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The Jaguar XJ remains one of the best luxury cars you can buy. It also appears to be one of the best values, at least in terms of price paid for the luxury it exudes. When a Jaguar XJ rolls up, it makes a statement of true luxury.
The XJ is a truly beautiful luxury car, with lithe, elegant lines that ooze class and sex appeal, and its luxurious cabin is swathed in rich leathers and warm woods. Underway, it's quiet, smooth, stately, and powerful and it handles quite well. The XJ is far easier to operate than the German cars, namely the BMW 7 Series, the Audi A8, and the Mercedes S-Class, all of which have become so burdened with technology that can serve to annoy and frustrate drivers unfamiliar with their complex controls. Plus, the Jaguars cost less than the comparable German models. The 2006 Lexus LS 430 offers many of these assets, though it isn't as easy to operate as the Jag nor does it make a statement of true luxury and class the way the British marque does. That bit about true luxury applies to the Cadillac STS as well; the Cadillac just doesn't have the snob appeal of the Jaguar. In short, nothing says true luxury quite like a Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas. Roll up to a five-star hotel in one of these and you'll be treated like royalty.
The XJs come in regular and long-wheelbase versions. The long-wheelbase 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 for practical purposes just as quick, just as nimble and just as fuel-efficient as the standard-length versions.
Though easy to operate, the XJ models are stuffed with sophisticated technology, but it's tucked out of the way so the driver benefits from the technology without being annoyed or distracted by it.
The Jaguar 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. The long-wheelbase XJ8 L, Vanden Plas and Super V8 followed. For 2006, a new limited-edition Super V8 Portfolio, a super-luxurious model, joins the line.
All of the 2006 XJ models benefit from a number of upgrades, including more powerful engines, a new braking system, laminated glass for improved noise isolation, a driver-selectable automatic speed limiter, and a new tire pressure monitoring system. The chrome mesh grilles from the R models are now seen on all models for 2006, while new smoked-lens side markers and the removal of body-side and front/rear window moldings give all models a fresh appearance. A new navigation system comes standard on XJR and Vanden Plas models, and an electric rear sunblind is fitted to every XJ8 L.
The Jaguar XJ benefits from an all-aluminum monocoque. 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 long-wheelbase version adds back only 53 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) 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. The only intrusive element to the smooth ride was a bit more vibration through the steering column than is expected in a super luxury car.
These cars are quick. The XJ8 with its 300-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.
Super V8 and XJR models boast a supercharger that forces air into the engine, producing 400 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. The supercharged XJs face no gas guzzler penalty.
Brakes on the XJ models, which were already powerful and smooth, are improved on 2006 models with larger front and rear rotors. Supercharged models get a new Conti-Teves R Performance system with ventilated front rotors for 2006. The XJ has an electronic parking brake; a lever switch is pulled to set it and it's automatically deactivated when drive or reverse is engaged, an elegant setup.
The Jaguar XJ models are comparable to the best luxury cars in the world. The XJ is a beautiful car that swaths its occupants in traditional British luxury with rich wood and leather while sparing us of gadgetry. Its rigid chassis and sophisticated suspension offer a smooth ride and impressively good grip. The long-wheelbase versions offer more interior without trade-offs, and the Portfolio edition raises Jaguar's profile among the ultra-luxury cars.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall reported from Phoenix, with Greg Brown in Las Vegas, Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles, and John Rettie in Santa Barbara, California.
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