By on June 23, 2006

10.jpgLet’s get this out of the way: the Jaguar XK8 is a grill-challenged automobile.  It's as if Ford sent all their leftover Taurus grills to the UK and then leaned on Jaguar engineers to find them a home.  Or maybe the XK8’s grill was intended as a comeuppance; a punishment to the brand’s designers for daring to create a “new” car that borrows so heavily from their up-market British cousin’s two-door. Or maybe the wide mouth bass grill is all about brand differentiation; a stylistic non-flourish designed to ensure that no potential buyer confuses the Jaguar XK8 and the Aston Martin DB9.  Now if someone had grafted the front end of a BMW 650i to the XK, we might have had something…

Once you get past the pedestrian (and pedestrian friendly) snout, the XK8’s design is pretty damn likeable, in a group consensus sort of way.  Despite the failure of the aluminum XJ to ignite the sales chart, Jag was right to stick with the basic shape and proportions of their “gorgeous” XK.  The front wing “power vents” add a welcome touch of aggression.  My only real gripe is the Jag’s small windows-tall haunches motif.  Do people really enjoy driving around in a bathtub?  The resulting visibility is on a par for the sporty coupe genre: limited and occasionally dangerous.


Strangely, Jaguar’s $75k coupe doesn’t come with a sunroof.  The omission reflects either its native country’s inclement weather or the brand’s lack of marketing savvy.  The hatchback is a nice touch– that could put off buyers who find the feature either downscale or eccentric (BMW’s last Z coupe being the best/worst example of this odd breed).  In any case, the vast majority of American XK buyers go topless.  Too right, mate.  The convertible is both sexier and more practical than the coupe.  The rag top is one of those modern, multiple layer canvasses that keep out most of the road and wind noise, giving vitamin D seekers the best of both worlds.  

The XK8’s interior also offers a choice.  Traditionalists can opt for the demure burnished walnut or poplar wood inserts.  Aluminum accents are available for modernists– or is that masochists?  (Have you ever touched aluminum trim left out in a bright summer sun?)  The XK8 has all of the must-have luxury car gizmos– keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity, touch screen navigation, satellite radio, MP3, radar-guided cruise control.  Tooling-up your roadster ain’t cheap; the appropriate options packages are a premium on top of a premium-priced car.  At least you get some genuine gee whizzery: a dual-zone climate control system that can be programmed to send de-humidified air to the front windscreen.

100.jpgThe big story about this next gen XK8: aluminum.  Jaguar clearly understands that weight is the enemy of fun, or maybe they just don’t have the antigravity technology used by the Germans in their 4,455 pound sport-licht cars.  Sitting on an aluminum monocoque (as opposed to Audi’s aluminum space frame and body panels), the big British two-door weighs-in a relatively sprightly 3,671 pounds.  Fuel economy is the most significant benefit, rather than the outright performance.  While six seconds to 60 is plenty damn quick for Jag’s core clientele, it’s not enough to lure adrenalin-loving pistonheads.  That said, the 27 mpg highway rating (for either coupe or convertible) is top of the class, and the forthcoming XKR variant will no doubt ratchet-up the performance ante.

The XK8’s all-important handling presents a peculiar combination of traits: soft turn in and appropriately plush responses to uneven surfaces, combined with an extremely stiff chassis.  It is very likeable at first, particularly coming from an ultimate punishing machine.  But after few hard corners, the ride motions begin to feel distinctly nautical.  Initial application of the brakes is also soft, but their capabilities are beyond reproach.  I have the strong sense that this car was designed with the older driver in mind, but the engineers wanted to make sure the performance was still there if the codgers wanted to dig for it.  The result is neither fish nor foul.

200.jpg The XK8 is a giant leap forward for Jaguar and undoubtedly the best all-round vehicle in the current Ford family.  It boasts an excellent design, more-than-merely-adequate performance, terrific comfort, excellent practicality and a high gizmo count. It handles well, goes well, stops magnificently and flounces along with ease.  So why does the XK8 feel like a watered-down coddling GT?  Because it is a watered-down coddling GT. For some reason, Jaguar has decided to become the Lexus of English automobiles.  Granted, if you liked your last XK8, you will love this one.  But if your driving tastes lean more towards the Porsche end of the spectrum, or if you think a Jaguar “sports car” should have a bit of E-Type aggression in its DNA, don’t bother.



