(first posted 10/13/2016) In contrast to the rather staid news from Asian brands for 1997, the Europeans let loose a slew of interesting new products. Car and Driver served up some “Short Takes” and “First Drives” on some of the newest European hardware in the October 1996 issue, including the Jaguar XK8, Bentley Continental T, Porsche Boxster, Volvo C70 and Audi A8.
Of all the “retro-look” Jaguars, the XK8 is my absolute favorite. I still think it looks good even today. In 1997, the look was a fresh but very identifiable take on classic Coventry styling cues. The interior, with the big, beautiful “plank” of polished wood trim looks particularly luxurious and striking, and the array of gauges is a nice old-school touch too. Even though it was a 20+ year-old XJS underneath, the XK8 looked great, handled well enough for a grand touring car and offered smooth power with the new AJ V8. While definitely not cheap at $78,308 ($120,209 adjusted), the XK8 convertible undercut the Mercedes SL by 25% and was half the price of its Aston Martin DB7 Volante platform mate. A gorgeous half-priced Aston with a V8? I’d take that any day!
One of my quirks as a car enthusiast is that I am just not particularly excited by “super cars” and “exotics.” Don’t get me wrong, I love expensive, beautiful and special cars, but find the ones that can be obtained by “mere mortals” to be the most interesting. I also love rare cars–I’m thrilled to see a 1970 In-Violet Hemi ‘Cuda, for example. But while the restored ‘Cuda prices today are obscene, when new, the Plymouth was probably first purchased by a “normal” car enthusiast, not Daddy Warbucks. There’s something about the over-the-top extremism of these “exotic” cars that I find off-putting. Maybe it’s the fact that, other than exclusivity, they really are no better than top luxury and sports cars costing half as much. Or the fact that only trust fund babies, hedge fund operators, drug kingpins, top athletes and Hollywood types seem to drive them. Just. Too. Much. That’s also why I find today’s buff books so boring to read–since all they seem to cover are these types of unreachable and unrealistic machinery. And that’s why, even if I won the biggest PowerBall jackpot ever and could go wild buying fun cars, the one I’d pick for its engine-turned aluminum dash trim would be a mint-condition 1977 Firebird Trans Am, not this Bentley Continental T.
The Germans were looking to drive the 2-seat roadster phenomenon upmarket in the mid-1990s. BMW introduced the Z3 Roadster for 1996, while Mercedes announced the SLK and Porsche introduced the Boxster for 1997. Of the German two-seat trio, naturally the one that came closest to being a true sports car was the Porsche. Though sometimes derided as not enough of a “real” Porsche (like the 914 or 924), in reality the Boxster was pure Stuttgart and in many ways a reinterpretation of the original 912/911 concept. Nor was the Boxster particularly cheap: at $45,000 ($69,078 adjusted) it was even pricier than a 911 was in 1965 ($6,490–$49,623 adjusted).
I must admit I had completely forgotten that this Volvo coupe ever existed. Clearly, the “wild and crazy” intentions of this “sexier” Volvo were never really realized.
Here’s a rare and rather exotic car I do find quite interesting. The 1997 A8 was the most aluminum-intensive car available on the U.S. market that year. While the aluminum body work was extremely inconvenient to repair after an accident, the benefits of aluminum in the form of lighter weight, better performance and better efficiency were significant advantages. Sure, it looked like a jumbo A4 (a perennial Audi styling problem), but it was good looking nonetheless. Given the amount of sophisticated technology, safety, roominess and comfort on offer, the $65,000 ($99,780 adjusted) wasn’t unreasonable for an über-luxury sedan. A select few buyers were bold enough to “go aluminum” with this car, and for that alone it should be considered something of a milestone.
By 1997 it was clear that European makers were intending to push back against the Japanese onslaught that had stunned them in the early 1990s. Whether all-new or nice re-skins, there was a lot of distinctive product on offer to regain traction with America’s top-tier car buyers.
I am with you. This high end stuff does nothing for me either. I don’t need a Bentley to make a beer run, and I don’t need a Rolex to see what time it is. Did have a customer who bought a Boxster, was such a POS he dumped it for a Miata, and never looked back.
It’s all about quality. If one buys a Bentley, they’re getting the best of the best, no cost cutting allowed. The best woods, leathers, engines…
But each to their own.
You’re getting spare-no-expense build quality and materials. Whether the mechanicals hold up as well as those of a garden-variety Camry or Accord is another matter.
Don’t knock Rolex watches. People think they’re delicate…when they are anything but! My uncle had one…he is a big-rig mechanic. It wasn’t new when he got it, and while he owned it, that watch was covered in coolant, bathed in diesel fuel, dunked in used Detroit Diesel engine oil, caked in bearing grease, cleaned with kerosene…and never missed a second.
