Jaguar XK8/XKR Buying Guide

Potent yet sensuous, the XK8 is as adept as it is stunning, while the supercharged XKR delivers even more performance. Here’s how to find your perfect match

How much to pay

XK8: Project: £1700 - £4250, Good: £4250 - £11,000, Concours: £11,000 - £22,000
[XKR: Project: £5500 - £8000, Good: £8000 - £26,500, Concours: £26,500 - £37,500]

Overview

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★
Spares ★★★
DIY Friendly ★★
Investment ★★★
Desirability ★★★★

Possessing a rousing blend of a self-assured stare, a low stance, menacingly wide tyres, fluid curves and an-oh-so euphonious V8 burble, the Jaguar XK8 was an undeniably seductive package when new for any red-blooded individual.

Built upon the XJS platform and sharing somewhat blurred evolutionary ties with the Aston Martin DB7 and development of the F-type, the Jaguar XK8 was endowed with near 300bhp from the new AJ-V8 engine coupled with a responsive 5-speed automatic transmission. This promptly ensured all competitors would be given a damn good run for their money just after they’d been lured in by the stunning looks of this grand tourer.

Launched in 1996, the XK8 was initially released as a coupe before convertible editions also became available by the end of that year. Regardless of whether an XK8 was a soft-top model or not, all were generously furnished with leather and walnut trim, cues highly characteristic of its renowned British manufacturer. Were you to find yourself sitting inside the small but polished interior of an XK8, there’d be no denying how Jaguar heritage had clearly contributed to the smart aesthetics. Closer inspection still would reveal several modern features including electric seat adjustment, airbags, traction settings, anti-lock brakes and a cruise control system capable of reacting to the traffic ahead.

For those seeking even greater thrills, the supercharged XKR was released with 375bhp in 1998 and was said to be Jaguar’s answer to the market’s keen desire for a modern-day equivalent of the E-type.

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Several special editions of the XK8/XKR with alternative external design cues and trim options were released. These included the XK8 100 that celebrated the centenary of Sir William Lyons as well as the Silverstone edition of the XKR that coincided with Jaguar’s return to Formula 1 at the beginning of the millennium.

In 2003, a new 4.2-litre engine was fitted to both the XK8 and the XKR models, offering even more bountiful performance in an already popular package. Combined, the XK8 and XKR went on to become Jaguar’s best-selling sporting models until production ceased in 2005, which seems entirely fitting given that the XK8/XKR cars were the last to leave Jaguar’s spiritual home of the Browns Lane Factory in Coventry, UK.

Your AutoClassics Jaguar XK8/XKR inspection checklist

Engine

Regardless of whether you opt for a Nikasil or steel-lined engine, there are several general checks you can carry out to help establish whether your chosen XK8/XKR is a healthy vehicle or not. If still hesitant about the condition of the liners, you could opt to remove the cylinder head covers and disconnect each coil for a few seconds. The vehicle should crank readily, whereas reluctance to start may indicate existing wear and tear within the engine, a faulty throttle sensor or a blocked throttle body. Sensors can be replaced with ease while remedying blocked throttle bodies is not expensive but does require a little time and effort. If performing a compression test, you ideally want readings of ~200 psig as well as an absence of white smoke from the exhaust. Meanwhile, if the vehicle starts perfectly well but then idles poorly, the fuel injectors may require some cleaning and flow balancing. If this is the case, you may also note a Check Engine Light within the dashboard.

If you hear rattling upon start-up, this will likely be coming from a loose cam chain. This is likely to occur in an early model as these were fitted with flawed tensioners, although most owners will have up-dated this given that it is well-known in the relevant circles that degraded timing chain tensioners can take the engine with them should they let go completely, so check the vehicle’s history file for evidence of a cam chain change. If you go ahead with the purchase, booking the vehicle in for a replacement of the lower tensioners would be a wise move.

While amongst the documents, also check for any replacement of the water pump as early XK8s came with a one-piece water pump with a plastic impeller that was prone to failure. If there is no evidence of a substitute water pump being fitted and you go ahead with the purchase anyhow, ensure you get this done before using the car on a regular basis.
It is worthwhile giving the radiator fan and hoses a general look over as well as checking the coolant levels. On 4.2-litre models locate the oil cooler, which will be sat in front of the radiator and just below the power steering fluid heat exchanger, and check the condition of the hoses that run between this and the front of the engine. Look for coolant seepage on the housing located between the rear and front bearings. If you find any coolant leaks, or find cracks upon the hoses, have the hoses renewed immediately. Do not be overly alarmed by any smell of glycol while running the engine as the atmospheric recovery tank is vented beneath the chassis. This is often caused by a drip or two of coolant on the catalytic converter. It’s detectable by most but not a major issue. However, if the low coolant light comes on or the recovery tank is less than ¼ full, switch the engine off immediately as these need addressed urgently.

