1997 Jaguar XK8
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Many insiders at Jaguar felt they had
to apologize for the XJS convertible.
It was too big, too heavy, to be a genuine successor to the
XK120, XK140, XK150 and XKE sports cars. That's why it didn't
earn the honored XK prefix in its name.
The problem: the XJS was the longest-lived (21 years) and
best-selling (120,000 units) non-sedan in Jaguar history.
The customer is always right, so when the keepers of the
marque's flame were planning the S's successor, they knew they
couldn't upset its legions of fans.
But deep in their British Racing Green hearts, they really
wanted to build a true sports car. So whatever they came up with
would need to have credential-earning performance and
firstclass levels of luxury and comfort.
The all-new XK8 coupe and soft-top, featuring the firm's first
V8 engine, have enough acceleration and handling to please all
but the most wild-eyed Porsche 911 owner.
Yet the XK8 is equally at home chauffeuring you and your
favorite date to the opera or the West Coast in finest Grand
We'll probably have to wait until all the principals in the
car's development are retired, their pensions safely stashed in
Cayman Island bank vaults, before we get the complete story on
We do know an XKF sports car reached running prototype status
by the late 1980s, before it was canned as too expensive by
Jaguar's new owner, Ford.
Some aspects of that car apparently surfaced in the
Jaguar-based Aston Martin DB7, which debuted last year. And the
styling of the XK8 is not dissimilar either to the Aston or to
the XKF, an artist's rendition of which appeared exclusively in
Wheels a few years back.
Geoff Lawson, the chief ink-thrower at Jaguar, denies any
direct link between the XK8 and either the F or the Aston.
But he refers to "styling DNA," by which he means certain
design elements typical of British sports cars in general (long
hood, short rear deck) and Jaguars in particular (oval front
grille opening, catlike haunches over the rear wheels).
This suggests that any talented designer attempting to merge a
modern aerodynamic form to a traditional Jaguar theme is bound
to arrive at somewhat similar conclusions.
Undeniably, though, the XK8 is a beautiful car, both as coupe
No car will likely ever again generate the magic of the EType
when it was launched at the Geneva auto show in 1961. But the
XK8 comes pretty close, if the reaction of onlookers to this
newest Jag's debut at El Encanto ( espanol for enchantment)
Hotel in Santa Barbara is any indication.
Draw your own conclusions from the photos.
One styling element that struck me is the two small, vertical,
rubber-covered black bars in the grille. They're all that
remains of the massive CNE midway bumper-car bumpers that were
foisted on carmakers in the '70s by early crash standards.
That today's front ends have better crash protection than ever
with little visible indication thereof is a tribute to stylists
and engineers. And, I guess, to legislators, who forced both
into finding ways to make it happen.
While you can see the XK8 body is entirely new, a few pieces
of the floor pan are carried over from the XJS if there's no
particular reason to reengineer an unseen piece, why bother?
The wheelbase is also the same, but we are assured the XK8 is
not based on its predecessor, as has been reported in various
media. The XK8 body is 25 per cent stiffer in torsion than the
XJS, has 30 per cent fewer panels and is lighter as well.
Inside, the XK8 continues with Jaguar's traditional
wood-chrome-leather motif. Perhaps to a fault, at least as far as
the wood is concerned. The entire dash panel in front of the
passenger is a mirror-polished, walnut-veneered plank. Your
right front-seat rider better enjoy their own reflection.
And I can't help but wonder: where does that slab of wood go
if the passengerside air bag goes off?
One less-than-exalted XJS tradition abysmal space
utilization is carried over to the XK8. For such a massive
car, there isn't much room. Oh, it's fine for two adults. But
why they stick those vestigial rear seats back there is a
Anyone young enough to have kids that small isn't going to be
able to afford this car, anyway. Surely the designers would have
been better off fitting it to handle additional luggage.
As it is, the trunk is ample enough to carry two sets of golf
The front seats, like those in Jag sedans, appear a little
small for the task of carrying well-upholstered tushes. Cushion
length is on the short side, partially, I assume, to give the
impression of greater interior volume.
The thrones are comfortable, however, even if greater lateral
support would come in handy during the spirited driving this car
Much of the switch gear is also carried over from the XJ
sedans; there's a bit of a mystery to some of it, but you'll
figure it out soon enough.
The convertible top, engineered in conjunction with Karmann of
Germany, retains the XJS's glass rear window, complete with
Up or down is a onetouch deal. The windows drop down, the
windshield header catches undo and the top folds into a boot
behind the seats, with no compromise on trunk space. The top
stack sits up a little above the belt line of the car and can be
hidden by a surprisingly easy-to-fit cover.
I say "surprisingly," because anything easy about a British
car's folding top is surprising.
The top can go up or down at car speeds below 15 km/h, unlike
most power roofs which require more are-you-sure? procedures
than the commencement of a nuclear war. Quite the party trick to
roll away from a stoplight while your roof is coming off.
