Jaguar XJ-Series Review


Jaguar XJ-Series ReviewIt's not every year Jaguar dishes out a new top-of-the-range sedan - heck, it's barely every ten - and when one does arrive, a close inspection often reveals a lot more in the Same column than the Different. That's expected in a car targeted at Old Money folks who sternly uphold traditions and resist change, all the more so when considering Jaguar's country of origin. The XJ's design deficiencies grew more and more obvious as it marched stubbornly from 1968 right into 2003, with supporters always firing back with the indefatigable logic "but it's a Jag!"

That defense doesn't hold water when customers stop blindly subscribing to it. Luckily, a wiser (and Ford-run) Jaguar of the 21st century decided it's time to part with the past and serve up a fully revamped XJ-series for 2004. If the changes escape notice (they sure didn't leave much visual evidence), it's because the differences are the type you can't see. But they're there. And numerous. And substantial.

Road TestJaguar XJ-Series Review
Geographically (and presumably culturally), Jaguar headquarters is parked pretty close to BMW and Mercedes and maybe a stone's throw from Maserati. Funny how this car seems to lean so close to Japan. Like a Lexus LS or Infiniti Q, Jaguar's XJ8 was clearly tailored for easy driving and easy riding. In the same manner, it remains swift, capable, and precise but prefers to obey commands with a light touch and without asking for much input. Not a lot of Euro in here, monsieur.

Accordingly, a serene ride was assigned as job one in this granddaddy of all Jaguars, and the new engineering decision to suspend the car with air springs was key in achieving this. The XJ8 doesn't just smother bumps; it almost floats over them. That's literally what's happening, sort of, since the absence of coil springs takes four opportunities away from bumps to find their way up the body. Factor in that fantastically long 124.4-inch wheelbase of this stretched Vanden Plas model and it's no wonder the XJ8 doesn't cause one pinch of pain all day. Yeah, most other cars in this class have air springs of their own (and some allegedly ride even better), but even this is mighty high. The suspension hunkers down by 0.6 inches for less drag at speed, and "active" cruise control can take care of itself by maintaining a preset following distance. The XJ8 would also be tops in tranquility if not for our test car's Dodge Viper-like P255/40R19 tires piercing through the underbody slightly.

And just because it rides doesn't mean it can't handle. Modest turning effort and feedback still dampen the joy, but it has a faster ratio now (variable ratio, actually) and inspires confidence on a challenging road. 19-inch performance tires guide it reliably through the turns, and you don't get a lot of body lean thanks to the self-leveling ability of those air springs, the two-stage damping of those shocks, and the Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS, get it?) managing both. Even the tight 39.5-foot turning circle belies this car's size. The XJ8 may be a big beast but it's fast on its feet, kind of like - come to think of it - a jaguar.

But jaguar aren't the fastest felines, and neither is this one. The XJ8's V8 engine (that's where the "8" came from) mostly carried over from the last generation, and though upsized to 4.2 liters and now at 300 horsepower, it only has the Mercedes S430 and Lexus LS430 to look down on, and just barely. It's a long way to the 360 horses of the BMW 750 or 400 of the Maserati Quattroporte, and if you intend to drag your Jag, you might care that a 4,000 RPM launch limiter spoils some of the fun. (Still, a burnout is possible via a brake-held launch with traction control off.)

Well, 6.3 seconds to 60 MPH still feels fast to me. There's always power in reserve for any daily driving situation and the smooth six-speed auto trans on every XJ is nearly always in the right gear. However, the XJ8 loses some points for having no manual-shift feature (not that it's essential, just that a $75,000 car should have it all) and loses more points for the forever dumb J-gate shifter that even hinders doing it the old-fashioned way. (There's a Sport mode that raises the shift points and locks out sixth, but it's not the same.) The only other gripe about city life with the XJ8 is having to get used to the long wheelbase, but I learned my lesson after only one jumped curb. Honest.

2006 brings a new Conti-Teves brake system that clearly eliminated whatever "lost motion" feel some had criticized before, but the real revelation that makes the XJ8 stand out is its superior body. Unlike the steel-constructed cars that dominate this (and every other) auto segment, Jaguar built its flagship out of aluminum and ended up with the only entry on the south side of two tons - 3,819 pounds, to be exact. That's 180 less than the equivalent previous model, only 93 more than the current non-extended XJ8, and compared to the Mercedes S430's 4,160 and BMW 750iL's 4,552, the Jaguar looks like quite the cat among a pack of hogs. The XJ8 even out-feathers the other Coke can-constructed entry, the Audi A8 that recently porked its way up to 4,729 pounds (its all-wheel-drive is only a partial excuse). In short, this cat ain't fat. Better yet, Jaguar also managed to make this frame stiffer than the last car - by 60%, no less.

Lighter and stiffer are inherent and nearly drawback-free benefits, and compliment each other very nicely. Either together or individually, they account for the XJ8's extra edge in going, stopping, turning, ride comfort, and fuel economy all at once.

Of course, superb driving is the norm at this price, and aside from construction material, all of the XJ8's company employs similarly premium hardware, electronic air suspensions and all. But among all the automakers with a luxury heavyweight, only Jaguar avoids taking that literally.

Inside & OutJaguar XJ-Series Review
The XJ8 always drove well enough; that wasn't the problem. The real mistake, which was always embarrassingly easy to fix, was how the retention of the XJ's "classic" shape put a sharp cutoff on most people over six feet [marketing insight: taller people are richer] and another cutoff on just about anyone's legs in the back row on normal-wheelbase models. The result was a cabin so cramped that the EPA classified the XJ as a "compact car" - yup, same as a modern-day Hyundai Accent.