If the vehicle overheats, check the oil filler cap for a substance that looks much like mayonnaise and the coolant reservoir for hints of oil. If present, you may have a blown head gasket that will require an engine re-build. If not, and all seems well otherwise, a sticky thermostat may be the culprit but this is both easy and cheap to replace.

Because they function within a high-energy system and are therefore worked notably hard, it is wise to use a magnetic socket to extract and check on the health of the spark plugs. If you find oil within the plug wells, it is likely coming from the valve cover seals or the plugs were not torqued sufficiently when they were first installed. If this is the case, it is highly worthwhile installing a new set of robust single electrode plugs and then repeating every 45,000 miles thereafter.

Look for the fuel canisters located behind the rear axle as the hoses are prone to degradation and will need replaced if worn. If examining an XKR, check on the rubber hose beneath the supercharger as it tends to perish and benefits from being replaced every eight years or so. Adding a small pulley while doing so will increase boost and overall power.

Finally, if the exhaust sounds more noticeable than you anticipated and there are no leaks in the current system, a previous owner may have fitted a more open system to enhance the V8’s soundtrack. This shouldn’t pose any trouble if it has been securely fitted.

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Gearbox

All XK8/XKR models come with automatic transmission, which may not always hold immediate appeal to particularly keen drivers. However, be assured that the motoring press have been adamant in their praise for the gearboxes, reporting that they make an excellent suitor to the XK8’s handling and that they do not hinder the 290bhp in any way as it powers its way through the stocky rear wheels.

4.0-litre XK8/XKR models possess the ZF 5HP24 five-speed automatic transmission, while the supercharged editions utilise the five-speed W5A580 gearbox. Some 4.0-litre owners have reported issues with the five-speed system, including gear lock-ups and incidences of reverse being mistakenly engaged while in a forward gear. This partially results from patchy build quality and, on occasion, time with a previous owner who perhaps lacked the necessary level of mechanical sympathy. More often than not, when these issues strike, the output shaft or the planetary gear systems has let go and a replacement gearbox, bought second-hand, will cost around £600. Another perpetrator of gearbox woe could be a steel retaining clip that wears through the steel surround and falls out. If this has happened, the gears will likely be slipping or you will need to blip the throttle before Drive engages. When out on a test drive, any clunking noises or whining that occur with changes through the gearbox could be a warning that the system has been suffering and is on its way out.

It doesn’t help that Jaguar marketed the five-speed system as a ‘sealed for life’ unit, which likely encouraged a degree of ignorance from initial XK8/XKR clients. Conversely, the five-speed transmission does benefit from regular fluid changes, so it is wise to check the service history to see if the gearbox oil has been changed in line with mileage and if you do go ahead with purchase, make a note to refresh the transmission oil at least once every two years.

Meanwhile, should you be considering a 4.2-litre XK8/XKR, it will come fitted with a ZF 6HP26 six-speed automatic gearbox, which is generally acknowledged as a very sturdy and reliable system. The transmission possesses a lepelletier gear set that is capable of supporting an engine of up to 444 lb-ft torque. This is why you’ll find it fitted within many different luxury saloons and sports cars across a broad spectrum of car manufacturers.

However, don’t let the fact that you’re assessing a 4.2-litre XK8/XKR fool you into being lazy with transmission checks – you will still benefit from confirming that a primarily trouble-free system is indeed trouble-free. To do so, shift into the J-gate under a variety of conditions (flat, incline, decline, etc.) and observe the car’s behaviour. There should be smooth downshifting taking place and the exhaust should not pop between changes. If the optional feature of Jaguar’s Adaptive Cruise Control is present, ensure to engage and disengage cruise control a few times while out on the road in-order to check that the system matches your expectations and works without niggles.

Finally, if you really adore the XK8/XKR but just can’t face life as a non-manual driver, a six-speed manual conversion using components from the Aston Martin Vanquish is available from Elite and Performance Jags in Derby, UK.

Suspension and brakes

If assessing an XKR, you will find Computer-Active Technology Suspension fitted as standard. It is an excellent system that adjusts the dampers between a hard and soft set-up for improved composure while also stopping the front end from kissing the road upon harsh braking and the back end from squatting if the throttle pedal happens to encounter a lead foot. The XK8 was not blessed with this feature but it can be installed if desired. It’s not a cheap option but it will make for a very worthwhile investment.

Out on a test drive in either an XK8 or an XKR, you should be able to feel the stiff suspension and cornering should be a fuss-free and lean-free process. If the steering feels vague, either worn out track rod ends or degraded suspension bushes may be to blame.