A friend bought a new Boxter then and I got a ride in it. that is the closest I will ever get to Porsche ownership. 🙂
I had one interaction with an A8 of this generation, too. I got involved in a case where some poor uninsured schmuck hit a nearly new A8 on a curvy country road. I had never seen that kind of expense going into a collision repair before, and the file was full of pictures of someone holding a very expensive part that had to be special ordered. I always felt sorry for the poor bastard that ran into that Audi, because the judgment against him was eye-popping for a garden variety property damage case.
The lesson is to make sure your insurance limits are nice and high. On that day when you have that momentary lapse in attention and hit another car, you might hit a fifteen year old Taurus. Or you might hit something like this.
I have a hard time feeling sorry for anyone without insurance when they cause a loss for someone else. It’s not that expensive and if it is there’s usually a good reason for it being so. He’s lucky he hit a car and not a person. He should be off the road, period.
I feel sorry for the Audi driver that somehow has to collect on that judgment from someone who didn’t have the money for insurance in the first place…
My fear is not hitting one moderately expensive car but rather somehow causing a wreck that takes out half a dozen “regular” cars. That’s the scenario people don’t think about but could fairly easily occur and bingo, you’re way over your limits.
I get what you mean about uninsured drivers. I will say that I have dealt with enough of them to know that (as with anything) there is a range. There are those who do it on purpose over long periods, and there are those whose spouse or parent didn’t get the bill paid on time and didn’t mention the cancellation. Then there are the people with too many bills and not enough money who take a chance for a couple of weeks, promising to be extra, extra careful – until . . . .
In my state the minimum legal limit for property damage coverage is $10k. That would pay for a moderately decent new car in the early 80s, but it won’t pay for squat now. Ditto the $25k bodily injury minimum. Many times, being underinsured is the biggest risk even for folks who are legal with coverage.
Yeah, those situation suck. The legal minimums are a joke and have been. Actually even many of the maximum available limits really don’t protect you from worst-case scenarios either if you have assets. I use an umbrella policy on top of everything else. Cheap for the amount of money it makes available. Anything to give your colleagues something to go after besides my house… 🙂 Actually I like to figure that the more the insurance company has to lose on my behalf, the better representation they might send me to protect themselves.
I agree, over insuring is one of the best way to make good use from an insurance company, and probably that’s how many lawsuits were involved internationally if an American citizen was injured or killed, for the multi-million dollar claim, insurance company has to try recovering something or find the responsible party.
Wouldn’t the Audi driver have had uninsured motorist coverage as protection against this very scenario?
The Audi driver’s insurance company would have made him/her whole, and then the insurance company would have gone after the uninsured motorist. But the Audi driver wouldn’t have been the one left holding the bag.
Yup, that’s what I was doing.
Bentley continental’s interior almost looks as sporty as Chevrolet Caprice PPV without the wood.
Yup, just graft in a 70s Trans Am dash bezel and it’s there
True, but without the Screaming Chicken – or Howling Corgi, I suppose, since it’s an English car – hood decal, it’s just not the same. 😉
90’s don’t look so boring to me…
I still think this generation of Continental was the best product that Bentley ever put out, it still looks sharp, even to this day, and it’s miles ahead of the current product lineup in terms of aesthetics.
I like the XK8 as well, another very sharp looking car that holds up today. I never liked the later revisions and versions of it, the first iteration always will remain my favorite.
Wouldn’t want to own either of them, I’m pretty sure they very complex and require a ton of intricate upkeep in order to keep running.
Actually, looking at all the luxury cars that came out or were available in the 90s, I notice a pattern. Most of them look superb, they’re forward thinking, and they have a lot of good points about them. But, at the same time, they’re all very complex and delicate money pits that have tons of teething issues and idiosyncrasies that make them a PITA to own for anyone brave enough (Or stupid enough, depending on how cynical you want to be) to consider a used example as a DD or a second car. (Lexus is probably the only car company I can think of off the top of my head this period that built luxury cars that were reasonably reliable.)
Those complex problems shrink as one’s wallet expands. If you can afford to fix what breaks, the rest of the car is worth it.
The XK8 looks best in coupe form, I think. I’m not as crazy about the convertible.
I’m still driving a 98 no point in replacing it as later cars are generally worse with myriad un neccessary electronic nannies to annoy and break, at least my car is simple to fix comfortable and quiet to drive and ridiculously economical even with the faulty injector pump it still starts reliably and will soon get a birthday as soon as the parts arrive new timing belt waterpump and a switch to Bosch diesel injector pump after about 350,000kms the Lucas unit has reached the end of its useful life. My car wasnt in production in 97 so unlikely to be featured by C&D they seem too busy drooling over the big dollar cars mere peasants can’t afford.
