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BMW 8 Series vs Jaguar XK8 vs Aston Martin DB7

Well-heeled executive wheels when new, what now represents the most prestigious metal for the money in 2018? Published: 24th Jul 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Arun of West Sussex deals in both the XK8 and DB7. “Both beautiful cars” it says although while the Aston has pedigree, rarity and exclusivity on its side, the Jaguar is overall the better car plus is significantly cheaper – although you get what you pay for. The DB7 I6, with its Jag engine, is easier to own than the V12 and if you don’t need the speed of the XKR then go for the standard XK8 this expert also advises.

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Aren’t classic values bewildering and bonkers with Mk1 Escort values touching fifty grand – and we are not just talking about the most desirable RS models anymore – see feature elsewhere in this issue! Why? That’s the burning question of which there are several answers; for now we’ll put it chiefly down to spates of fashion frenzy leading to certain classics, for a variety of reasons, coming of age.

It’s 20 years since Jaguar launched its XK8 to replace the misfit XJ-S but judging by how little they sell for you would hardly know it. At least the BMW 8 Series, has come through the tunnel and seen values not only stabilise but start to rise after years residing in the doldrums. What both offer is so much masterful metal for the money, that you’d be nuts not to consider if you’re in the market for a grand Gran Tourer that should also start to appreciate.

On the other hand, is it better to look at a classic you simply know is going to look after itself financially? Any Aston is an odds-on bet to see a good return for your money and DB7 values are already surpassing those of the earlier Virage and some later Gaydon cars despite it being the ‘entry level’ Aston that’s basically a Jag in drag… You can buy an XK8 for less than a third of the price of a DB7 but is the Aston worth the extra considering there’s so many similarities? It’s time to find out.

Which one to buy?

All have their merits

The 8 Series is almost ten years older than the Jaguar and was virtually all new, unlike the XK8 which essentially was another rework of the faithful XJ-S and XJ6 platform and that 1961 rear suspension layout which was also pressed into service for the Aston Martin DB7…

The 850i arrived in the UK in 1990, first as a voluptuous V12 in auto only form but a manual arrived shortly after for this 300bhp coupé. Two years later the ultimate 8 Series appears; the 850CSi, packing a 380bhp 5.6-litre V12 plus there was also a new entry-level model, the 840Ci, with a hardly shabby 286bhp 4-litre V8 under that long beautiful bonnet although, again, in automatic gearbox only guise.

Later 850i models came with an electronically controlled suspension, traction control and four-wheel steering. Not that the 840Ci isn’t left out, first sporting a six-speed manual option before the best of the bunch surfaced – the 4.4-litre which could be had with a Sport option complete with M Sport steering wheel, suspension, wheels, seats and bodykit – an M car in all but name, to those in the know.

It’s easy to forget that the DB7 arrived on the scene before the Jag XK8 and – to us anyway – looks the more attractive. Although the lines are broadly similar the Aston manages to be lower and leaner looking like a sort of modern DB4. In contrast, the XK8 appears to be aping the old E-type in an attempt to woo back disaffected Jaguar lovers who hated the very sight of the marmite XJ-S that both Brits are based upon.

Unlike the coupé only BMW, ‘our’ cars can be had in head turning convertible form and their price gulf apart, trim levels and options were always broadly similar but even so, the Aston manages to look and feel that bit more exclusive.

You’ve a right to expect better breeding from Ford’s once premier brand and although the DB7 relies upon the same basic XJ-S DNA, it manages to look and feel more the thoroughbred. This has something to do to the fact that the DB7 was developed by the late Tom Walkinshaw and his once giant TWR tuning business as a less of a compromise GT than the Jag and you’ll gather all this as much once settled behind the wheel.

The Aston initially used the Jaguar AJ6 supercharged straight six as its power source, but it’s not the same, relying on a shorter stroke for a revvier 3.2-litres and racer-like make up. At 317bhp, it sits mid-way between the standard XK8s 4-litre 290bhp and the 370bhp afforded by the supercharged XKR. This is that gem of a Jaguar V8 remember, which went to 4.2-litres in 2002 yielding 300bhp and 400bhp respectively although Aston topped this with its established V12 with an extra 20bhp to the good of the XKR.

If you demand manual shifting then only the Aston can oblige as the Jaguar is an automatic only. That said, the XK8 employs a superior self-shifter, providing five cogs over the Aston’s four plus incorporates that delightful ‘Randle handle’ J-gate selector that works as a ‘semi auto’ and is much preferable over the Aston’s straight selector gait.

Apart from the two limited editions – Special and the Silverstone of which only 100 of each were made – specialists claim that there’s now scant interest in the original 4-litre XK8s as the 4.2 is demonstrably superior plus most of the early versions are pretty ratty. Similarly, early DB7s only came good just before the V12 surfaced with better brakes and build quality for 1997.

Option packs for the XK8 included a special edition 400, based on the XKR, featuring Alcantara seat inserts plus black, silver or grey paintwork (2003) with the XK8/XKR Premium a year later plus an S limited edition (based on either the XK8 or XKR) with a choice of bespoke interior and exterior colour schemes. The Aston is even more exclusive as you’d expect from this specialist carmaker with a relative handful of Zagatos, Vantage Volantes, a limited run GT, ultra rare (dealer-inspired) Stratstone models and finally a 10th anniversary run out model.