If out in a pre-2000 model, be aware that these earlier cars are more prone to wear of the steering column, which will both feel and sound like a knocking noise coming through the steering wheel. Post-2000 vehicles are less likely to suffer this problem but if they do, the equivalent replacements are much more expensive, so be wary.

As well as casting your eye over the suspension front and rear, be sure to also assess the condition of the tyres as these can serve as reliable indicators of set-up issues. Uneven wear on the rear tyres suggests worn suspension components at the back of the vehicle. Meanwhile, unusual tread up front, including feathering around the edges of the front tyres, may have been caused by failed wishbone bushes. These usually need replaced every 20,000 miles thanks to the demand of constantly supporting the XK’s weight, so it’s also a good idea to check the service history for details of when this was last addressed. Also check when the front wheel bearings last received some TLC for they also contribute to stress on the tyres if they’ve become tired. This is most likely to occur on a car that has seen some track day action.

Should any warning lights on the dashboard come up relating to suspension and you are testing a model with the Computer-Active Technology Suspension, this has likely been caused by worn wires connected to the suspension and a replacement section of wiring loom will be needed to remedy this.

Meanwhile, the brakes fitted as standard are considered to be excellent but for supreme stopping power, you may wish to look for a vehicle that comes with the Brembo braking system installed or have it added later on. If going with the Brembo option, bear in mind that the front callipers need to be cleaned every three years or so to prevent the pads binding.

Whichever system you have in front of you, do the same checks you would with any other car in ensuring that it slows in a straight line and that the vehicle brakes as you would expect it to. Judder coming through the steering wheel upon braking suggests the pads require changing. Check the brake pipes haven’t rusted badly as this is a common rot spot and ensure there are no calliper leaks evident.

Finally, remember to check the handbrake functions sufficiently for your requirements as it has limited adjustment thanks to having come from the earlier Jaguar XJS.

Bodywork

Mounted onto a revised XJS floor-pan, the bodywork of an XK8/XKR is stiffer yet far lighter than its predecessor. Use of modern high-strength steel has resulted in a 25% increase in torsional rigidity and far fewer panels overall, with crumple zones incorporated on the front and rear corners. These developments created a very rigid and safe structure but, as with all vehicles, there are still some key checks to undertake prior to purchase.

One of the first things you’ll likely notice about the XK8/XKR is just how low to the ground it sits. Even careful owners are likely to have caught the front on a driveway, gutter or speed bump at some point so ensure to inspect the underside of the front edge of the car. Most scrapes can be remedied with basic sanding and repainting but major signs of stress in this area could suggest the car has been treated carelessly overall and you may wish to reconsider. If assessing an XKR, inspect the intercooler as this can be damaged when the car bottoms out.

Elsewhere, the XK8/XKR is renowned for its ability to fend off corrosion but be particularly wary of rust within the front footwells and around the rear wheel arches on early models. Lift the carpets to check the condition of the floor and also check behind the rear wheel arch liners, as these tend to catch road salt and general debris that will contribute to premature degradation. It is also worth checking the central jacking point.

If assessing a convertible, look along the sills in the area that sits directly in line with the door handle to ensure there is no cracking or structural weakness from body flex in this area. You will also want to ensure that the fabric roof is in excellent condition with no obvious rips or tears. If the weather is cooler, it’s also an idea to check the heating element of the rear window glass functions well and that the roof is capable of opening or closing within 20 seconds. If the mechanicals are slow or sound unusually laboured, this may mean that the hydraulic fluid is in need of replacement.

Gently try to move the rear bumper back and forth – movement indicates that the metal guides to which the bumper attaches have rusted through, which can be a tricky fix. Check the headlights for cracks as these can be expensive to replace.

Open the boot and check where the battery tray is welded in place whilst under the bonnet you want to check that the drain holes are clear as well as along the bottom edge of the windscreen for signs of rust. Ideally you want the windscreen rubbers in near new condition as these can be costly to replace and also inspect the windscreen as the glass is soft and therefore fairly prone to pitting. It’s also worth checking for worn tubing between the windscreen trough and the arm mounted nozzles and to check the cap of the arm pivot is still in place as it has a tendency to go missing due to the low pressure area that forms over the rear edge of the bonnet at higher speeds. If missing, replacing it will prevent the pivot from seizing.

Give the paintwork a general look over for scratches and stone chips. Should you spot peeling of the lacquer, this will require a re-spray to rectify. This is more likely to occur on a XK8/XKR with a metallic finish.

