U.S.A.: First Drive: 2004 Jaguar XJR
Truly new, fully assembled, aluminum-intensive flagship: No rivets or epoxy required
By Ron Sessions
Photography by the author & the manufacturer
Motor Trend, June 2003
With as much grace as ever, and notable increases in both space and pace, the all-new seventh-generation XJ is a significant leap forward. Not that you'd notice on first blush, because the appearance and overall bearing of the new car are consistent with its forebears. But park the '03 model alongside, and the larger size of the new model is obvious.
For '04, the XJ grows some 2.6 inches in length, 2.4 inches in width, and, most significant, 4.3 inches in height. This gives full-size adults breathing space in the second row. Trunk space is noticeably deeper and 30 percent larger overall. Yet the longer, taller, wider XJ doesn't add tonnage in search of opulence.
Thanks to an aluminum body and chassis structure, as well as aluminum-intensive engine, transmission, and suspension systems, the '04 XJ is lighter than last year's model. It's even nearly 100 pounds less corpulent than the much smaller S-Type. Taking a page from the aircraft industry, the new XJ's 339-piece body-in-white is assembled using 3200 rivets and nearly 400 linear feet of epoxy adhesive. The car is almost entirely weld-free.
How does it feel? The new XJ retains its characteristic nimble choreography on the road while gaining a newfound solidity, thanks to the light, high-tech structure. Jaguar claims the body is 60 percent stiffer, and the new car feels it. Self-leveling air suspension replaces the previous steel springs and, in combination with CATS active damping, serves up an amazingly compliant ride, while remaining communicative about surface irregularities. There is more body roll than you might experience in a BMW 7 Series or Automatic Body Control-equipped Mercedes S-Class, but it doesn't interfere with the high level of ultimate grip. Base model XJs now run on 17-inch rubber (up from 16 last year). Steering is speed-sensitive and remains as linear and tactile as ever.
The top-of-the-line XJR carries Jaguar's performance torch with sport-tuned CATS active damping, larger anti-roll bars, 255/40R19 rubber, and Brembo four-wheel discs with four-piston fixed calipers. Equally amplified is the XJR's supercharged 4.2-liter AJ-V8 adapted from the S-Type R. Now boasting 390 horsepower and 399 lb-ft of torque, the blown XJR engine enjoys 13 psi of boost and works seamlessly through a new ZF six-speed manumatic transmission. Shifts are torque-managed, but tidy. In normal driving, the driver hears nary a peep out of the supercharger, but nail the electronic throttle, and the blower's vanes stir up a polite but determined whine that increases in pitch as revs climb. Thanks to the car's reduced weight and other efficiencies, this year's supercharged XJR engine nets the same 17/24 city/highway EPA fuel mileage rating as last year's normally aspirated 4.0-liter XJ8 motor. And the XJR is no longer assessed a gas-guzzler tax.
Even though the cabin is roomier, it still has Jaguar's trademark tailored ambience with ample doses of hand-stitched leather and bird's-eye maple trim. There's a sporty contour to the seats not always found in luxury cars. The cabin remains as comfortable and familiar as old shoes. Despite advances such as an electronic throttle and parking brake, control interfaces are right where you'd expect them: J-gate shifter on the center console, switchgear arrayed perhaps more conventionally than in any Jaguar in history. The optional navigation system is a simple touch-screen design--you don't have to click, tap, or wiggle a remote "mouse" to move through fields of prompts. The technology in the all-new XJ doesn't stand between the driver and his enjoyment of it.
Light and lively, the Jaguar XJ Series is to luxury sport sedans what Victoria's Secret is to feminine undergarments. Jaguar didn't have to roll out its design chief to "explain" the styling. The shape is intuitively well proportioned, and, despite gaining some real, practical, people-cosseting and cargo-hauling accommodations, so is the driving experience. Rivets and epoxy notwithstanding, the design follows with no jarring discontinuity in the tradition of 35 years of XJ sedans that preceded it.
Second Opinion: 2004 Jaguar XJR
A marvelous advance, the new XJ is the car Jaguar needed for years. The previous sedan was too compact inside and felt every year of its age compared to the high-tech, upper-echelon competition in the prestige segment. While shortcomings tainted the previous elegantly designed car, the aluminum-intensive 2004 XJ sparkles. The supercharged engine is smooth, quiet, and robust. Being deceptively quick, the XJR is a cruel mistress for your driver's license. Tremendous torque forever tempts right-foot indulgence, promising the rewards of musclecar-caliber acceleration from any speed. Despite wearing 20-inch "dubs," the ride is surprisingly supple allowing the driver to feel the weight, traction, and feedback from the massive paws.
The interior is as thoroughly padded as the buyer's wallet, richly dressed with abundant leather, wood, and bright work. Controls are more ergonomically configured, with even the navigation system having a clear interface, and classy presentation. Much improved interior space fore and aft still allows for a sizable trunk, complete with London-grade bumbershoot.
Larger, more refined, and more technologically advanced, the big, muscle-flexing cat can now hunt the German prestige players in style.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....