Yeah I just can’t muster up enthusiasm for cars that approach the cost of a house. There was a point where this end of the market provided leading edge products where lower cost automakers had something strive for, whether it be technology or styling, and in the case of exotics often weren’t that far removed from race cars. But at some point race cars became too track specific, relegating their roadcars to occasionally attractive but mostly flash in the pan status symbols, while for the Roller/Bentley set, technology and style largely caught up in most meaningful ways, beyond overkill details like a leather wrapped finely crafted ash tray door.
That was certainly the case for this Bentley as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather own a Lincoln Mark VII. What a philistine I am!
The XK8 coupe has grown on me though, looking back that may be the best looking Jag since the E-type to date
Matt you’re not a Philistine! After a disastrous ownership experience with my ’87 VW jetta in the late ’90s/early 2000’s I was mighty happy to be driving a dead reliable ’96 Ford Escort wagon. I loved that car! And I was nearly as happy with the ’04 and ’07 Focus wagons that followed.
I don’t need a fancy super-expensive car to feel good about who I am. These articles are interesting to see how the 1% live, but they don’t make me want to be one of the 1% by a long shot. Pretty happy with my life as it is. Contentment has its own rewards.
I forget how cheap housing is in other parts of the country. I have 2 Bentleys left on my condo mortgage and we are by no means well off.
Well put. After reading about a new Bentley with a *clock* that cost as much as a new car, I just gave up. Wretched excess has reached the saturation point, and a nice reliable, down-to-earth car looks mighty good by comparison.
Reading about that XK8 really just made me want an SC400/Soarer. And of course, 3-rotor Cosmos can now be imported…
I still drool over that generation C70. What a smooth, timeless design.
Too bad it’s wrong wheel drive.
As an owner of a 98 C70 coupe, I have always liked the design, especially from the rear quarter view.
Volvo could have offered AWD on the coupe and convertible, but since so much of it was based on the existing 70 series, strictly RWD was unlikely.
Saab seemed to do ok with their FWD cars, and that was what Volvo was targeting, not BMW.
For those of us in snow country driving on public roads it is right wheel drive.
Lifelong New Englander here…and wrong wheel drive still sucks. Current winter ride is a Crown Victoria.
Yes, that Crown Victoria is all about the driving dynamics 🙂 There are plenty of FWD cars that drive/handle better than plenty of RWD cars. It’s all in the application/engineering.
What exactly is it that makes FWD “suck” on the whole? That’s a pretty broad brush to paint the majority of today’s vehicles with, plenty of which are just used to get from A to B.
I’ll stick up for John here, as I have always preferred a well-balanced RWD car on snow and ice. “Well-balanced” being the critical term, which eliminates Mustangs, G body Cutlasses, and GM A bodies from 1968-77.
FWD only seems advantageous by plunking an outsized amount of weight over the drive wheels, which is great until you have to start steering on really slick surfaces. There is only so much traction available on low-friction surfaces, and when the front wheels need to power the car and turn at the same time, that is often a problem. Also, RWD allows you to steer the rear end with the throttle on slick streets when the front end is not coming around quickly enough. My 93 Crown Vic was an excellent snow car. With decent tires, it would get me anywhere I had any business being in that kind of weather.
On the same size platform FWD is going to have these negatives…
* Longer front overhang which is bad for styling
* More weight over front wheels and bias towards the front which is bad for handling feel
* With all of the power these days more torque steer which causes an annoying tug at the wheel
* Usually a more tightly crammed engine bay which makes service and collision repair cost more
* Larger turning circle
The positives are…
* Lower cost
* Lower weight / better MPG
* More passenger compartment and trunk room for the same exterior size
The positives are why FWD is OK for segments where the emotional draw is low like minivans.
If styling and performance matter RWD is better. Has other benefits too like more room in the engine bay for easier service and better heat dissipation.
A non-functional FWD negative is image, at least on a performance or luxury-oriented product. You may disagree with this point since, it seems, you believe hardware specs matter little to customers, it’s just the functional benefit that counts. See your point about the flat-4 not providing much benefit, image-wise, to the Subaru customer.
Yet again, you misquote me or at least don’t understand the meaning of the word “context”. In regard to Subaru and the flat-four, your contention was that the flat-four engine is the primary reason that people buy Subarus and that it is this point if differentiation that is the cause of Subaru’s success. I countered that most Subaru customers have no idea that their car has a flat four engine or at least can’t explain the difference between that and a different configuration. The reason people buy Subaru’s are A) AWD standard across the lineup except BRZ and B) Marketing. As I mentioned in the thread you referenced and only selectively quoted if the flat-4 was such a huge draw you would not see the huge disparity in sales between regions, i.e. you’d see a lot more Subarus in the South and Southwest. But you don’t.
