Over the last several years, Jaguar, purveyor of luxury British motorcars,
has introduced some wonderful new vehicles. The S-Type, with its distinctive narrow
grille, brought a traditional look to the midsize luxury market segment, while the X-Type
introduced an affordable Jaguar to reach a younger crowd, and featured Jaguars first
all-wheel-drive system. The XK sports coupe and convertible went for the high-level sports
coupe set. But through it all, the familiar XJ sedan has gone from year to year without
much visible change. Well, thats history with the 2004 XJ.
Introduced in 1968, the XJ represents half of all Jaguars ever
built, about 800,000 strong. This seventh generation car, however, is also Jaguars
most high tech offering. The new XJ is the first volume production with an aluminum body
structure built using the rivet-bonding joining technology from the aerospace industry.
Combined with aluminum body panels, the new car, despite being larger, weighs about 200
pounds less, and it is much stiffer, too. That gives it excellent crashworthiness and
improves fuel economy.
Despite a surprising resemblance to its predecessor, the new car is
bigger in all dimensions, for more comfortable seating for five and a generous 16.6 cubic
foot trunk space to accommodate golf bags or modestly proportioned antiques.
The XJ acquits itself like a rocket on the open road. It even boasts
a 170 mph speedometer. A new 4.2-liter V8 produces a generous 294 horsepower in its
normally aspirated version, and a whopping 390 horsepower in the supercharged model.
Working through an electronically controlled six-speed automatic, that means a
hair-raising 5.0 second zero to sixty for the supercharged car and a still sensational 6.3
seconds for the standard car. The normally aspirated car gets a class-leading 18 city / 28
highway EPA rating for fuel mileage, and a 22 mpg average. I averaged 17.5 mpg.
The XJ comes in three flavors: XJ, Vanden Plas and XJR. The XJ is
the least expensive, but it is hardly entry level. It comes with such things as a
self-leveling air suspension with C.A.T.S. (a clever feline acronym for Computer Active
Technology Suspension), power-adjustable foot pedals, traction control, an electronic
parking brake, 12-way power front seats, burl walnut veneer, and leather seats.
The XJR is the hot rod, and it gets the 390 horsepower supercharged
engine. The Vanden Plas is the luxury member of the team. And it was the one, with
Radiance Red paint with a tasteful Sand interior that spent the week with the Schaefers.
Special Vanden Plas upgrades include a stitched leatherette dash top
that is finished like a fine handbag, extra nice walnut veneers, a wood and leather
steering wheel, and special leather seats. You should see the inch-thick lambs-wool rugs
and sit in the incredible 16-way power seats with heat. There is even a set of electric
rear sunblinds. The potent 320-watt Alpine audio system rocks. The car stands out with its
extra chrome on the outside flanked by 18-inch alloys and Xenon headlamps.
Despite being all new, the 2004 XJ looks and feels very familiar. Of
course, the grille is a classic, with the big cat hood ornament still leaping above it. On
the sensuously curved hood, with raised trails from the round quad headlamps, you can just
see the top of the Jaguars head as you cruise along.
In a day when so many other vehicles are trucks or minivans, the
Jaguar is quite low slung. You slip into a Jaguar, you dont climb into it. The
organic shape of the doors and traditional dashboard is comforting with its glistening
ovals of real wood and sparkles of chrome trim. I dare you not to find a perfect position
with the 16-way power seats.
The XJ cruises nearly silently in town, but once you merge onto the
freeway, youre off like a shot. The aluminum double-wishbone suspension system with
C.A.T.S. really keeps everything nailed down while preserving some sportiness in the feel
through the controls. At 3,800 pounds, the XJ is no lightweight, but it is never ponderous
Little touches help remind you how special the XJ is. The carefully
detailed central analog clock sits in a chrome fitting. The grab handles are leather.
Carpet on the lower door panels keeps them from receiving shoe marks.
The rain sensitive intermittent wipers react to rain depending on
the amount that is hitting the windshield. The trunk has a conveniently low lift over
height, and carries an umbrella just in case.
The XJ starts at $59,995, including destination charges. The Vanden
Plas is $68,995, nine thousand dollars over the standard car. The XJR, with its super
powerplant, goes for $74,995.
Competing against top level Japanese, German, and Swedish cars, the
XJ Vanden Plas acquits itself well, and certainly adds a traditional interpretation of the
classic upscale car. What a great way to reintroduce a classic Jaguar.