2005 Jaguar XK8 Photo
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You don’t draw a moustache on the Mona Lisa. You don’t put Pamela Anderson’s face (or other features) on the Statue of Liberty. And you don’t go making casual changes to Jaguar’s XK8/XKR coupe and convertible.

There are quite a few good-looking automobiles on the market today, and plenty that are fun to drive. But it’s the rare car that can match the combination of elegant styling and serious performance delivered by the XK. So we started to wonder — and worry — when we heard that the British automaker would be making changes for the 2005 model-year.

Tweaks might be the better word. The XK went through a much more dramatic transition two years ago. For the 2003 model year, the changes included a larger 4.2-liter engine and a six-speed ZF gearbox. The 2005 updates are far more modest, but will still be apparent to XK aficionados, as we discovered during a recent run through Texas hill country.

Beefy angles

2005 Jaguar XK8

2005 Jaguar XK8

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Most folks will be likely to get their first look at an ’05 as it races up in the rearview mirror. From that angle, the most noticeable change is the beefier and more aggressive grille. On the XK8, there’s a larger chrome crossbeam. The ’05 cars lose those little bumperettes, which always had the look of being bolted on at the last minute. All versions of the XK get a more aggressive lower air scoop. Add to the XKR a set of larger, 20-inch wheels and tires and a larger, functional spoiler. All models get sporty new wheels, different window surrounds and revised front bumpers.

The most controversial change comes with the taillights, which, to our eye, now look a little too much like they belong on the Ford Taurus. But on the whole, the ’05 changes enhance an already elegant design.

Styling has always been a hallmark of Jaguar’s cars. The E-Type remains one of the most recognizable — and lusted after — products ever to hit the highway. Yet it’s the XK that has proved the fastest-selling sports car in Jaguar history. Rolled out in both coupe and convertible body styles, the 2+2 has been on the market since 1996, yet in a market where designs get stale surprisingly fast, the XK remains just as attractive as it did nearly nine years ago.

As always, the ’05 will continue to be offered as both coupe and convertible.

Road grit

2005 Jaguar XK8

2005 Jaguar XK8

Enlarge Photo
While the styling holds up, what about performance and handling? At 390 horsepower, the XKR was originally one of the elite in the horsepower race. These days, it’s little more than middle of the pack, but numbers can be misleading. Stomp on the throttle, and you’ll feel yourself sinking deep into the car’s leather seats. Even the base car is quick, thanks to the ’03 engine upgrade.

Over the last few years, Jaguar has added a variety of features meant to keep the XK series technologically competitive. The car has a reasonably easy-to-use navigation system with a mid-size screen mounted high on the center stack. There’s an optional automatic cruise control system, its radar guidance unit doubling as an obstacle detection system. The XKR features massive Brembo brakes and Xenon headlamps, the latter system optional on the XK8.

For 2005, Jaguar also adds an automatic speed limiter. Set it to limit your top speed, a handy feature for lead-footed drivers who must pass through speed traps.

Where the XK shows its age most clearly is in its handling on rough and twisty roads. Blasting around corners, the Jag is competent and predictable. For those who want the maximum in handling, we’d recommend going with the electronic, or CATS, suspension. But there’s no hiding the fact that the XK’s chassis is not nearly as stiff as more recent competitors. That becomes all the more obvious in the convertible, which flexes noticeably on roads that would be taken in stride by the likes of a Mercedes-Benz SL.

So those who are looking for the ultimate in handling and performance may decide to look elsewhere. But life — and automobiles — are all about compromise. And the vast majority of motorists are never going to push a car like this to its limits. For them, styling is supreme. And there, it’d be hard to find another car that can compare with the Jaguar XK.

2005 Jaguar XK Coupe and Convertible

Base price: $70,495 (XK8 coupe); $75,495 (XK8 convertible); $82,995 (XKR coupe); $87,995 (XKR convertible)
Engine:4.2 liter V-8, 294 hp/303 lb-ft (XK8); supercharged 4.2-liter V-8, 390 hp/399 lb-ft (XKR)
Drivetrain: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
Length x width x height (inches): 188.0 x 70.8 x 50.5 in (51.0 in, convertible)
Wheelbase: 101.9 in
Curb weight: 3715 - 4001 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 17/24 mpg (XK8); 16/23 mpg (XKR)
Safety equipment: Driver and passenger front airbags; side airbags; four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control; stability control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Traction Control, ARTS smart airbag system
Major standard equipment: Tilt/telescoping steering wheel, AM/FM/CD stereo, power doors, windows, mirrors, remote keyfob control, leather seats, digital climate control
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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