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Jaguar expands its XJ series for 2005 with three long-wheelbase variations: the XJ8 L, the ultra-luxurious Vanden Plas, and the high-performance Super V8. The new models offer enough rear-seat room to recline and watch a movie while having lunch on a flip-down wooden tray, all coddled in rich wood and leather. Though stretched five inches, these longer and roomier Jaguars are just as quick, just as nimble and just as fuel-efficient as the standard-length versions.
Jaguar's flagship, the XJ8 was launched as an all-new model for 2003, along with the high-performance XJR. Both were greatly improved, offering superior ride and handling to their predecessors thanks to their rigid lightweight aluminum structure and computer-controlled double-wishbone suspensions.
Jaguar now has a full selection of all-new XJs, and any one of them represents a great choice among luxury cars. Unlike other cars in this class, the XJ models are not burdened with cumbersome technology. Their considerable sophistication is tucked out of the way, so the driver benefits from technology without being annoyed or distracted by it.
Most important, these big Jaguars offer true luxury. They make a statement when they roll up to an event and their interiors are rich and beautiful, trimmed in leather and wood. They ride wonderfully, are stable at speed and hang onto corners with tenacious grip. They offer quick acceleration and smooth, powerful braking. All of that, and they cost less than their German competitors.
Jaguar XJ comes as five models. All are powered by 4.2-liter V8 engines and are built on a platform that makes extensive use of lightweight but strong aluminum architecture. The XJ8 and XJR are built on the standard 119.4-inch wheelbase. The XJ8L, Vanden Plas, and Super 8 are built on a longer 124.4-inch wheelbase that stretches the overall length of the vehicle from the standard 200.4 inches to 205.3 inches.
The XJ8 ($60,830) is Jaguar's flagship sedan, and it comes standard with a long list of luxury features. It's powered by a 4.2-liter V8 rated at 294 horsepower and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, self-leveling air suspension, dynamic stability control, power-adjustable foot pedals, reverse parking assist, and frontal, side-impact and side-curtain airbags.
The XJ8 L ($62,830) is equipped like the XJ8, but offers more room in its back seat.
The Vanden Plas ($70,330) is the most luxurious Jaguar with a twin-stitched leather dashboard, burl walnut trim with Peruvian boxwood inlays, lambs wool rugs, 16-way power front seats, an electric rear sun blind, heated seats and steering wheel and a 320-watt Alpine premium audio system. This is true luxury.
The XJR ($75,995) is a high-performance model built on the standard wheelbase. XJR features a supercharged version of the V8 engine that pumps out 390 horsepower. It also gets a firmer suspension and larger Brembo brakes, plus bigger wheels and tires, radar-based adaptive cruise control and a 320-watt Alpine Premium audio system.
The Super V8 ($89,995) has the same powertrain as the XJR but puts it on the longer wheelbase and adds four-zone climate control, a DVD-based touch-screen navigation system, DVD-based rear multimedia entertainment system with two display screens, an electrically adjustable rear seat and front parking sensors.
Because of the extensive standard equipment, the options list may seem limited, though any XJ can be equipped with a heated windshield. Navigation and the rear-seat entertainment system are available as options on the XJ8, XJ8 L and Vanden Plas.
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.
The hood has the characteristic curves that flow back from the top edges of four small, round headlights. The wide grille protrudes forward slightly and the leaping jaguar, called the Leaper, sits on top of the hood. Yet if you place this 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 roofline is 4 inches higher than in the previous generation, with the long-wheelbase versions growing an additional three-tenths of an inch and thus providing even more head room on the inside. 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.
Keeping the proportions correct means there is a high belt line. Higher beltlines are the trend, at least partly because people feel safer with taller side panels. 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.
The subtle way in which the belt line edges up as it goes to the back gives the car a purposefully crouched look. Indeed, the XJ looks as though it's ready to pounce even when it's standing still.
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, that'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, something that cannot be said of other cars in this class. The base XJ8 sound system comes with eight speakers and a single-slot CD player.
The adjustable foot pedals 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 and Super V8 get a sportier interior with seats offering extra support. They also have less wood trim.
The standard-wheelbase XJ8 and XJR provide considerably more room than in previous XJs.
The long-wheelbase versions take advantage of the car being lengthened by five inches behind the B-pillars (the pillars between the front and rear doors). The rear seatback reclines. Plus there's a switch provided for the the person riding in the right-rear seat to power the front passenger's seat forward. This allows plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy such things as wooden picnic trays that flip down from the backs of the front seats.
Kids and adults who like to be entertained while traveling in comfort will appreciate the sophisticated multimedia system that's optional in some versions and standard in others. The system features two 6.5-inch LCD monitors embedded in the back of the front seat headrests. A comprehensive control panel located in the rear 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 video game or camcorder.
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 they also add weight, and this is a conflict of interests that can be difficult to overcome. To address this, Jaguar designed an aluminum body for the newest generation XJ.
Although the new body, introduced in 2004, is larger than the previous generation's, it weighs 400 pounds less. That's equivalent to removing the weight of more than two passengers. Even the new long wheelbase version adds back only 53 of those pounds. 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 bonded (with 120 yards of adhesive) to form an immensely stiff body shell that meets or exceeds all safety standards. Perhaps more important, the body is 60-percent stiffer than the one 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 racecars are built in England.
The power steering is precise without being too heavy and the new XJ goes where it's aimed. The tires stay glued to the road thanks to the double-wishbone suspension design and Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) system that continuously and instantly adjusts damping. CATS 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, and it didn't matter whether we were in the standard- or long-wheelbase versions.
These cars are quick. 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. The V8 engine delivers good low-end torque so power is instantly available. And it offers good fuel economy for the class, with an EPA-rated 18/28 mpg City/Highway.
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 and Super V8 add a supercharger that forces air into the engine, producing 390 horsepower. This propels the XJR from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, according to Jaguar, very quick indeed. These rocket ships also get a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and fat 19-inch tires that grip the road and sharpen the steering response. Amazingly, the ride is not too harsh despite the short sidewalls. But it is the whine of the supercharger as you press the gas pedal that sets the XJR and Super V8 apart from the rest of the pack. Previously the XJR was penalized with the gas-guzzler tax, but no more, and even the larger Super V8 faces no such penalty.
Brakes on the XJ models are powerful yet smooth. The XJ has 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.
The Jaguar XJ series are comparable to the best luxury cars in the world. As expected of Jaguar's flagship, the XJ is a beautiful car that swaths its occupants in traditional British luxury with rich wood and leather while sparing us unnecessary gee-whiz features.
The XJ bodyshell is made entirely from aluminum. Lighter and stiffer, the XJ monocoque is more like an airplane's fuselage than a traditional car body. Its rigid chassis and sophisticated suspension offer a smooth ride and impressively good grip. The new long-wheelbase versions offer more interior without trade-offs.
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