A brief inspection of the wheels is also worthwhile. As standard, the XK8 came with 17” alloys while the XKR was fitted with 18” alloys. For an additional cost, 19” and 20” options were also available. Trapped moisture can unfortunately lead to the wheel hubs becoming quite tatty far quicker than one would expect. If your XK8/XKR comes with OEM chrome wheels, these may eventually experience plating separation that will then cause the tyres to slowly lose pressure. A recommended check is to look around the perimeter of the central growler badge – if you see raised and separating chrome here, it is likely that the wheels and tyres already have this aforementioned problem. If you spot grey epoxy paint where you’d expect to find chrome, the car has already been fitted with newer wheels that will not possess this fault.

Interior

One of the first things you’ll notice about the XK8/XKR cabin is that it lacks much in the way of space but it is the compromise to be made in exchange for such an attractive exterior. However, Jaguar have been particularly generous when it comes to the lavishly appointed interior with its shaped leather front seats, burl walnut trim, a charismatic fly-off handbrake and side airbags. The XK8/XKR simultaneously carries elements that would be considered traditional to the Jaguar brand while also showcasing the best of what was modern upon launch.

An aspect of the upholstery that is especially likely to show signs of wear is the driver’s seat outer bolster. This is because this area incurs friction as the driver gets in and out of the low-positioned car. Also check the overall wear on the steering wheel and centre console as these areas are also prone to damage. It is simple to replace these sections but the fact that they have been neglected may be indicative of a previous owner’s general lack of care.

Check that the seat control modules, mounted under the front of the seat base, are intact and that the seats adjust as desired.

Look for signs of peeling or scratches on the veneer as these may be indicative of poor care before now. Inspect the gearshift selector to see if there are any signs that it has been removed in the past for work on the car you may not already know about.

There are many features controlled purely by electronics so it is essential to engage all that you can find and confirm that they operate as you would expect. Ensure to check that the frameless windows drop slightly during door opening and then rises back up after closing. If there are issues, it could be due to a faulty motor or switch, a low battery or problems within the charging systems. All check that the radio antenna extends and retracts.

Some models will come with an optional satellite navigation system integrated into the dashboard. Although useful to have it’s not worth paying a great deal extra for as most would consider it somewhat outdated by modern-day equivalents. What is worth investing in includes heated seats, stereo upgrades and Recaro seats. These are most likely to be found within an XKR and add a good deal of desirability should you consider selling down the line.

Finally, check whether two key fobs are included in the sale or not and if so, do they both work? If not, not only will any flat batteries need changed, but the offending fob will need reprogrammed by a Jaguar dealer, which can be an irritating cost.

History

1996: XK8 launched with a 3996cc V8
1998: XKR joins the party with a 370bhp supercharged 4.0-litre engine
2000: Silverstone XKR launched in celebration of Jaguar’s return to F1 racing in 2001
2001: XK8 100 launched to celebrate a centenary of Sir William Lyons
2003: New 4.2-litre AJ34 engines fitted in both normally aspirated and supercharged variations
2005: Limited S edition released before the eventual cease in XK8/XKR production in favour of the Jaguar XK

AutoClassics say...

Both the XK8 and XKR are particularly handsome sports cars that offer a wealth of features and performance for a relatively low investment. However, it pays to choose carefully and be a choosy customer for many parts and minor niggles can result in pricey repair bills.

There are some who will try to convince you that you will only be buying an expensive Ford in the guise of an XK8/XKR but don’t listen. The brake pedal rubber is the same as to be found in a Mondeo and the fuel injectors are borrowed from the Focus but otherwise, all else is pure pulsating Jaguar.

If your budget can stretch, an XKR will provide a superior level of performance over the XK8 totalling to an incredible 390bhp. Not that the XK8 is a slouch, being capable of delivering a very respectable 0-60 time of 6.4 seconds. Convertibles are generally more expensive than coupes, although the coupe tends to have a sleeker look overall so it really is down to individual taste. Additional extras such as extra large wheels, stereo upgrades and Recaro seats aren’t essential but worth considering if you wish to make a profit when it comes to selling in the future.

Utterly usable on a day-to-day basis as well as stunning outwardly and within, the XK8/XKR makes for a stylish and charismatic choice that won’t break the bank to obtain. Steer away from XK8/XKRs that are too cheap to be a good proposition in the first place, check the vehicle over thoroughly before purchase and ensure to stick to your maintenance schedule with meticulous precision and in return for looking after this big cat, she’ll look after you.

Specifications

XK8 4.0-Litre
  Power 290bhp
  Top speed 155mph
  0-60mph 6.4sec
  Economy 22mpg

XK8 4.2-Litre
  Power 300bhp
  Top speed 155mph
  0-60mph 6.1sec
  Economy 24mpg

XKR 4.0-Litre Supercharged
  Power 370bhp
  Top speed 155mph
  0-60mph 5.2sec
  Economy 22mpg

XKR 4.2-Litre Supercharged
  Power 400bhp
  Top speed 155mph
  0-60mph 5.1sec
  Economy 22mpg

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