- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

In a perfect world, automobiles should be all about passion — the smell of soft leather, the feel of real wood grain, a cushion of thick wool carpet under your feet.

Depressing the accelerator should be answered with the roar of a powerful engine and the eerily quiet whoosh of air displaced by a streamlined form slicing through the atmosphere. This is the legacy of Jaguar.

Even in its dark decade, just before Ford rescued it in 1989 from a downward spiral of lackluster quality and uninspired performance, Jaguar’s tradition of luxury and racing history prevented showroom sales from collapsing completely. Fortunately, under Ford’s stewardship, Jaguar fought its way back to its place among the world’s premier premium brands. When the all-new XK8 was introduced for 1997, it was more than just a new model; it was the coming-out party for a revitalized Jaguar.

Nine years later, the 2006 edition of the XK8 still provokes gawking like Eva Longoria noshing at the counter in the local Denny’s. The simplicity of its fluid lines and sensual curves grabs the eye and accelerates the heart. While the convertible with its top dropped has always garnered the lion’s share of attention, the coupe is nothing short of breathtaking.

This is a timeless design that will outlive us all.

Pricing hasn’t increased all that much over the years. When first released, the XK8 coupe sold for $65,480 and the convertible for $70,480. The 2006 coupe has a base sticker of $70,495, while the convertible sells for $75,495.

In 1997, the XK8 was powered by Jaguar’s first V-8. It displaced 4.0 liters and delivered 290 horsepower. Introduced in 2003, the 4.2-liter V-8 in the 2006 XK8 generates 294 horsepower, but kicks up peak torque from the first-generation V-8’s 284 foot-pounds to 303.

Ushering the engine output to the rear wheels falls to a silky-smooth six-speed automatic transmission. The mating of engine and transmission is as keenly choreographed as a Kennedy wedding. The shifts are seamless as rpms grow and acceleration builds. Stomping the throttle won’t cause your eyes to roll back into your head, but from a standstill to 60 mph takes about seven seconds.

Fuel economy is quite decent for a V-8-powered luxury car. The Environmental Protection Agency rates around-town performance at 18 miles per gallon and its highway number at 26 mpg.

Sexy rather than sporty, the XK8 suspension is tuned for comfort. It’s not a wallowing mess in hard cornering. On the contrary, it keeps its wits about it snaking through the twisties, but its specialty is cruising, not competing in autocrosses. Standard 18-inch wheels and tires (19- and 20-inch are available) are backed by disc brakes. Antilock is standard and includes stability and traction control, as well as Emergency Brake Assist.

The XK8 cabin possesses an air of familiarity. A flat, upright affair, the wood-grain dashboard is trimmed in leather. Three large, circular gauges peek through the thick wood-and-leather steering wheel. Three smaller gauges are arrayed to the right.

The center stack houses a dizzying collection of knobs and buttons controlling the Alpine audio system with six-disk CD changer and automatic climate control.

The familial pencil-thin shift lever topped with a wood knob sprouts from the center console. Leather and wood grain are everywhere, and yes, both are still cut by hand for a finished fit.

Front-seat passengers have leg, shoulder and hip room aplenty. While it is possible — we’ve done it — to bend and fold a couple of medium-size adults to fit, the rear seat is little more than an upholstered package shelf.

With about half the cargo space of a Chevrolet Corvette, the XK8 probably isn’t the vehicle to take your child genius back to college, but it’ll do for carrying luggage for a weekend trip or the weekly jaunt to the supermarket.

One touch of a switch automatically lowers and raises the convertible top. Although that procedure requires less than 60 seconds, the lowered top isn’t hidden beneath a hard deck panel as are those of some competitors. A finished look still requires the manual installation of a soft boot. It isn’t difficult, but probably only owners who take the time to hand-wash and wax their own cars will bother routinely installing the boot. When in place, though, the look is classic.

A luxury automobile through and through, the XK8 provides a full list of upscale features. Most are standard, but a few are optional.

Extras such as a navigation system, adaptive cruise control (traditional cruise control is standard) and auto-leveling xenon headlamps are all additional-cost items.

Whether it’s a Sunday drive along a quiet mountain two-lane or a cruise along South Florida’s A-1-A, the XK8 is a throwback to the glory days of unique, highly stylized motorcars. Simply put, it is passion in motion.

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