What’s the best to drive?

Some surprises here

None fail to satisfy here although they do it in different ways. The 8-Series is a grand tourer rather than a sports car, but some versions are more sporty than others, such as the 840Ci although if you like a white-knuckle ride each time you head out, you’re best avoiding any 8 Series altogether.

Instead, you buy one for the effortless torque (especially on the V12), super-smooth, responsive tiptronic semi auto box (few cars are manual) and top class refinement this German provides in spades. The V12 excels with its silkiness and is fabulous when touring but 840 always feels the more alert and sporty.

Despite being an automatic only, the Jaguar is a serious GT with pace and poise to spare. Go for the exciting XKR, with its supercharged 370-400bhp, CATS Computer Active Technology Suspension, bigger brakes plus revised steering, and you have a car that’s at least equal to the DB7 and yet cheaper to buy and run. Opt for a 2002 4.2-litre V8 (AJ34) and you get practically XKR pace without a supercharger (300bhp) plus all benefit from an excellent six-speed ZF transmission. Make no mistake, the XK8 is a genuine cut-price supercar yet still retains what most expect from a Jag, which is pace, grace and comfort.

You only need to drive these once Ford-owned Brits a short while to discover their differing characters despite using the same basic vehicle. The Aston feels more racer-like in certain areas even if such disparities are pretty slim. Whatever car or engine you opt for, speed isn’t an issue – it’s how it’s delivered. In the Aston, that supercharged six has a different character to the outwardly similar XJR (saloon) unit, feeling that more eager. The V12 provides towering performance, with a sonorous soundtrack, plus there’s more choice of a manual transmission (it’s said that 75 per cent of DB7 I6s were autos) yet despite this, some Aston specialists believe that the six-cylinder version somehow feels the more thoroughbred if not the fastest DB7.

Handling is, across the board, delightful in their differing ways although hinges on the chassis set up. Astons with the Driving Dynamics package are sought after, (still carrying a hefty cent premium as long as they’ve got everything installed) as this package allowed owners to pick and mix between brake, suspension, wheel and bodywork upgrades with most drivers choosing to buy one or two bits rather than the whole lot. Likewise, Jaguar’s CAT chassis and a choice of wider tyre options is preferred by hard driving owners as it effects the ride – take note you cruisers.

Almost a quarter of a century on, its worth reiterating what Car magazine said in a special triple test of this terrific trio. The heavyweight 8 Series is best as a cultured cruiser (later 840 CI excepted) while the XK8 can match anything the (admittedly older) Aston can do but with a far superior automatic plus better ride and refinement.

Owning and maintaining

Expense (if you’re maintaining them correctly) apart neither of this threesome should present any particular problem and in fact, Jaguar specialists can probably service a DB7, particularly the Jag-derived six pot, as there a lot of component commonality although some argue that the Aston hardware, such as suspension bushes, are of better quality. Early Jag V8s used to suffer from Nikasil bore linings and timing chain tensioner failing but the 4.2 engine corrected these failings.

Launched nearly 30 years ago but the 8 Series is still a mighty complex car with its CAM Bus wiring system and a steering integrated with its rear axle, so they need expert care although their lowly values meant many didn’t get it; a solid service history is a must. Some 4-litre V8s suffered from premature wear of the Nikasil bore lining, which destroys the engine. The 4.4-litre units are fine and many old cars will have had new liners fitted by now.

The 8 Series isn’t cheap to keep as many 3 Series drivers trading up, but biting off more than they could chew, will tell you. Condition and a service history counts more than the number of cylinders up front say BMW specialists.

Not so long ago, you could pick one up for less than £5000 and probably still can although you’d be mad to buy on price alone. Ten grand just about nets an average one; you need £15K for something good. Generally, the CSi will sell for double these values.

When contemporary the Jag cost almost half that of the DB7 and, if anything, the gap has widened as a recent auction by Historic at Brooklands highlighted where all three protagonists were up for grabs; two 840 Cis (£7000-£16,000), four DB7s (£25,000-£38,000) and two Jags (£8000-£11,000). Reserve prices granted, but it clearly shows the premium the Aston badge holds although Specialist Arun says top XK8s are now starting to close the gap.

And The Winner Is...

This is a difficult one as all three are immensely desirable in their own way. If you have a penchant for brawny BMWs, then the 8 Series, with its 80’s power dressing looks and character, won’t disappoint and now’s a good time to buy while prices remain astonishingly affordable. But beware – some repairs could amount to the car’s purchase price. The same applies to the XK8 if you buy badly; i.e. purely on price.

Is the Aston’s elevated worth for what amounts to be chiefly a higher profile badge justified? Not according to the aforementioned quarter of century old Car test when contemporary but as a fast appreciating classic it’s another matter. Given a free hand and wallet, yes we’d go for the DB7 too if for no other reason that it’s an Aston. Let’s end it amicably by saying that if can only stretch to the Jaguar, don’t feel as you’re making do with second best. Plus it beats an old Escort…

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