With more length and width and a lot more height (now an average 57.3 inches), that ban has been lifted. Especially with the Vanden Plas's five-inch length and wheelbase stretch (all of which benefits rear passengers), it so resembles a limousine back there that you may never hear the word "shotgun!" again. Legs can extend nearly all the way, the seats are sumptuous, there's now pro athlete-grade headroom, and the bench itself is excellent. The XJ is now - finally - the EPA "large" car that its outer dimensions had always implied.

Too bad it doesn't feel that way in front. The measurements may tell their story, but your sense of space is disturbed by an in-your-face steering wheel, walls and an overhead console that seems to cave in on you, a high-rise dashboard that makes you feel like a kid peering over a counter, and a power seat that maintains the over-six-feet ban. That last one, especially, is a self-created problem, because every time the steering wheel and seat do their little dance upon removing the ignition key, the seat clearly goes back several inches. Pretty dumb to not simply incorporate that extra travel into its normal range of operation. And while a power seat, power tilt-telescope wheel, and power pedals all cater to the driver, the seat itself seemed a little canted to the left; I was always pressing against the right-side bolster.

This Jag is even shallow in the details. You can force a wallet and a cell phone into the center console if you're really creative, but that's it. And the trunk, while deep in length, looks about half as tall as it should be.

Other than space, the XJ8 pleases. Well, pleases me at least. I mostly found it rich, inviting, and in good taste despite one colleague commenting that it looked "cheap" and another declaring "it looks like a Ford in here." My complaints end after the clunky door locks and skinny steering wheel; and maybe the turn signal and buttons do press down with a slightly Ford-like mush. (Owners can take solace in the knowledge that this is the one Jaguar that absolutely did not spring from a Ford.) Some observers praised the unique lamb's wool carpets, possibly not knowing that this same material goes into the average carwash hand mitt.

With masses of wood, fine leather, and slight touches of chrome, it's plush in a Lexus sort of way, and the design of most controls nearly meets the Lexus standard as well. 21st century luxury cars are notorious for overcomplicating the simplest of functions, but Jaguar's interface keeps the radio, climate controls, navigation system, and the rest easy enough to understand without consulting any manuals. The radio has enough independent controls (split between the center stack and steering wheel) to operate on its own; ditto the A/C system aside from having to go through the screen to turn it off. And this is one of the better GPS systems, with a convenient touch-screen interface and easy-to-understand directions. It'd be nicer if the voice prompts could be reduced in frequency (and didn't mute the audio when speaking) and if the system didn't lock out inputs whenever the car's in motion.

All occupants have at least a few toys to keep themselves entertained, especially in back. Five rear sunshades, independent climate controls (this car can get four-zone climate controls), three-level seat heaters, stereo controls, headphone jacks, and twin head restraint-mounted TV screens for watching DVDs or sparring in a PlayStation match (or both simultaneously) make the Vanden Plas a rolling living room. That goes for outside riders only; the middle guy blocks access to all the entertainment (which is mounted in the armrest), and doesn't even get a head restraint.

The 12-speaker, 320-watt Alpine stereo sends excellent sound to all seating positions, and speakers and tweeters in each door means no one gets shortchanged. Too bad the changer, DVD player, and DVD navigation system are all mounted in the trunk. One last mentionable: holding the unlock button for three seconds makes all windows and the roof open wide.

Other ThoughtsJaguar XJ-Series Review
2005's addition of the XJ8's extended-length body (applied to both engines) made for four combinations, which in 2006 are now divided among six trim lines. The base XJ8 begins at $62,495.

There are two ways to go big: the XJ8 L ($64,995) and this Vanden Plas ($74,995). The former throws in a rear sunshade; the latter adds leatherette on the dash, Burl walnut veneers, soft-grain leather, lambswool rugs, 16-way power front seats (up from 12), heated seats (four) and steering wheel, the Alpine stereo, the nav system, the rear seat picnic trays, and power folding mirrors.

Going fast (by adding an Eaton supercharger) instead of big takes all of $79,995 for the XJR. Most of that extra $17,500 buys the extra 100 horsepower (and lifts the 121 MPH top speed ceiling to 155); the rest buys 19-inch wheels, "Performance"-tuned CATS suspension and brakes, adaptive cruise control, parking warning beeper, sport seats and shift knob, heated seats, Alpine stereo, navigation, power folding mirrors, and sunshade.

Finally, going fast and big takes $91,995 for the Super V8, upgrading the Vanden Plas with 19-inch wheels, "Touring"-tuned CATS suspension, performance brakes, adaptive cruise control, rear-seat DVD, parking beeper, power rear seats, and a 400-watt 7.1-speaker version of the Alpine. New for 2006 is the limited Super V8 Portfolio, which for $115,995 adds - get this - sculpted aluminum power side vents, bigger exhaust tips, 20-inch wheels, Black Cherry or Winter Gold paint, Conker leather, walnut wood, "suede-like" trim, and aluminum surround for the J-shiftgate. Jaguar, please explain to us how all that amounts to $24.00, much less $24,000.

Most XJs are well within the class boundaries. Lexus, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes charge 57, 69, 73, and 78 for their standard V8 sedans (vs. Jaguar's 63), and BMW and Audi, likewise, tack on a four-grand fee for the body stretch. And if Jaguar's mere supercharged V8 (with its mere 400 horsepower) can be compared with the likes of the 400-horse Maserati Quattroporte ($107K), 438-horse V12 BMW 760i / 760iL ($114K / $121K), 450-horse W12 Audi A8 L ($121K), and one of two 493-horse Mercedes S-classes ($117K / $132K), the Jaguars' five-digit price tags mark quite a difference there as well.

Last Word
Jaguars are known to primarily sell on style, but with the space problem solved and the lithest chassis around, the list of reasons for wanting one has greatly expanded. [source : automotive.com]


 

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