A voluptuous body, silky-smooth manners and a voice that purrs seductively in a refined British accent. Pretty fast, too. Hey, wait, we're talking cars here. And the car we're talking about is the sparkling Jaguar XK8 convertible, the lush
and lovely descendant of a classic lineage of sports cars, racing cars and beautiful saloons (which is what the English call their four-door sedans). All the attention is being focused this year on Jaguar's new supersedan (or saloon), the frenetic
XKR. But the XK8 convertible and coupe remain about the sexiest, most desirable automobiles since the early years of the XKE, in the 1960s. XK8 is very beautiful, perhaps the loveliest of all modern automobiles, and instantly recognizable as a
Jaguar. Some people favor the balanced look of the coupe, which also has a semblance of a back seat, but the open-air advantage of the convertible far outweighs any such considerations. There are quite a few hints of the fabled XKE in the styling of
the XK8, particularly the sharklike grille in the rounded front end. The original version of the E-type, as the XKE is known among enthusiasts, remains a stylistic standout, and a perennial favorite among collectors. That lasting appeal could be in the
future of the XK8. But the XK8's resemblance to the XKE is only skin deep. The E-type was a sharp-edged sports car, built for performance and bearing a significant racing heritage, while the XK8 is more of a grand-touring craft, softer and more
luxurious. Unlike the cramped, simple cockpit of the XKE, the wood-and-leather interior of the XK8 is spacious (for two) and well-appointed, with a full cargo of power accessories and a superb stereo system. Unlike the E-type, which juddered and
shook over rough roads with true sports-car elan, the XK8 soaks up road irregularities with grace and precision, imparting only the mildest of jars to the pampered occupants. This is very much a fast touring car. Unlike the XKE, it doesn't seem
likely that XK8s will be showing up on many racetracks during amateur sports-car events. Despite the boulevard ride, the new Jag corners with tenacity and handles with finesse. The road holding is confidence-inducing at higher speeds, and although
the heavy XK8 might not be tossable, exactly, it can be driven hard with satisfaction. A top-down trip to Globe, along curving Route 60, was incredibly nice, as much for the gorgeous scenery viewed alfresco as for the Jag's wonderful ride and road
manners. The V-8 engine is strong and supersmooth, attached to a well-designed automatic transmission. The nearly 2-ton car is not terrifically fast on acceleration, eclipsed by the likes of Chevy Corvette, but it will get well up into the triple
digits. Jaguar says it will do 155 mph, which I don't doubt. This is Jaguar's first V-8, after decades of dependence on its race-bred in-line six. Although Jaguar now is owned by Ford, the Jag V-8 was realized entirely by Jaguar engi
neers, without Ford content. But Ford does have a role in the XK8, with more to do with reliability than design. Ford has a mighty big parts bin, and Jaguar's electrical and hydraulic systems have benefited heavily from the U.S. input. The XK8,
despite its splendid design, appearance and performance, does have some clinkers, primarily in the interior. The gauges, for one thing, may be complete and well-located, but they're too plain and ordinary-looking, doing nothing for the Jaguar's panache.
They don't come close to the classic look of Smith or Jaeger gauges, which would have been easy to produce with such a favorable impact. The current set would look more appropriate in a Ford Escort. One-button operation of the convertible top,
which makes it fast and easy to stow or erect, is hampered by a clumsy tonneau that is such a pain to attach that it ultimately won't get used, leaving the folded top exposed to the elements. As for the back "seat," it seems ridiculous
that it's so well-upholstered. Absolutely no one can sit back there, not if they have anything resembling legs. But in real terms, the most negative aspect of this lovely car is its towering price tag. This is also very unlike the XKE. The E-type was
never cheap, but it was a reasonable aspiration for a young, middle-class person. The XK8 is out of the realm of possibility for all but truly wealthy people, much like its leading competitors, the Mercedes SL-series cars and BMW 8-series.
Head-to-head, I think the XK8 has them beat, especially in curb appeal. This car draws favorable attention everywhere it goes, loaded as it is with style, character and sex appeal. 1998 Jaguar XK8 Vehicle type Two-passenger, two-door
convertible, rear-wheel drive. Base price $69,900. Price as tested $74,310. Engine 4.0-liter V-8, 290 horsepower at 6,100 rpm, 290 pounds-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. Transmission Five-speed automatic. Curb weight 3,867 pounds.
Length 187.4 inches. EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. Highs Overall style. Smooth performance. High comfort level. Lows Boring gauges. Useless back seat. Scary price tag.