Jaguar has a long history of building powerful, sexy-looking cars, with the XK designation being the best representative of that tradition (think XKSS, XK120 and 150, XKE). The 2003 XK8/XKR coupes and convertibles continue the legacy. Visually, the new XKs aren't much different from the outgoing models. The classic lines and seductive curves remain the same, with subtle styling details denoting the next generation. Jaguar calls it "freshening." Both XK models have new sculpted "growler" badges, while the XKRs have prominent "R" logos on the left rear bumper and under each side's driving lights. The "R" also sports power-indicative hood louvers and a fine-mesh grille in the front spoiler. The same "R" logo is also found inside on the gearshift knob. The XK8s now come standard with 18-in. Centaur wheels--19-in. Apollo wheels are optional. The XKR's wheelwells are also filled with 18-in. Hydras, but an optional set of 20-in. wheels, in either Paris, Montreal or Detroit styles, can also be fitted.
Where the "new" really comes in is underneath and inside with 900 or so part-number changes. The most significant of these are the two new engines, which made their debut in the new S-Types but have been specifically engineered for the XKs. The XK8 is powered by Jaguar's new AJ34 4.2-liter V8 with Variable Camshaft Phasing. Power is upped 14 bhp from the previous 4.0L to 294 bhp at 6000 rpm and 303 lb-ft of torque at 4100 rpm. The supercharged XKR also has the 4.2-liter V8, but with fixed cam phasing, stronger pistons and oil jet coiling on the piston crowns' undersides to handle the additional stress and heat. The belt-driven rotor-type Eaton supercharger ups the V8's potential to 390 bhp at 6100 rpm and 399 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm.
Both engines are mated to the new ZF 6HP26 six-speed automatic transmission. The new tranny weighs only 196 lb (a 12% or 27-lb weight savings over the previous five-speed) and is controlled by a Bosch "Mechatronic" control module and operated by a revised version of Jaguar's famous (or infamous, depending upon your preference) J-Gate gear selector. A Sport-mode button next to the shift lever raises the shift points, allowing for better use of the engine's power. The rigid two-door monocoque body has been made even stiffer through the use of high-strength steels in crucial locations. The XK's suspension was engineered to match and enhance the shell's characteristics. Up front are double, unequal-length wishbones, coil springs and telescopic shocks. The springs are mounted directly onto the body, and the wishbones are secured to a rigid, yet lightweight all-aluminum-alloy front crossbeam. At the rear, an unequal-length wishbone layout with the driveshafts acting as upper links, coil springs and independent telescopic shocks complete the setup. Dynamic stability control and traction control are standard on the XKs. The XKR also boasts Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) system. The electronic control system combines uprated springs and anti-roll bars for increased roll stiffness and adaptive shocks that are continuously adjusted to enhance ride control and comfort.
The XK's brakes are more than up to the task of halting the V8's forward motion. The XK8 features radially ventilated disc brakes at all four corners, sized 12.80 x 1.10 in. in the front and 12 x 0.79 in. at the rear. The supercharged version has the prerequisite larger discs to handle the increase in power. The fronts measure 13.98 x 1.26 in., the rears are 12.99 x 1.10 in. The XKR also boasts Brembo-made four-piston aluminum calipers that bear the distinctive Jaguar R Performance logo. All models have four-channel ABS and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA).
It wouldn't be a new, modern-day Jaguar without a host of electronic aids. The Adaptive Restraint Technology System (A.R.T.S.) is standard on all XKs, providing a significant advance in passive safety systems. A.R.T.S. uses ultrasonic technology and a seat weight sensor to detect the presence, position and size of the front-seat passenger, which is then used to determine the appropriate airbag energy levels. Cruise control is, of course, standard on both models, while Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is optional for the XKR. ACC detects slower vehicles ahead or another vehicle crossing into your lane and adjusts your speed accordingly in order to maintain a pre-set timed gap. ACC also features Forward Alert, which gives an audible warning of slowing traffic but does not slow the vehicle automatically. Other nifty extras include a Navigation system (standard on the R, optional on the 8), JaguarNet (optional for both), and xenon headlights (also standard on the R, optional on the 8).
The interior is what you would expect from Jaguar. Leather trim abounds, as does the traditional burr walnut wood veneer. A gray-stained bird's-eye maple veneer and full leather seat facings are special order options. Options specific to the R versions include Recaro sport seats, a MOMO all-leather steering wheel and a MOMO gearshift knob. The driver's seat is electronically adjustable 12 ways and has a door-mounted two-driver memory. The passenger seat moves eight ways and both front seats are heated. The wood and leather steering wheel is multi-functional (cruise, audio and phone controls) and is electronically adjustable for both reach and tilt. Speaking of audio, a Premium Sound Alpine system with nine speakers (eight for the convertible) and a trunk-mounted six-disc CD changer are now standard across the range.
One would think all of the aforementioned improvements would come at a cost. Not so for the XK line. The new XK8 coupe lists at $69,975, the convertible at $74,975. The XKR coupe starts at $81,975 and the drop-top at $86,975. The prices are the same as for the 2002 models, making the tradition not only best-looking but relatively affordable as well.