Jaguar XJR – an elegant sedan with sports car credentials

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Jaguar still makes exciting automobiles, curvaceous cats that leap under the power of 400-horsepower engines with hushed interiors that are lavished with rich leather and real wood.

Jaguars these days, however, are mostly worshiped from afar. They still turn heads, draw admiring glances and elicit conversation. But Jaguars do not bring prospective buyers into the showroom at a profitable pace.

Some of Jaguar’s problems are easily explained. Others are not so easy to gauge.

Most readily explainable is the demise of the entry-level X-Type. Designed as competition to the BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes C-Class, the compact X-Type sedan barely got off the ground before crash landing a couple years later. Even a well-conceived wagon variant failed to save the X.

Styled as a smaller version of the mid-sized S-Type and full-sized XJ, it got off to an encouraging start as a 2003 model with 33,000 sales. But it has been in free fall since, and failed to reach 5,000 sales in 2007. Deceived by hard plastics, cheap interior pieces and a lack-luster driving experience, the X-Type was discontinued in the United States this past fall.

Then there’s the mid-sized S-Type, a stylish sedan in true Jaguar design tradition. A knockout when new in 1999 for the 2000 model year, it has become long in the tooth in the eighth year of production with little change. It’s not surprising that early sales of about 15,000 units a year tapered off to about 4,000 in ’07. Thankfully the S-Type is being replaced by a resplendent beauty, the XF, this year. It’s got the wow factor and expectations are expectantly high for its success.

Not so easy to explain are lack-luster sales of the full-sized cat, the XJ, completely redesigned in 2004. The aluminum-bodied space-age sedan enjoyed nearly 11,000 sales in 2004, but slumped to about 4,500 in 2007.

After spending a week behind the wheel of a 2008 XJR supercharged edition we found ourselves devising several scenarios as to why a big luxury vehicle this alluring and this richly outfitted is not winning over more buyers. We asked the question why the Mercedes S-Class sold 20,000 copies, the BMW 7-Series 15,000 copies and the Lexus LS460 35,000 copies in 2007 and the Jaguar XJ could not break five grand?

It’s a marvelous ride, seamlessly powerful, as quiet as a library in an old English country estate and stealthy looking. It’s rich in heritage and elegant in every respect.

Perhaps Jaguar’s more traditional English design is out of favor replaced by the modern lines of the BMW, Lexus and the Mercedes. And we concede, the Jaguar is perhaps a step behind the competitors in offering the latest in high-end electronics and gizmos. Personally, we could do without some of the iDrive nonsense that has infested German luxury.

Some of the traditional Jaguar switchgear including the J-gate shifter perhaps has seen its day come and go. But in addition to rich interior surroundings, the Jaguar is underpinned by some of the most modern technology in the automotive industry.

The cat is built in a modernized Jaguar plant in Castle Bromwich, England, utilizing aluminum body panels and aluminum underbody components. The aluminum components are fastened together with aerospace-grade epoxy adhesives and thousands of self-piercing rivets.

The advantage to this revolutionary manufacturing process is 40 percent less weight than the model it replaced — improving performance and fuel economy — and a 60 percent stiffer body structure.

The sedan features advanced technologies such as acoustic laminated glass, active engine mounts and Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS).

CATS is used to ensure outstanding body control, refinement and handling. The system constantly monitors the XJ’s lightweight suspension and air springs to offer ride comfort and responsiveness when called for by automatically lowering and leveling the suspension. The result is excellent high-speed stability and improved aerodynamic efficiency when aggressive driving is demanded.

An exterior face lift helps set the 2008 Jaguar apart from previous models. A new mesh grille, new wheel designs, new mirrors with signal indicators, new bumpers and a full-width chrome “signature blade” give the Jaguar a more sporting appearance.

The XJ comes in two wheelbase sizes, but even the regular-length sedan features generous legroom in the rear. And we found the redesigned front seats to our liking. They come with standard heat, and now air conditioned cushions are an option.

The XJ is available in five trim levels — the base XJ8, the XJ8 L (long wheelbase), the performance-oriented XJR, the ultra-luxurious Vanden Plas and the Super V8. Prices start at $63,835 and march up to $94,085 for the Super V8.

The base engine is a 4.2-liter V-8 making 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Performance is surprisingly good with 0-to-60 numbers at around six seconds. But if you want more, you’ve got it in the XJR and Super V-8 with a supercharged version of the 4.2-liter dispensing 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. Performance has been measured in 5.4 seconds from a dead stop to 60 mph.

All models get a slick-shifting six-speed automatic that distributes the power evenly through the gears. Hitting the accelerator on our XJR test car was a exercise in adrenaline elevation. The cat leaps, whether at 50 mph passing a slow-mover, or jumping a Mustang GT from the stoplight.

Standard equipment is generous as it should be for the price of admission. Every XJ gets 18-inch wheels, the adaptive suspension, xenon headlights, rear park assist, full-power accessories, 16-way power front seas with memory, moonroof, power-adjustable pedals, soft leather surfaces and burl walnut trim pieces.

Move up to models such as our XJR test car that carried a base price of $83,585 and such things as 20-inch wheels, high-performance tires, bigger brakes, adaptive cruise control and DVD navigation become standard equipment.

The newest XJ is probably technologically advanced enough for most people with Bluetooth connectivity that allows users to connect up to five approved mobile phones to the car’s telephone system, and a new voice command function called JaguarVoice.

Standard safety features include side-curtain airbags, front seat thorax airbags and energy-absorbent front seat backrests, stability control and tire pressure monitoring. 
The only option on our test car was a warm climate package that included four-zone climate control and rear sunshades bringing the bottom line to $85,135.

For the person that prides himself on swimming against the tide, delights in taking a different direction than offered by mainstream luxury products such as Lexus and Mercedes, the Jaguar XJ is a powerful and stylish alternative.


Base price, $83,585; as driven, $85,135
Engine: 4.2-liter supercharged V-8

Horsepower: 400 @ 6,100 rpm

Torque: 413 foot-pounds @ 3,500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: rear wheel

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 119.4 inches

Length: 200.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,958 pounds

Turning circle: 38.1 feet

Luggage capacity: 16.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 22.3 gallons (premium)

EPA mileage: 22 highway, 15 city
0-60: 5.4 seconds (MotorWeek)

Also consider: Mercedes S-Class, Lexus LS460, Audi A8

The Good

Outstanding luxury-sedan performance

• Luxurious leather and wood encrusted cabin

• Purebred Jaguar styling

The Bad

• Some switchgear is fussy including the J-gate shifter

The Ugly

• Purebred Jaguar styling may be out of date based on current sales