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Click for picture“A Jaguar XK8
  is something
  we rate!”

IF YOU MISSED OUT when the E-type came around in 1961 then now’s the time to jump in and buy Jaguar’s 21st Century equivalent — the handsome and refined XK8 Convertible.

The XK8 continues Jaguar’s long-standing tradition of offering more
for less. That’s more performance, more refinement and more for your hard-earned cash. Where else will 54,645 buy you a sexy yet practical drop-top with a silky 290bhp 4.0-litre all-alloy V8 and a sumptuous wood and leather interior unmatched by other luxury carmakers? The XK8 may have been around since 1996, but it’s still
an eye-catching and highly desirable sports car.

Within yards of moving off you’ll be impressed by the seamless progress. On first acquaintance you may even question that the XK8 is a honest-to-goodness sports car because the supple ride is so good. But stamp the loud pedal and you’ll discover a flex-free body and integrity of handling that quickly dispels any doubts, while a glorious growl from the V8 momentarily intrudes upon the superb 240-watt Harman Kardon hi-fi.

The XK8 is one well-fettled sports car that just loves to tango. And while some may find the steering a little light, its accuracy really cannot be faulted. Hard-core drivers have the option of specifying the CATS electronically controlled adaptive damping with 18-inch alloy wheels and sport tune steering, which together minimise roll and tighten up the handling.

Even at entry-level, the XK8 is no pussycat (there is also a super-charged big brother XK8, the 370bhp XKR). Acceleration to 60mph is delivered on one long smooth 290lb ft wave of torque and takes 6.7 seconds. Maximum speed is limited to a genuine 155mph. Economy is surprisingly good and 23mpg around the houses is much better than you would expect from a 290bhp V8.

Driving is of the “turn the key and away you go” school. Everything is where you would instinctively expect it to be, and decisions are kept short and sweet. Do I want the roof down? Do I want to drive hard? Press a button on the console and the hood — one of the best engineered of any in the world — unlatches itself and retracts behind the rear seats.

Unusually, the top can be operated while on the move at speeds of up to 10mph. Select Sport mode or leave the J-gate to its own smooth-shifting devices. Finally: Do you want to eat in Paris tonight? If the answer is Yes, there are few luxury saloons — let alone high-performance sports cars — that will get you and your date to Maxim’s as unruffled as an XK8!

These days Jaguar build quality is impossible to fault: the paintwork and finish of our test car was flawless. There were no squeaks, rattles or groans and on a hard-driven press car that just has to be a good sign. Everything you could possibly want is standard from leather trim, 12-way electric driver and passenger front seats and an auto-dipping rearview mirror to an electrically adjustable steering wheel. Optional equipment includes the CATS suspension/steering pack, a navigation system, integrated dual-band GSM telephone, reverse parking aid and rain-sensing wipers.

Also available as an option is Jaguar’s innovative Adaptive Cruise Control system, which uses microwave radar technology to eliminate the need for the driver to adjust the set speed or disengage cruise control in order to avoid encroaching on slower-moving traffic ahead. By automatically adjusting the throttle and, if necessary, applying limited braking, ACC maintains a constant time gap to the vehicle in front, or allows the car to cruise at a constant speed if the lane
ahead is empty.

The brakes wipe off speed without drama, which is quietly reassuring when you give the lusty XK8 its head and you’re whipping past slower traffic. They’re equally confidence-inspiring in the wet too, because you know for a fact that the non-intrusive ABS will bring you to a safe stop — every time.

Safety and speed are not words that always go together well. However, the XK8 is as safe as Jaguar can make it, with Jaguar’s Adaptive Restraint Technology System (ARTS). This is the world’s first application of ultrasonic occupant sensing for front passengers and ensures airbags fire with a force that’s precisely right for the person’s size.

Ultrasonic sensors constantly monitor the position of the front passenger, while an array of other sensors detect their weight, the position of the driver in relation to the steering wheel, the usage of seat belts and, should a crash occur, the severity of the impact.

Armed with this information, ARTS provides optimum protection tailored to the individual needs of each front seat occupant and the specific characteristics of an impact. A major benefit of this system is that the risk of airbag-related injuries caused by inappropriate airbag deployments is also greatly reduced. In addition, front seat-mounted side airbags are incorporated into the outboard bolsters on both front seats, providing additional protection for the head and rib cage in severe side impacts.

It’s easy to make a case for owning one of Jaguar’s XK8s. For a start it’s an easy to live with premier league Grand Tourer that’s as happy to whisk you across Europe as it its to deliver you safely to work along traffic-choked commuter roads.

It has exotic looks, impressive road ability and is surprisingly economical. It’s also exceptional value for money — so much so that it’s hard to find a competitor that doesn’t cost at least twenty thousand pounds more.

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Jaguar XK8 Convertible
| £54,645
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 6.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23mpg | Power: 290bhp | Torque: 290lb ft
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------------------------------------------------------- Jaguar XK8 Convertible