The fully lined top is snug when erect, with an almost
coupe-like feel to it. Cowl shake is minimal, and the car feels
That said, the coupe is snugger still. Take care getting in
and out; I banged my head on the roof a couple of times.
There have only been four totally new engines in Jaguar
history: the XK six; the V12; the AJ6, whose direct descendant
powers current Jag sedans; and now their first V8, dubbed the
Its development actually preceded that of the car by several
years, work beginning in earnest in 1989, shortly before Ford
got their hands on the company.
On the subject of Ford, Bob Dover, the XK8's chief program
engineer, held up a Woodruff key (a small sliver of steel that
locks the camshaft chain drive gear to the crankshaft) during
his presentation of the engine. He said this is the only Ford
component in the entire car.
The AJV8 is built in a Ford engine factory in Bridgend,
Wales. Mindful of possible criticism of it being a "Ford"
engine, a separate factory-within-a-factory has been established
there. Don't let your Ford dealer tell you that the Jag engine
is the same one you can buy in your Thunderbird. (Don't laugh
I've heard worse.)
The extremely compact, all-aluminum V8 sports four camshafts
and four valves per cylinder. It's a lovely thing to look at,
but most of the beauty is inside.
Variable intake camshaft timing retards valve timing at low
and high engine r.p.m. to ensure smooth idle and maximum power
respectively, and advances it at highengine loads and at
mid-range rev levels to maximize torque output.
Coolant from the water pump is split in two. Half goes
directly to the cylinder heads to cool the combustion chambers,
helping to eliminate detonation and allowing the high 10.75:1
The other half goes to the cylinder bores so they run
relatively hotter. This helps reduce hydrocarbon formation and
ensures quick warmup under five minutes from a cold start to
further reduce emissions and help warm the interior.
Dual catalytic converters located very near the engine "light
off" start catalyzing within 30 seconds of startup, again to
keep emissions to a minimum.
The throttle is electronic drive-by-wire with a mechanical
backup should the electronics fail.
Failed electronics? In a British car? Perish the thought.
To ensure the thought stays buried, Jaguar contracted the
entire engine management system to Nippondenso of Japan.
Platinum-tipped spark plugs have a 160,000 km service life.
The valve lifters, unusual these days, are not hydraulic, but
act directly on the valve stems through metal shims. But again,
these shims require no adjustment for the life of the engine.
So much for what you can't see in this engine. What you can
see (on the speedo) and feel (in your bum) is 290 horsepower at
6100 r.p.m., and a nicely symmetrical torque peak of 290
poundfeet at 4250 r.p.m., with over 80 per cent of that available
from as low as 1400 r.p.m.
You can also hear this engine barely, when you're just
cruising along, more clearly when you're putting the whip to all
those horses. It's a muted rumble, just enough to assure you
that it's serious.
Jaguar uses the term "refined power" to describe this engine,
and they aren't half right. Despite having to fling 1,666 kg
about (1,754 kg for the ragtop) the AJV8 produces some
prodigious numbers. The factory gives a 0 to 96 km/h time of 6.5
seconds for the coupe, two-tenths slower for the convertible,
which is righteous indeed.
The top end, as if it matters to anyone outside Germany, is an
electronically limited 250 km/h, give or take a speeding ticket.
Output is passed to the rear wheels through a new Jaguar/ZF
five-speed electronic, automatic transmission with two
driver-selectable shift programs: Normal, with smoother, lowrev
upshifts for optimal comfort, and Sport, with crisper, delayed
upshifts to maximize performance. Unlike some dual-mode autos,
you really can tell the difference in this one.
The only problem is that in Sport mode, the car hunts between
fourth and fifth around 80 km/h, right where a good part of my
test driving was done in the hills above Santa Barbara.
Jag says they are still finalizing calibration of the
transmission computer, so this may be corrected before you buy
Some modern automatics have the mode selection done
automatically as well, but Jag customers apparently enjoy some
If they want to shift gears themselves, they'll have no manual
gearbox available. But they can avail themselves of Jag's
innovative Jgate, adapted from the four-speed in current XJ
sedans. The shift lever moves in a normal Park-through-Drive
gate, but from there, you can bring the lever towards you,
through the bottom of the J, then forward in a parallel gate to
catch fourth through first gears as desired.
Although the motion looks (and perhaps sounds) unnatural
we're used to pulling the lever rearwards to select lower gears
in an automatic in practice it works a treat and is at least
as functional as the Tiptronic-style transmissions used by
Porsche, BMW and Chrysler.
The XK8 will be available soon in Jag stores, at $89,900 for
at the coupe, and $97,900 for the convertible.
Less than 400 XK8s will be available in the first year of
production, about three-quarters of them ragtops.
If you want one and you should better get on friendly
terms with your local Jaguar dealer right now.
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie, among a group of auto writers
invited to a test site, prepared this report based on sessions
arranged and paid for by the automaker.