Jaguar XJ-Series 2008

The British have a penchant for revering (and some say clinging to) things past -- old buildings and dentistry from the 16th century, warm beer, 50-year-old double-decker Routemasters, the royal family and the Jaguar XJ. Introduced in 1968, the XJ's basic styling has strayed very little through three generations and several midlife redesigns. About the wildest thing to happen was the addition of square headlamps in 1990 -- and they were generally met with a smattering of jeers and "cor blimeys!"

The Jaguar XJ has never really been considered the cutting edge of full-size luxury sedans, but it has continuously been a niche model for those who consider luxury to be the quintessentially British look of abundant leather and veneered wood. Brushed aluminium, iDrive-like technologies and Japanese precision just won't cut it. Although features like digital gauges and navigation systems have been added over the years, the basic look has remained, even if it has occasionally clashed with such newfangled technology.

With the exception of its vintage duds, the present Jag XJ is a thoroughly modern luxury sedan. A lightweight aluminum frame, powerful V8 engines, active damping suspension, adaptive cruise control and high-tech features like navigation and Bluetooth keep this flagship sedan in step with competitors from Germany and Japan. Yet Jaguar's insistence on maintaining "timeless" styling has backfired, leading to disappointing sales at a time when it can ill afford any false starts (or whatever English rugby analogy would apply).

Current Jaguar XJ

Today's third-generation XJ was introduced for the 2004 model year, featuring an all-new aluminum chassis that is significantly stiffer and lighter than the previous steel structure. This added stiffness translates into better body control and more precise road feel, while the reduced heft makes for a quicker, more nimble-feeling car. The base engine is a naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 making 300 horsepower, while the XJR and Super V8 get a supercharged version of the same engine that churns out 400 hp. The only transmission offered is a six-speed automatic attached to Jaguar's classic and controversial J-gate shifter.

The Jaguar XJ is offered in two wheelbases and five trim levels. The XJ8 and supercharged XJR are short-wheelbase models, while the XJ8 L, Vanden Plas and supercharged Super V8 have long wheelbases. XJ8 and XJ8 L come with a respectable amount of equipment for a luxury sedan, while the Vanden Plas adds more luxurious trappings. The XJR is equipped for enhanced performance. The Super V8 is essentially a Vanden Plas with much of the XJR performance equipment, plus a few extra high-end features. Much of what is standard on the Vanden Plas and Super V8 is optional on the base XJ8 models.

The interior, much like the rest of the car, is a peculiar mix of current technology and heritage design. Burl walnut wood trim, chrome and supple leather are liberally strewn about, providing a coddling environment that would make the Fifth Duke of Wellington feel at home. Yet in reviews, we found this classic British style comes at the expense of ergonomics and general usability. Controls and switchgear are laid out illogically and set low in the dashboard, while their craftsmanship is not up to par. Whether considered "charming" or just "irritating," it would be nice if the XJ's cabin joined the 21st century.

Our road tests have shown the Jaguar XJ8 to deliver an isolated ride that filters out even the most punishing roads with little intrusion into the cabin. The soft suspension, though, tends to mask the car's stiffer body structure and good steering. On the other hand, the XJR (and to a lesser extent, the Super V8) makes the most of its advanced aluminum chassis. Its quicker steering, more aggressively tuned air suspension and 400-hp supercharged V8 prove that Jaguar can produce a luxury sedan that pleases enthusiasts and luxury-minded buyers alike.

Changes to this generation have been minimal. The long-wheelbase Vanden Plas and Super V8 didn't debut until 2005, while 2006 saw modest horsepower increases and the addition of technology like satellite radio and Bluetooth. A limited-edition Super V8 Portfolio model that added even more luxurious interior trappings was available that year. For 2008, the XJ was mildly restyled, adopting XK-style front fender vents and a more aggressive front fascia.

Past Jaguar XJ models

The first Jaguar XJ debuted in 1968 and lasted through 1987, while the second generation was on the prowl from 1987 (yes, both generations were offered that year) to 2003. The second generation started out with round headlights, but for 1990 adopted ungainly rectangular units that were met with disdain by Jaguar enthusiasts. On the whole, this era of the XJ (which ran to '94) was seen as one of the darkest, as it was plagued with various problems, many of which were electrical in nature.

For 1995's midcycle makeover, the round headlights returned, along with a sleeker, lower grille. The interior was also significantly revised to bring it into the 1990s, with improved materials and more up-to-date electronics. The traditional look remained, however, with radio and HVAC controls contained in a pod under a large swath of wood.

There were a number of different engines offered during the second generation's lifespan. The square-headlamp version came with a choice of either an inline-6 (3.6 liters and later 4.0) or a 6.0-liter V12. These models were referred to as the XJ6 and XJ12, respectively. The engines carried through the 1995 overhaul, with a supercharged, 310-hp version of the six-cylinder engine first appearing in the new XJR in 1995. The V12-powered XJ12 was dropped in 1997.

In 1998, Jaguar replaced the inline-6 engines with all-new V8s. A 4.0-liter V8 (290 hp) was found in the XJ8 (the "8" in the name signifying V8 power), while a supercharged version (370 hp) powered the XJR. A few years into this generation, the supercharged V8 became available in other XJs as well, namely the Vanden Plas Supercharged and Super V8 models.

Performance of the 1995-2003 XJs ranged from swift for the six-cylinder cars to thrilling for the supercharged V8 versions. Our road test of a 2000 Vanden Plas had that long-wheelbase luxury sedan sprinting to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. Ride and handling are composed but (except on the XJR) biased toward plush comfort, as one might expect of a vehicle whose cabin resembles an Edwardian parlor.
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