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Car reviews - Jaguar - XK - XK8 convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Engine perfomance, transmission, ride quality
Room for improvement
Cramped cabin, J-Gate gearshift, no sat-nav

29 Jul 2003

JAGUARS are supposed to be like this.

Driving the newest version of the company’s lovely $200,000-plus convertible, you are at once taken by the tactile pleasures of the thick-rimmed steering wheel, the stitched leather seats and real-wood trim.

The hefty response from the alloy V8, just recently taken from 4.0 to 4.2 litres, gives a feeling of mastery and the new six-speed automatic transmission extracts every kiloWatt out of it.

Then there’s the ride.

The XK8 convertible looks as close to an E-Type Jag as you’re ever likely to see, and the way it comports itself on the road is as close to the way Jaguars seem to have always been as you’re ever likely to get. It smooths and tames irregular roads in a way quite unlike that of most other cars.

And if the 1.8-tonne virtual two-seater seems somewhat cramped in the cabin, with no headroom if you are more than 1.8 metres tall and barely enough seat adjustment to stretch the legs, then that’s something you are simply going to have to get used to.

If you do manage to do that – and there is something about certain Jaguars people are prepared to sacrifice a lot for – then the XK8 convertible is a fine thing in which to disport yourself.

Whether or not it is able to find its way quickly around a corner is secondary to the fact the suspension must be able mute and soften the bumps without totally eliminating them. The weight must be used to control and tame what the road surface would like to do to the passengers.

Thus it’s maybe surprising, in the case of the new XK8, to find the thing is also damn quick. Not just in a straight line, but also around corners.

This is probably helped by the combination of the new 4.2-litre engine and the six-speed ZF transmission, which propels the car more quickly from one corner to the next. Through its 420Nm of torque – and lower transmission gearing - the engine has little trouble dealing with the convertible’s weight and will plunge between corners with great enthusiasm, relying on the also competent braking system (now with brake assist) to haul it down.

The steering, weighted on the light side but accurate and responsive nonetheless, is aided by a nice thick wheel rim - which itself is a subtle confidence-booster.

The convertible doesn’t get the front-rear asymmetrical tyres that put more rubber on the back to assist tractive bite and control rear-end waywardness on XK8 coupe models but, with the standard dynamic stability control system, that’s not really likely to happen.

The V8 engine, with 224kW to play with, is aurally and viscerally pleasing, slingshotting the weighty convertible to 100km/h in 6.6 seconds and, if you can find a legal place to do it, thundering through to a speed-limited maximum of 250km/h.

The engine has more than a slight increase in capacity to thank for its increased performance. It is also more robust, breathes better via new camshafts and cylinder head porting, while picking up various refinements that actually lower the exhaust emissions of what is a noticeably more powerful and flexible engine.

The six-seed transmission shifts with a satisfying crispness that clearly makes the most of the engine characteristics. Its only deficit in the Jaguar is that company policy dictates it must be controlled by the controversial J-Gate system (the lever can be moved left into a second plane, giving a semblance of manual gear-shifting), rather than simply going to the sequential-style manual override now adopted by virtually everybody.

J-Gate’s okay, once you get used to it, but it never was and never will be as effective as a good sequential system.

The XK8 cockpit is totally Jaguar with its lashings of wood, multiplicity of gauges (who looks at anything except the speedometer and fuel gauges today?) and profusion of controls.

It’s no ergonomic disaster, with many of the controls (cruise control, radio, telephone), steering wheel mounted, but there are luxury cars with easier-to-comprehend systems. In our market, there will be no satellite-navigation system because, Jaguar claims, its mapping system is incompatible with Australia’s.

A bonus is that the cruise control is optionally available with radar-activated distance control allowing the Jag to match pace with slowing cars up front.

Like the Mercedes-Benz system, it works well, to the point where it is actually able to apply the brakes (up to 25 per cent) if the traffic ahead begins slowing down particularly quickly. There’s also an audible alert that warns of rapidly closing traffic.

The convertible top is fully trimmed inside, giving no visual hint of the struts and spars underneath, and folds down very quickly without need to release separate latches on the windscreen. Some people feel the exposed folded roof is a little unsightly in a prestige car, but in reality it gives a slightly, and appropriately British, bespoke look.

The rear window, as might be expected, is glass and helps to provide reasonably (for a convertible) good all-round vision only marred by the blind spot where the C-pillars would be. The boot, too, is quite generous and relatively deep for a convertible, helped by the use of a space-saver spare.

The reason for the supposed rear-seat accommodation is puzzling. Short of moving the front seats forward to the point where they’re hitting the windscreen, there’s no way any average adult would be able to fit. Even small children would find there’s a complete dearth of space for little legs. Cockpit space is not a big feature in the convertible.

In terms of passive safety, the Jaguar doesn’t have the pop-up rollover protection offered in some German convertibles either, but there are dual front and side airbags along with Jaguar's Adaptive Restraint Technology System.

Wisely, Jaguar decided to leave the styling of the latest XK8 well alone, merely revising the E-Type style grille, fiddling with the lights and offering new wheel designs.

And the back end retains the tapered, smooth look that is so reminiscent of Jaguars past. It’s a fine-looking convertible and no cause for embarrassment among those who have shelled out the close to $220,000 asking price.

The XK8 convertible looks and feels every inch a Jaguar, remaining at a safe distance from other models at the lower end of the range that are trying to convince buyers they are more than just really nice Fords.

It is big, with all the touchy-feely features required of a Jaguar - heavy yet far from cumbersome - and remains one of the sweetest looking luxury convertibles on the market.

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