2004 Jaguar XJ Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
First look at Coventry's all-new luxury flagship.
The Jaguar XJ series is all new for 2004. Jaguar's flagship luxury sedans are bigger than last year's models, and offer roomier, more comfortable cabins. The XJ8, Vanden Plas, and XJR are faster, safer, and more fuel-efficient than before.
Sleek, sensual, lithe, agile, elegant are just a few of the many positive words used to describe the venerable Jaguar XJ sedan during the 35 years it has graced the auto scene. Yet there have been some negative comments. Among them was that the XJ was too small inside.
It was imperative to increase the interior space in this new XJ if it were to be true large luxury sedan because we're all getting bigger, according to Jaguar's demographic research. The new XJ offers plenty of interior space for front passengers and dramatically increased room for rear passengers. As expected of Jaguar's flagship, the new XJ swaths its occupants in traditional British luxury with rich wood and leather while sparing us unnecessary gee-whiz features.
Sleek and big generally don't go together, yet Jaguar engineers and designers have craftily created a bigger car that doesn't look or feel bigger. Styling changes are subtle, but the XJ looks like a big cat ready to pounce. It is a beautiful car.
The XJ's dynamic looks are not deceptive. Stand on the gas and a powerful new 4.2-liter V8 engine thrusts the XJ8 to speed, benefiting from a new six-speed ZF automatic transmission. The 390-horsepower XJR sprints from 0 to 60 in just 5 seconds and hits its rev limiter at 155 mph. Once at speed, the XJ is smooth and quiet.
In spite of its substantial increase in size, the new XJ is considerably lighter than the old model. The XJ bodyshell is made entirely from aluminum. Lighter and stiffer, the new XJ monocoque is more like an airplane's fuselage than a traditional car body. In addition to its rigid new chassis, the XJ comes with a sophisticated suspension that offers a smooth ride and impressively good grip.
Sleek, sensual, lithe, agile, elegant are words that are even more apropos to the all-new XJ.
Jaguar XJ comes as three models. All are built on the same wheelbase and there is no V6 available.
XJ8 ($59,330) is the main model and it is powered by a 4.2-liter twin-cam V8 rated at 294 horsepower. Needless to say it includes a long list of luxury features as standard.
Vanden Plas ($68,330) has the same engine but adds extra luxury touches such as softer leather seats and rugs instead of carpets.
XJR ($74,330) tops the range, featuring a supercharged version of the V8 engine pumping out 390 horsepower. The R also gets a firmer suspension and larger Brembo brakes, plus bigger wheels and tires.
Options include a DVD navigation system, a DVD-based multimedia system, upgraded audio systems, and special wheels. Some options are only available on one or two of the three models. For example, the impressive rear-seat multimedia center is only available on the Vanden Plas and the XJR.
There's no mistaking the new XJ for anything other than a Jaguar. While other companies try to re-invent their look, Jaguar has built an all-new car that looks remarkably similar to the old one. Some have suggested that Jaguar should try to design something different, but virtually everyone agrees the XJ has always been one of the handsomest cars on the road so it would be a shame to mess it up for the sake of being different.
From the front there's little change. The car still has four smallish round headlights and the hood has the characteristic curves that flow back from the top edges of these headlamps. The wide grille protrudes forward slightly and the leaping jaguar, called the Leaper, sits on top of the hood.
Yet if you place the new Jag alongside the previous-generation model it's immediately apparent there are a lot of subtle changes.
If we start at the back it's easy to see that the trunk lid is much higher than ever before. That's good as it means the trunk is bigger: an amazing 30-percent bigger in capacity. Yet the rear end is uncluttered and the iconic stylish triangular taillight clusters remain.
Viewed from the side it's notable that the roof line is 4 inches higher than before. Keeping the proportions correct means there is a much higher belt line. Higher beltlines are the trend nowadays at least partly because people feel safer with taller doors. This makes the side windows appear a lot shallower. In reality they are not much smaller, but it has taken away the open greenhouse feel of earlier models in the XJ line. To offset this the windshield is set at a more raked angle than before.
Individually these subtle changes in styling might well have upset the overall Jaguar-ness of the XJ, but the car has a longer wheelbase and the front wheels are set further forward than before. Because of this, and the subtle way in which the belt line edges up as it goes to the back, the car has a purposefully crouched look. Indeed the XJ looks as though it's ready to pounce even when it's standing still.
Yes, the new car stands taller than ever before but Jaguar's designers have managed to keep all those feline curves in the right places.
There are varying amounts of chrome exterior trim depending on the model. Naturally the luxurious Vanden Plas gets the most brightwork including the grille insert. The XJ8 has a gray grille insert while the XJR gets a bright mesh insert and black window surrounds. All models have big chrome door handles.
Each model gets different size alloy wheels. The XJ8 comes with 17-inch light forged alloy wheels. Vanden Plas gets 18-inch cast alloy wheels, and the XJR is fitted with 19-inch cast alloys. Optional 20-inch BBS two-piece wheels are available for the XJR for an even more aggressive look.