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18 Comments on “Jaguar XK8 Review...”

  • avatar


    That was the first impression I got when I saw the nose of the new XK8 at this year’s International Auto Show in New York. The gap around the headlight cluster, both from the fenders and the wrap around nose which reaches all the way into the weel wells.

    Half an inch gap between the “bonnet” and the nose, ill masked by a bulky silicone seal, and byciclist and pedestrian shredding sharp edges on the side of the fender where they meet the headlights. How they got away with that in the year when the EU asks all manufacurers to raise the front of the car and use softer material for pedestrian protection?? It almost made me doubtful of what can be accomplished with aluminium as bodyparts until I wandered the short distance to the Audi stand…..

    The eye is drawn automatically to the underside of that nose, looking for a giant Groucho Marx moustache and the rubber band that holds it to the rest of the car!!

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Elegant proportions, but the details just kill it: strange lights, Land Rover-esque fender vents, and that grille. Its lost its looks, so what’s left to sell it over an SC430?

    Well said, Mr. Shoemaker. (applause)

  • avatar

    I’m glad to see someone else harping on about the new cat’s front. I like Jaguar. Beyond all logic I like Jaguar. They produce cars that are five years behind the competition, but I love them. I love the S-series… a lot. I, for the life of me, can’t bring myself to buy one, but I love it nonetheless.

    I was crushed when I saw the new front. I was SURE this was going to be the Jaguar I was going to buy. Thoroughly modern. Thoroughly British. Sexy, yet sporty. Showy, yet demure. Refined, yet hard-edged. That automotive Holy Land of perfection over which BMW ruled for so long.

    Nothing was going to get in my way. This car would have none of the design, engineering, and artistic peccadilloes of the S, XJ, and atrocious X. And NO! No, no, no! My dreams were dashed again! How could you, Jaguar?! How could you?! How could you taunt me with a car so close to perfection? So close, yet so far away.

    What were you thinking with headlights that look like sad baby seal eyes head-on, and just look weird from any other angle? What medication were you taking when you designed a grille that looks bulbous, seemingly incomplete without an airplane propeller, and, now that Pixar’s ‘Cars’ has come out, as though it will strike up a conversation at any moment? I demand an answer!

    Sigh… What’s the point? It’ll just get my blood pressure up. Bastards. So, again, I begin the same Love/Hate/Lust affair with this Jaguar that I have with every Jaguar. Driving by lots, late at night, looking longingly at the untouchable beauties from across the sea.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    I feel exactly the same way as aaronmc. Because of the XKE and British Racing Green, I feel compelled to own a Jaguar. The last XK8 almost got me, but the driving experience was at least a generation behind the Germans. At least it was good looking.

    I first saw the new XK8 at the Frankfurt show. I must have spent two hours walking around it, frowning, trying to convince myself that from certain angles it could be appealing. My first driving experience with it was positive- it seemed to make all the right moves despite being disconnected, like a truly capable Lexus. The more time I spent with it , the more frustrated I became; it was as though the car was telling me to slow down, take it easy, fighting me rather than dancing with me.

    What really killed the deal for me was learning about the residual values- Ford, if you reading this, you need to underwrite Jaguar’s residuals if you expect people who care about the value of money to throw it at your premium cars.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Boy, am I tired of how car reviewing has deteriorated into a matter of either endless letters to the pimple books announcing that the new whatever looks like a Subaru that backed into a Taurus one dark night and nine months later produced the new Lexus, ad infinitum, or fey discussions about whether the curl of a fender lip is in fact a sexual statement or a punch press gone gadarene. Shut up and drive. You can’t see the grille from the driver’s seat.

    Stephan Wilikinson

  • avatar


    In many senses, I agree. But I feel that utilitarian view of a car (utilitarian in the sense of driving dynamics), doesn’t apply here.

    No, you can’t see the grille from the driver’s seat, but you know everyone else can. And when you buy a car like this, what other people see is just as important as what you see. If that wasn’t the case, Ferrari owners would have all bought Ultima GTRs, or Mercedes owners would have all bought Volkswagen Phaetons.

