Jaguar is a company whose corporate identity is built on a mish mash of heritage; of the past models which stand out the vast majority are luxury saloon cars, dripping with wooden trim and chrome detailing. But by far the firm’s most famous and beloved car is the E-Type, a car whose form is usually cited as one of the most attractive designs ever to be manufactured. This means the fact that most modern Jaguars, whilst having tidy handling and plenty of power, lack a real ‘sporty’ nature to accompany the image that is attached to them in the press and by marketers.
Having said this though, Jaguar has launched several cars since the E Type which have been termed as sporting…the one currently in the public eye is the new F Type, the so-called spiritual successor to the famous E. But while that car continues to get rave reviews (and growing waiting lists), there is another coupe in Jag’s portfolio that for nearly 20 years has offered customers an exotic slice of pie, the XK.
The XK’s history is a muddied one, Jaguar had for nearly 20 years offered the XJS coupe-a car which was meant to replace the E Type in the hearts and minds of buyers as their sporting model. Aerodynamically styled and powered by a range of powerful engines, the XJS was like nothing on the road and this was ultimately its problem; thirsty, expensive and very much a grand tourer as opposed to a sports car, the XJS sold relatively well but was never a massive success. Despite this though, the financial difficulties of the company (even though they were now owned by Ford) meant that the car’s successor was developed on this platform, and the XK was born. To look at, the XK (called XK8 in its first generation) was very different from the XJS… curvaceous lines and nods to classic Jags of the past meant that the car immediately vanquished many consumers’ memories of the now-ancient XJS.
The car was launched in 1996 with Jaguar’s brand new V8 engine (hence the XK8 nameplate) and was available with an interior and features not found on the brand’s cars before, such as adaptive cruise control. Wood and chrome still presided, but overall the XK8 appealed to a very different market than its predecessor, as evident by the car’s product placements in such films as Austin Powers and Die Another Day. Available in both coupe and convertible versions, the svelte body was a new youthful car for the brand. This young and sporty image was helped by the car’s twin, the also-fresh Aston Martin DB7 which was built on the same platform. Curiously the Aston was only offered with a 6-cylinder engine for much of its life, so Jaguar was able to offer a car with similarly seductive styling and more power but for a lower price. Building on this potential, the XKR variant was released in 1998 and featured a supercharged engine with 370bhp and a 0-60 time of just over 5 seconds; it came with larger alloy wheels and a mesh grille to accentuate the look.
It is this variant that my neighbour purchased several years ago and sits next to my car on the driveway. The silver 2001 XKR has massive 20 inch alloy wheels and somehow always manages to look graceful and menacing, when in fact it is rarely used. I cannot say that I have any experience with the car aside from nosing inside the window at the famous J-shaped gear change and walnut dashboard, and trying to stop my nan denting the paintwork when she gets out of my car! He bought it as a mid-life crisis car and to be fair the car does have a decent turn of speed (so he says), and the engine note from the supercharged V8 makes even a non-engine connoisseur like me go weak at the knees. However most of the reviews I have read of the XK8/R (and its successor the current XK) speak more about its prowess as the grand tourer in Jaguar’s range…handling, whilst not sloppy by any means is still erring on comfortable and relaxed rather than sharp. For the brand’s traditional customers this is not really a problem, but considering the car was an attempt at luring in fresh blood it probably wasn’t the car some people were expecting. The soft ride of lesser models is unlikely to replicated with such large wheels and sport suspension in the XKR either.
In terms of other negatives…well in now way is any coupe remotely practical (most of them anyway), and the XK’s rear seats are best suited for small children, or as many reviewers jibe, posh shopping bags. I have seen the inside of the boot several times and it is not as small as you might think, but the fact I have seen it leads me onto the main downside of the car, its reliability. Jaguar (and its sister company Land Rover) do not have an enviable reputation for making cars that prove trouble-free in the long term. Whilst this is changing, even the youngest models are now 8 years old and at this age they are likely to have huge repair costs. I have seen my neighbour’s XKR towed away several times after failing to start, and every few months there seems to be some sort of recovery vehicle there to look under the bonnet. What seems to be the biggest problem though, is the battery; as a play thing and not a car that is used every day (20 mpg puts pay to that I assume) it admittedly does not get used more than once a week, and often it appears less. Yet the car constantly seems to have a power cable attached from the house and running into the boot (where the battery is located). I kid you not, when we had snow earlier this year, that extension lead remained plugged into the car for over 2 weeks. Now this is probably down in part to my neighbour being lazy and not bothering to get the leads out each time that he wants to start the car, but it hardly rings of a reliable car.
Despite all of these faults though, the XK8 was a landmark model for the company in that it heralded the first product developed under Ford’s stewardship, and pushed the brand towards being a volume manufacturer. Ultimately the culminated in the launch of both S-Type and X-Type Jags, and whilst their success is questionable the fact that the XK8/R soldiered on for 10 years with minimal changes demonstrates its success in terms of design and popularity. The second generation XK ushered in another new chapter in Jaguar’s history when it was launched in 2006 and built on the strengths of the original…it still remains on sale today and whilst getting on in terms of years it is still popular amongst buyers looking for a svelte grand tourer, but not a sports car!