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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.

It does.

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

Touring mode.

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

its genesis.

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

or convertible.

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

mystery.

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

clubs.

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

can accommodate.

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

defroster.

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

solidly built.

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

AJV8.

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.

SEPARATE FACTORY

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

compression ratio.

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.

SERIOUS POWER

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

yours.

Some modern automatics have the mode selection done

automatically as well, but Jag customers apparently enjoy some

do-it-yourself action.

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.

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