Jaguar XJ — rivals the Lexus LS 430

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It was perhaps an uncanny coincidence that the all-new aluminum-bodied Jaguar XJ8 we were testing carried almost the same price as a Lexus LS430 we drove just a few weeks before.

Both sold for about $68,000.

This coincidence of course led us to an immediate comparison of the two competing cars. The Lexus has earned a reputation as perhaps the best luxury sedan in the world when taking into consideration build quality, reliability, performance, technological advancement and resale value. Check out J.D. Power and Associates for substantiation of this statement.

But after a week in the driver’s seat of the 2004 XJ8, we discovered that it more than rivals the LS for those things you can touch and feel. It has in a
word, pizzazz. And it ellipses the Lexus in the “wow” category. There’s nothing quite like driving a Jaguar for attention. The Lexus and Jaguar are both indisputable
symbols of luxury. But the Jaguar has a sex appeal that the Lexus can’t claim.

Outstanding performance, cutting-edge technology, a whisper-quiet interior and a great driver’s seat are all part of the package for both sedans.

Whether the all-new Jaguar can live up to the dependability record and resale value of the LS430 remains to be seen. But both cars are indisputably on a very short list of ultimate luxury sedans sold in the U.S. The difference between the new seventh generation XJ and the LS430 is that they reach that exclusive list with different

The Jaguar carries the British tradition of old-world luxury with a wood and leather interior befitting the hushed library surroundings of an English country estate. And it is as athletic as the leaping cat on its hood.

The Lexus takes a more modern, traditional luxury car approach for its pampering traits. But under this luscious skin, the ’04 Jaguar is about as modern as it gets.

For instance, the new cat is built in the modernized Jaguar plant in Castle Bromwich, England, utilizing aluminum body panels and aluminum underbody components.

Aluminum components are fastened together with aerospace-grade epoxy adhesives and thousands of self-piercing rivets.

The advantage to this revolutionary manufacturing process is less weight which improves performance and fuel economy while producing a 60 percent stiffer body structure. The downside to an aluminum body is cost of repair. Jaguar has an answer. It has about 160 sites in the United States that dealers can use to fix minor dents and dings. For more extensive damage, Jaguar has designated 24 repair centers across the U.S. And Jaguar will pay the cost of transportation.

A combination of a slightly bigger engine and the 200-pound weight reduction from the previous generation gives the XJ8 improved performance. A new 4.2-liter V-8 generating 294 horsepower and 303 pound-feet of torque replaces a 4.0-liter V-8 that had 14 fewer horses and 13  fewer pound-feet of torque.

This power is directed through a new 6-speed automatic transmission which can also be found in the XK coupe and convertible and the S-Type. Shifts are transparent and when kickdown is demanded by the right foot, it is instantaneous. Jaguar says the XJ8 is capable of 0 to 60 in a respectable 6.3 seconds.

It is interesting to note that this new powerful V-8 delivers remarkable gas mileage, rated at 20 in city driving and 28 on the highway. Premium fuel, of course, is recommended. For those among us who demand performance, the high-powered XJR lives on in this new iteration. It comes with a 390-horsepower supercharged version of the 4.2-liter V-8 capable of 0 to 60 performance in 5 seconds flat. That kind of power is simply breath taking.

You will pay as much as a $15,000 premium over the base XJ8 for the privilege of driving one of the fastest sedans on the planet, however.

In-between the XJ8 and the XJR is the Vanden Plas, a luxury-oriented version of the XJ8 outfitted with the same 294-horsepower engine.

The new Jag is longer, wider and taller than the one it replaces creating more legroom, more head room, a bigger cockpit area for the driver and more stretch-out room in the backseat.  And Jaguar loyalists will surely be pleased that it retains its basic classic shape. If you are looking for a revolutionary new form, keep looking. A bit more shapely than its predecessor and with what appears to be a slightly shorter front end than older molders, the classic Jag lines remain stunningly elegant.

With this pure shape, it appears Jaguar has succeeded in the neat trick of having it both ways — keeping its core buyers happy while attracting new and younger customers.

The interior, while larger, retains its elegant look with the classic U-shaped center stack, large areas of wood and leather, and controls that are soft to the touch and easy to use and gauges that are easy to read. Materials are of good quality and the fit and finish is excellent.

Our main problem with the test sedan was the navigation system. Like most cars, controls are imbedded in the nav system making them not as accessible and harder to use. The standard dashboard minus the navigation system is much more user friendly. We would forgo the navigation system, save $2,200 and have a much better designed dashboard.

For the most part, there’s no hint in the new XJ that Ford is the parent company of Jaguar. This sedan is mostly all British and all Jag. But there’s one exception. Ford just couldn’t let the XJ out of the stable without inserting a version of its aggravating “Belt Minder” system. Fail to buckle your seatbelt in any Ford product, and a raspy buzzer goes off incessantly every minute or so.

We’ll call the XJ’s version “Belt Minder Lite” because patrons of this upscale car are treated to a more melodic chime-like noise. We’re not against seatbelt usage, just against big brother watching over us even in the fast food drive-through line when it is sometimes necessary to unbuckle to remove the wallet.

As you might imagine, the XJ is loaded with safety and convenience features found only in the newest versions of upscale cars. Active safety features include ABS with emergency Brake Assist, traction control and Dynamic Stability Control. Jaguar protects its passengers with passive safety called Adaptive Restraint Technology System.

This includes dual-stage front airbags, side airbags for the front-seat passengers, side-curtain airbags for both front and rear and a sensing device that determines the size of the front-seat occupant and whether to automatically deactivate the airbag.

The list of desirable options is long and includes four-zone climate control, front and rear heated seats, a rear DVD system with the screens mounted on the front seatbacks, a 320-watt Alpine premium sound system, heated steering wheel and adaptive cruise control.

One feature we discovered worked to perfection was rain-sensing automatic windshield wipers. One trip was made through a heavy downpour, which turned to light showers, and then to a misty rain with intervals of no rain. The wipers responded from a single swipe to high speed, all at the appropriate time.

Our test car carried the base price of $59,995 including destination charge. Options brought the bottom line to $68,020.

Such Jaguar innovations as the all-alumnium body are good for cocktail party conversation. The owner of a new Jag can wow his friends with details of this space-age technology. But more importantly to that owner is the constant realization that he is in possession of one of the most advanced, presitigous and elegant sedans in the world.