- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

This is a twofold report on the all-new 2005 Jaguar XJ long-wheelbase sedan. First are my impressions as a backseat passenger, then as the driver.

When Jaguar designed the long wheelbase, five inches were added to benefit the rear-seat passengers. This area of the car is unlike other sedans in that the compartment and its passengers are surrounded with comforts. Even limousines don’t contain the thoughtful touches found in the XJ.

The test car was the top-of-the-line XJ, the SV8 Vanden Plas model costing $89,995. The long-wheelbase XJ cars begin at $63,495, but since Jaguar is synonymous with luxury, I zeroed in on the SV8, which is loaded with extravagance. That stated, let’s get back to the back seat.

The rear seats can carry only two passengers because of a console between them. But each person is surrounded with personal comforts, such as upholstered leather power-adjustable heated seats. If I wanted to work on my computer, I had a folding tray. Or if my interest was watching a DVD, the screen was directly in front of me — the other passenger also had a screen.

I’ve never seen any rear seat with so many thoughtful features. Even the assist handles over the door cushion back into place quietly. However, on some roads, the sound of the tires was nosier than expected.

Before driving, I walked around the car, absorbing its distinctive appearance. The additional length suggested elements of Jaguar’s design of old, a style that women especially found attractive.

Those noisy tires, rotating on 19-inch wheels, proved their worth as I drove the car extremely hard through a slalom course set up to prove the Jag’s capabilities. But first, I became acquainted with the SV8 by driving more than 100 miles over rural roads, feeling the powerful engine’s response to the dictates of my foot and hands.

The supercharged V-8 produces 390 horsepower linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. The speed-sensitive steering is easy to turn at low speed, such as when parking, but provides firmer control when driving at higher speeds. Even though this is a “long” sedan, it handles more like a midsize sedan with its 39-foot turning radius.

The braking system has an active booster. It also contains all the latest safety features, including side-curtain air bags and Dynamic Stability Control. As expected of cars in this price category, the amenities available to the driver are numerous and convenient. The center console has a navigational screen that provides precise directions both in the city and on rural roads. A 350-watt AM/FM/CD Alpine sound system delivers enjoyable listening, but the real enjoyable sound comes under hard acceleration.

I had opportunities to drive this Jaguar hard on the best slalom course I’ve ever driven. It was set up to prove the capabilities of the engine and brakes. After several runs, I walked away convinced that this Jaguar doesn’t have to take a back seat to the best performing cars other manufacturers might offer. On the other hand, when it comes to back seats, other manufacturers’ cars don’t begin to compare with this one.

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