The new Jaguar XK8 coupe and convertible provide satisfaction for two kinds of Jaguar fans -- those who thrill at its distinctive sleekness and those who love the car's road performance.
Every XK8 is restyled this year for the first time since the 1997 model made its debut in calendar 1996.
They are slight touchups, to be sure, but the jewel-look taillights, better-integrated fog lamps and new chrome on the trunk lid give the car a richer look.
Unfortunately, the odd, snubbed-up rear end remains. It doesn't quite fit the otherwise gracefully styled car but does boost the aerodynamics.
Fortunately, nothing has changed Jaguar's wonderfully smooth and responsive 4-liter, double overhead cam, AJ-V8 engine.
The XK8 convertible test car had a base -- if you can call it that -- 290 horsepower and 290 foot-pounds of torque. In the city, I got up to speed so quickly, I was often on top of the other cars' bumpers before I knew it.
On a five-hour drive, I zoomed along highways, struggling to stay within speed limits. No wonder Jaguar calls the XK8 a "sports car."
The amount of road vibration from the XK8 is a surprise; it's more than what might be expected from this gracefully constructed car. It's not a harsh ride, but there's a decided firmness. Driving enthusiasts will appreciate the car's comforting feel for the road.
Steering reaction is quick, too. Combined with performance-rated, 17-inch tires, this gives the XK8s a sport-handling capability that most owners would be hard-pressed to take to the limit.
Too bad Jaguar hasn't fixed the driver footrest. When the XK8 was introduced in the 1990s, I noticed how difficult it was for this 5-foot-4 driver to brace herself on the slippery leather seat in aggressive driving maneuvers.
The problem is repeated in the 2001 model, although the new owner's manual does show a pedal extender available for retrofit.
By far the biggest change in the XK8 line, which also includes the supercharged XKR model, is this year's limited-production XKR Silverstone. Just 500 of the platinum silver-painted cars are available worldwide; about 200 are destined for the United States, most of them convertibles.
The high-performance Silverstone comes with all the high-end features you get with the regular XK8 as well as the 370-horsepower, supercharged V8 that distinguishes the regular XKR.
But with high-capacity Brembo brakes, unique, 20-inch wheels, lower ride height and modified, sport-tuned suspension, this is an XK8 unlike any other in terms of handling.
Tested on a race track, the Silverstone blasted through corners with a grip that was unreal. The chassis stiffness was palpable in every movement, helping the Silverstone manage even the most aggressive maneuvers in a balanced way.
This two-door model felt substantial, yet it quickly tore down the straightaway with an impressive surge of power. Jaguar estimates the 3,700-plus-pound Silverstone can do 0-to-60 mph in 5.3 seconds. Torque is the same 387 foot-pounds at 3,600 rpm as in the regular XKR.
That compares with 5.9 seconds by the heavier Mercedes-Benz SL600, which has a 389-horsepower, 6-liter V12 and puts out 420 foot-pounds of torque at 3,800 rpm.
Note the Silverstone carries a premium price of $97,500, including manufacturer's suggested retail price and destination charge. Starting price for the entry model XK8 coupe -- non-supercharged -- is $69,750. It's $74,750 for the XK8 convertible.
The Mercedes SL-Class starts at $84,445 for an SL500 and $129,595 for an SL600.
Other changes to the 2001 XK8 include a safety system that uses sensors to detect if the driver and front-seat passenger are wearing seat belts, how severe a crash is and whether the front passenger is a small adult or child. All these factors help regulate deployment of the front airbags.
Jaguar also adds more standard equipment to the XK8, including a sensing system that beeps with increasing frequency as the car backs closer and closer to an object behind it. This obstacle detection system was so helpful I didn't have twist and crane as much as usual when parallel parking.
Heated seats and a 320-watt Alpine sound system with six-disc CD changer are now standard in XK8s. But the CD changer remains inconveniently located in the XK8 trunk. Many other vehicles offer six-disc CD changers that fit into the dashboard.
Jaguar also adds the option of new, R Performance parts in 2001. These include special, stylized wheels for the XK8s priced at $3,395 and more.
Interior gauges, however, remain small, deep-set circles, and their numbers are not as easy to read as in some other cars. And the J-shaped shot for the shifter, which permits five-speed clutchless shifting, isn't particularly ergonomic.
The driver must pull the lever toward the body for the first downshift from "drive" to fourth. To shift down to third gear, the driver must push the shift lever up in the gate.
The convertible's power top is nicely lined and insulated and is fully automatic.
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