- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

The new, 2004 Jaguar XJ cars are like all Jaguars — pretty and instantly recognizable.

They’re also larger, inside and out, and made with a weight-saving aluminum monocoque structure that helps give this line of luxurious sedans an agile personality, better performance and improved fuel economy.

The starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $59,995 for the 2004 base XJ8 is an increase of $3,020 from the 2003 model.

But the midrange Vanden Plas model remains priced at $68,995 including destination charge, while the top-of-the-line, supercharged XJR has a $2,520 price boost, to $74,995.

Jaguar officials boast that the new, seventh-generation cars are the best-equipped XJs ever.

Indeed, even the base XJ8 comes standard with reverse park assist, self-leveling air suspension and power adjustable foot pedals, as well as the expected leather seats, plentiful, real wood trim, V-8 and power amenities.

However, some items that are standard on competitors still aren’t standard or available on the XJs. An example is navigation system, a $2,200 option on the Vanden Plas test car.

Jaguar officials point out the aluminum monocoque body of the new XJ marks the first use in the auto industry of such aerospace techniques as rivet bonding and adhesives in body production.

No label on the outside or inside of the test car noted that the body was made of aluminum. But there were subtle indications, such as the lighter feel to the front doors.

This, plus the considerable seals around the doors, made closing them solidly a learning experience; the first few times, they didn’t close completely.

The lightweight body — it shaves 200 pounds off the base XJ8 vis-a-vis the traditional steel car body of its predecessor — also is 60 percent stiffer, helping improve the car’s ride and handling even as this sedan has grown larger. The growth varies by model, with the base XJ8 adding the most — 6.4 inches to the wheelbase and 2.6 inches in overall length.

The Vanden Plas test model had 1.5 more inches of wheelbase, and all three XJs now are taller than their predecessors by 4.3 inches.

Trunk space on all XJs remains shallow, but is improved, expanding from 12.7 to 16.6 cubic feet.

The overall look of the XJs isn’t changed much, though wheels are positioned farther out to the corners now and the hood is shorter than before.

Inside, riders familiar with the earlier XJs will instantly notice the improved headroom that makes the cockpit area feel less confining.

The British influence is noticed quickly — there are multiple ashtrays throughout the Vanden Plas at a time when American cars and trucks are eliminating ashtrays.

The leather inside the new XJs remains noteworthy for its luxurious appearance and aroma. The test Vanden Plas had contrasting piping on the seats matching the color of the rich, lambs-wool floor mats.

The XJ engine in the test car was the same 4.2-liter, double overhead cam, AJ-V8 that’s in the 2003 S-Type sedan and the XK.

It develops 294 horsepower and 303 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm in its naturally aspirated version — enough to improve this sedan’s 0-to-60-mph sprint by about 0.6 second, to 6.3 seconds compared with the performance in the earlier model, according to Jaguar.

The test car felt more than sprightly, with power coming on smoothly and strongly each time I pressed the accelerator. In particularly aggressive moves, the rush forward was accompanied by a low growl from the engine bay.

The XJ’s automatic transmission is a six-speed.

Premium is the fuel for this engine — as well as the supercharged version of the AJ-V8. Fuel economy is improved from 17 miles a gallon in city driving in the predecessor Vanden Plas to 18 mpg now. Highway fuel economy is better — going from 24 mpg in the previous Vanden Plas to 28 in the new model, according to Jaguar.

My passengers and I rode in luxurious quiet in the Vanden Plas. Loud trucks next to me on the highway sounded as if they were off in the distance, so muted were exterior distractions in this luxury car.

The ride in the Vanden Plas kept bumps and even many vibrations away from passengers. At most, there were mild vibrations, with the sense of a plush ride, sometimes almost floaty.

The XJs use independent double-wishbone design at the front and rear, and the Vanden Plas rode on 18-inch wheels and tires.

The power-assisted, speed-sensitive, rack-and-pinion steering still had a light feel in the Vanden Plas test car, reminiscent of its predecessor.

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