Any Jag fan will tell you that the interior of a Jaguar is a key part of the car's overall character. It's a combination of the look, feel and smell. You won't find many visible plastic parts in the XJ's interior. Instead, it's mostly trimmed out in leather and wood. Yes, there's real burr walnut veneer on the fascia, center console and door panels. The dashboard sweeps across the whole car in a fairly high position.
Three gauges are clustered in front of the steering wheel. The center console contains a 7-inch LCD touch screen for managing the climate, audio and optional navigation systems. Gone are rows of confusing switches seen in Jaguars of the past. Jaguar has made the controls as easy to operate as possible and has avoided the temptation to include a host of gee-whiz computer controls. We certainly did not have to get out the owner's manual to turn on the radio or adjust the climate.
For the first time, Jaguar is offering adjustable foot pedals that can be moved up to 2.5 inches at the touch of a switch. Coupled with the 12- or 16-way adjustable front seat, they allow any size driver to find a perfectly comfortable seating option.
The Vanden Plas gets a plusher interior with softer leather, lambs wool carpets and a power rear window blind. The front seats have 16 positions instead of 12. The XJR gets a sportier interior with seats offering extra support. It also has less wood trim.
Rear passengers have considerably more room than in previous XJ8s. There's a choice of a fixed-bench three-passenger rear seat. An optional rear bench allows the two outboard seats to be reclined a few degrees.
Kids and adults who like to be entertained while traveling in comfort will appreciate the sophisticated multimedia option available in the Vanden Plas or XJR (about $3000). It features two 6.5-inch LCD monitors embedded in the back of the front seat headrests. A comprehensive control panel located in the center armrest operates them independently from the front and from each other. One person can be watching a DVD while the other can watch input directly from a camcorder, for example.
Even those buying the base XJ8 sound system will not be disappointed as it comes with an eight-speaker system and a single-slot CD player.
To some a Jaguar is just about looks, but to most it's more about driving. Those who enjoy driving know that a lighter car is nicer to drive. Comfort and lots of features are expected, but add weight. It's a conflict of interests that can be difficult to overcome. That's why Jaguar designed an aluminum body for the new XJ. Although the new body is larger than before, it weighs 400 pounds less. That's equivalent to more than two passengers. Those who might be concerned that an aluminum body is not as strong as a steel body can rest assured that this body is just fine. Like the shell of an airplane, the Jaguar's body is riveted (with about 3200 rivets) and glued (with 120 yards of adhesive) to form an immensely stiff bodyshell that meets or exceeds all safety standards. Perhaps more important the body is 60-percent stiffer than the body it replaces. This rigidity and absence of weight lead to a better handling car.
Toss this big car into a tight corner on a narrow winding road and you'll find it tenaciously hugs the road surface with nary a complaint. It's just what one would expect from British engineers who learned at an early age how to drive fast along those narrow country lanes. It's no wonder the world's fastest race cars are built in England.
The power steering is precise without being too heavy and the new XJ goes where it's aimed. The wheels stay glued to the road surface thanks to the double-wishbone suspension and Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) that continuously and instantly adjusts damping. CATS works well with the air suspension and ensures stability whether the car is undergoing heavy acceleration, hard braking, or traversing an undulating road. During several hundred miles of driving on a variety of different roads and surfaces we found the car was stable and handled predictably at all times.
Even the base model, if it's fair to call it that, with its 294 horsepower V8 engine can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.3 seconds, according to Jaguar. That's quite quick. The new XJ8 offers improved fuel economy as well. The V8 engine delivers good low-end torque so power is instantly available.
Shifting is seamless thanks to the six-speed automatic transmission. Jaguar's J-gate transmission allows you to flick the lever to the left and manually shift gears, if you wish. In reality, there's enough power and the electronic brain controlling the gearbox does such a good job that shifting manually seems superfluous.
The XJR adds a supercharger that forces air into the V8, producing 390 horsepower. This propels the XJR from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, according to Jaguar, very quick indeed. This rocket ship also gets a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and fat 19-inch tires that grip the road even better. Amazingly the ride is not too harsh despite the short sidewalls. These tires cause the steering to feel a little tighter.
But it is the whine of the supercharger as you press the gas pedal that sets the XJR apart from the rest of the pack. Previously the XJR has been penalized with the gas guzzler tax but no more. Its lighter weight means fuel consumption is all but identical to the old JX8.
Brakes on the new XJ models are powerful yet smooth and don't grab unless you really need them to. The XJ now gets the same electronic parking brake that first appeared in the 2003 S-Type. A small lever is pulled to set it and it's automatically deactivated when drive or reverse is engaged, an elegant setup.
Fat cat, it's not. Jaguar has managed to make a bigger XJ with increased performance, improved handling, better fuel economy and more interior space. No trade-offs here.
The pure essence of Jaguar continues in the XJ8. Tradition and the latest technology are combined to make an entrancing luxury sedan that will swiftly transport in elegant style.
The Vanden Plas adds still more luxury for those needing or wanting even more luxurious appointments.
The XJR provides truly exhilarating sports car performance in a luxury sedan like no other.
XJ8 ($59,330); Vanden Plas ($68,330); XJR ($74,330).
Options As Tested
Jaguar XJ8 ($59,330).
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