Image totally matters. And a lot of people buy the Subaru image (due to the marketing). Nobody that buys the majority of Subaru products which would be Outback, Impreza, and Forester are buying performance or luxury-oriented product. That performance label would only apply to WRX and perhaps BRZ.
I think I’m done on this topic though. You are obviously correct about everything. Everyone understands that. Good day, sir.
You ask the question… “What exactly is it that makes FWD “suck” on the whole?”… get an answer and then get mad.
Yeah I know you weren’t asking me but JPC responded out of turn too.
calibrick, I didn’t respond or take issue with your FWD vs RWD answer as I found some (most) of the points to be valid, the only part I responded to was the flat-four portion of your answer as it related to my opinion that it didn’t matter to most Subaru buyers and I felt the comment was nothing but trolling.
JPC’s answer was well-reasoned (with some specific qualifiers that he mentioned) and I assume from the viewpoint of someone who has grown up with RWD as with many commenters here.
I’ll be careful how I answer this – while I don’t disagree with his particular experience, many people believe that FWD is inherently safer in snow and ice than RWD if only because understeer is easier to control for most current drivers as opposed to oversteer. The natural reaction to a slide from any end is to let off the throttle which has more benign results with FWD rather than RWD.
Edit added: Quality tires probably make a bigger difference than anything else though.
It’s not something I want to debate you on endlessly though so let’s let it be. I believe you and I actually surprisingly agree positively on a great many other cars/brands that I’ve owned and you may have as well- Audi, Infiniti G20, Volvo, 911 etc. so perhaps we can move forward…
I have owned and driven several each of rear-wheel drive, 4×4, and front-wheel drive vehicles, including a panther wagon. I don’t drive on race tracks, nor do I treat public roads like race tracks. Er, well not these days anyway. 🙂 Each configuration has advantages and disadvantages in particular situations. And there are good and bad examples of each for those situations.
So that said, based on my personal experience over the past 25 years, for all-around driving over the course of a winter I’d take a typical FWD every time. Because generally they offer the best compromise of traction, tracking, maneuverability and economy for the way I drive in the conditions I drive in. Which I consider to be pretty typical of most drivers in my area of the upper Midwest. But also which does not apply to everybody.
Snow driving, my two Eurocents’ worth:
Having a “well-balanced” RWD car in the snow is ok in the plains, but show it a hill, and it’ll just sit and spin. Heavy FWDs aren’t much better in those conditions.
Out in the Alps, where snow is plentiful and the roads are steep, the only choice (according to the locals) is a smaller FWD or a the lightest AWD available.
Folks in those parts used to say that the car to have in winter was the Citroen 2CV, because they never got stuck. Skinny tyres, high ground clearance, FWD, low weight, air-cooled — perfect for mountain driving. Only problem with those: no insulation and (virtually) no heating…
Until very recently, the Alpine car of choice was either the Lada Niva or the Fiat Panda 4×4. Same as the 2CV, but in AWD.
But you speak of New England. I do remember being in western Massachusetts one winter years ago and having to catch a train the morning after a blizzard. The roads were covered in packed snow. We set off in a friend’s Audi A4 Quattro and we were the kings of the road in that thing. Passed a few pick-up trucks gingerly doing 20mph and a domestic car or two going maybe 30mph. We could hit 50+ no problem.
“We could hit 50+ no problem.” Too much traction can make a person forget that it is easy to outdrive a car’s braking ability. I always get a chuckle out of the suburbanite in the expensive 4×4 waiting in the ditch for a tow on pretty much every slick winter’s day. 🙂
And FWIW, I do live in a plains area, which informs my experience. I get that lighter is better in hills.
What a pile. I lived for years on a steep hill…and had no trouble getting up that hill in the snow in RWD cars! My Dodge Magnum on winter tires had no trouble with the toughest test: stop halfway up, then start again. Not only did it have no trouble doing so, but the low-traction light never came on. My Vic handled the same hill with no drama.
I got through the hardest winter in 50+ years with what most would call the WORST possible winter vehicle: a short-wheelbase, high-torque 2WD pickup! (Yes, I ran winter tires.)
I did have a 97 built car bought used though $68,000 is more than I can afford new its not something most of you are familiar with it was a 2.1 Turbo diesel Peugeot 406 seven seater wagon manual five speed in diablo red not brown, 97 built but 98 registered new in NZ beautiful car to drive.
Given he mentions the P1800 later on in the article, it is suprising that the writer seems to refer to the 262C as Volvo’s first coupe. Or does that term exclude “sports cars”, as well as 2-door sedans?