trunk in the Jag is much larger than that in the SL. Against the Corvette, you'll get a smaller engine in the Jaguar but you'll also get more luxury and a quieter ride.

I'm probably not an impartial observer when it comes to Jaguar sports cars. I have loved Jaguars ever since my own 3.4 sedan of the Sixties. Try it yourself, though, when your local dealer gets one (and if he can keep it in stock). I think you'll be impressed.

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