    I’m sorry, but I feel a car better be damned good on all fronts before I lay down eighty grand or more. There are just too many great alternatives to do otherwise.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    I always look for validation of my good taste both when approaching and walking away from my car. I got tired of avoiding the back end of my BMW 650 and I am sure I would have the same issue approaching my Jaguar XK8 from the front.

    Looks aside , the driving experience is not much more engaging.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Its just a matter of time before someone races an XK and vindictively asks the winner/loser how they made their Taurus haul ass.

    And that’s gonna bruise some egos.

  • avatar

    I also really wanted to like the XK as a potential replacement for my M5. Totally agree with the styling, but being a hard core performance junkie, I am considering the even uglier M6 based on its extravagant V10 and 7 speed trans, which even the upcoming XK-R will be undoubtedly following in the distance.

    “The rag top is one of those modern, multiple layer canvasses that keep out most of the road and wind noise, giving vitamin K seekers the best of both worlds.”

    By the way Jay…great article, but unless those Vitamin K seekers you speak of are driving their Jags to the local pharmacy, they are going to be disappointed….most of us normal folk can only utilize sunlight to make calciferol, ie, Vitamin D. ;-)

  • avatar

    My bad on the vitamin thing. I’ve changed the text back to D.


  • avatar

    Well, opinions are like….ah, you get it.

    I, for one, will gladly write a check for this car. Its unique and supremely comfortable, luxurious, classy, and comes in a package that DOESNT require a V10 to move it sufficiently because it has been to the gym to lose weight AND firm up. Personally, I really like its lines and subtle elegance.

    Jaguar just cannot make you happy can they? They build a more than decent drop top version of the DB9 and shave a cool one hundred grand off the tag and you guys are throwing tantrums because it isnt perfect and (Yawn) again with the obligatory taurus comments. Then you threaten to buy an even uglier Bangled ass Bimmer or a Salvador Daliesque SC430. Too many choices in this range? Go ahead and buy an SL or, if you really wanna whine about styling, an XLR or a 6 series. Perhaps you deserve your I-drive hell after all.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    Well, at least now we know who is interested in buying this car.

    Sorry to keep harping on this, but before signing on the dotted line you might want to compare the lease rates of SL550’s, 650’s or even 911’s to the Jaguar.

  • avatar

    All this “premature death” talk about Jaguar reminds me a lot of what happened at Packard just before the end. The 55 and 56 models were the best Packards in years but it was, alas, too late. People that buy high-end cars are by and large successful, and avoid even a whiff of decay. Thus the rumors of the immenent demise hasten the process. It’s sad.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t look like there’s an imminent demise…

    I have to admit a cultural bias here – i’m an ex-pat brit who owns a 2001 XK8. I’ve owned a string of BMWs, mercedes and a saab, all of them super cars, but none of them matched that emotional connection I have with the jag. Yes it’s horrifyingly cramped, and the awful ‘spitfire wing’ wood dash is so old-fashioned, and it’s heavy, and the electronic throttle snatches, and the j gate gear lever is nasty… but a the end of the work day I wouldn’t want to be climbing (awkwardly) into something else. Maybe it’s the cossetting deep seats, or the solid feel of the wheel, or the people who constantly tell me I LOVE YOUR CAR. or maybe it’s the beauty of it’s shape that gives me a flush of patriotic pride…
    I nod my head at your critical points above. But I still love it. And I wouldnt swap it for anything else.
    By the way, I drive it very aggressively, consciously trying to make up for the legions of big haired old realtors and old codgers who amble along in their XKs….

  • avatar

    Jaguar XK8,is about the worst car that I ever purchased.Some like it some don’t the reason is
    Jaguar has no quality assurance program.
    Therefore I will never buy another Jag.
    I’ll buy an Amish carriage more reliable.

  • avatar

    The 2006 and beyond XK’s are far more than just grill challenged. They are the result of new ownership without an understanding of the past and government intervention forcing design changes that bastardize most every vehicle these days. As much as the XKE was a beautiful design with typical British flaws, the XJS was a pimpmobile with flaws and not enough character to overcome them. Then the XK8 comes and we feel born again. Yes still more flaws but promising with the 4.2. A new owner and we are now trying to appeal to a whole new demographic with the entire line and the XK once again becomes a pimpmobile. Every manufacturer I’ve known has taken their best designs and in the end destroys them. It is a disease for which there seems no cure.

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