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Car Review: 2005 Jaguar XK8 Convertible

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Jaguar

2005 Jaguar XK8 Convertible

If a classic design is one that is timeless, one that doesn't depend on having style-of-the-minute looks to turn heads and gather looks of approval, then the Jaguar XK8 is a modern classic. By the standards of the contemporary auto industry, it's an old car. It was introduced in Europe in late 1996 and made its way into the U.S. a year later, and has had only relatively minor changes since. And that doesn't matter at all, because it's still drop-dead gorgeous and is still a unique choice in the premium sports car class.

The XK8 created quite a stir when it debuted. It was the first new Jaguar to be developed under Ford ownership, as Ford had rescued the then-foundering British manufacturer in 1989. Any fears of a re-badged Ford were unfounded. The XK8's AJ-V8 engine - completely a product of Jaguar, with no Ford heritage - was only the fourth all-new engine in the company's history, and took the place of both the venerable XK inline six, with roots in the late 1940s, and the V12 developed in the 1970s. Although some floor stampings from the XJS were used in the XK8's unibody structure, most of that structure was completely new, and considerably lighter and stiffer than the XJS chassis. The fully-independent suspension was pure Jaguar. Double wishbones were used in front. At the rear, the driveshafts served as the top location links, a design with roots in the legendary E-Type of the 1960s.

But what made the XK8 the fastest-selling sports car in Jaguar history was outside for all the world to see. Jaguar brilliantly blended elements from its considerable history with modern design to make a car that paid homage to its past without being in any way a self-consciously ``retro'' design. It was available from the beginning in coupe and convertible form; as it developed, the convertible outsold the coupe by a considerable margin.

Since that time the AJ-V8 has been upgraded and increased in capacity from 4.0 liters to 4.2, and the original five-speed automatic transmission has been replaced by a six-speed. Styling changes have been limited to colors and trim, but the front and lower sections have been freshened this year. The car's essential nature has not changed a bit, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I've been driving an XK8 convertible for the past week, and the fall weather has been, well, British. As in mostly wet, with one sunny day to put the top down. Even though the XK is now one of the oldest cars in the luxury-sports class, it is still really in a class of its own, with a timeless combination of classic looks, luxury, and performance.

APPEARANCE: Jaguar started life in the 1920s as a custom coachbuilder, and has been justly famous for the style of its cars ever since. The XK8 traces its clean, flowing aerodynamic style and classic long-hood, short-deck proportions directly to the E-Type of the 1960s, and the D-Type and XKSS that influenced it. In a world of generic product and short-lived fashion - even among expensive luxury sports cars - the XK8 is distinctively unique. 2005 models have a new, slightly larger oval air intake and a redesigned grille. The front apron and side rocker panels have been extended downwards to visually lower the car a bit, as has the rear bumper. But a very close look and side-by-side comparison with an earlier car would be necessary for these changes to be truly obvious.

COMFORT: No one does the classic leather-and-burled-wood luxury interiors like the British - which is only fair, since that much-copied style was a British tradition originally. And the XK8's interior is a fine contemporary interpretation of that tradition, with all of the visual and tactile cues of classic English luxury. It's highlighted by a full-width book-matched burled walnut veneer on the instrument panel, more of the same around the ``J-gate'' shifter in the console and the window lifts on the doors, and sumptuous hand-cut, hand-stitched leather on the power-adjustable front seats. It's comfortable and seriously upper-crust. The power-operated top needs no hand latching or unlatching, and goes up or down quickly. Visibility with the top is average for a two-seat convertible, a polite way of saying ``you've got side mirrors, use them.'' But the heated glass backlight makes the best of visibility, and it's wonderfully clear, with just the right amount of wind in the hair, with the top down. There is a rear seat, but unless all passengers are under five foot two, it's best thought of as a padded parcel shelf. The trunk is huge for a two-seat sports car. All the better for the XK8's true mission in life - fast touring in a grand manner.

SAFETY: Front and front side head and chest airbags, powerful four-wheel vented antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control systems, and a new driver-settable automatic speed limiter are standard safety equipment in the 2005 Jaguar XK8. An adaptive cruise control system that automatically resets speed to keep distance in traffic is available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The XK8 was never meant to be a true, track-ready sports car in the manner of the E-Type. It's much larger and heavier, with the convertible weighing in at nearly two tons, and the coupe 200 lbs lighter. The relatively soft tuning of its suspension and its size and weight work against any tossability on tight roads, but in its favor on the more open, high-speed roads that are its natural habitat. The XK8 was designed for high average speeds, in comfort, on the open road. A long day's drive leaves the driver refreshed, not tired.

PERFORMANCE: Back in 2003, the XK8's AJ-V8 engine was enlarged from 4.0 to 4.2 liters in displacement. Horsepower didn't increase much, from 290 to 294 (at 6,000 rpm) and, while torque increased from 290 lb-ft to 303, the torque band is a bit wider, for more responsive driving. Also aiding drivability was a change from a five-speed to a six-speed automatic transmission with closer-spaced gear ratios. There is enough torque so that leaving the shift lever in ``Drive'' is more than adequate most of the time. When it becomes time to play, although there is no separate manual mode for the transmission, Jaguar's unique ``J-gate'' shifter makes it easy to shift manually, and hold gears for better performance. At part throttle, the engine is quiet and refined; at full throttle, it emits a satisfying growl as the car moves forward quickly. The cat's-head emblem on the hood is called ``The Growler.'' There is a reason for that.

CONCLUSIONS: Need a definition of ``Grand Touring''? Look to the Jaguar XK8. With its combination of luxury comfort, exquisite style, and smooth power it is meant for fast touring in a grand manner.

SPECIFICATIONS - 2005 Jaguar XK8 Convertible

Base Price $ 74,830
Price As Tested $ 80,770
Engine Type Dual overhead cam aluminum alloy 32-valve V8
Engine Size 4.2 liters / 256 cu. in.
Horsepower 294 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque(lb-ft) 303 @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission 6-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase/Length 101.9 in. / 188 in.
Curb Weight 3,980 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 13.5
Fuel Capacity 19.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires Front/Rear: P245/45 ZR18 R: 255/45 ZR18 Continental Conti Sport Contact
Brakes front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock standard
Suspension front/rear independent double wishbone / independent with lower wishbones and driveshaft acting as upper link
Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 26 / 20 0 to 60 mph 6.3 sec


Adaptive cruise control $ 2,200
Xenon headlights with auto leveling $ 675
Navigation system $ 2,400
Destination charge $ 665