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United States:2004 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas

He Drove, She Drove

New XJ8 is a stylish, elegant, 5-star sedan

By Paul & Anita Lienert / Special to The Detroit News

2004 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger luxury sedan
Price¹ : $68,330; as tested, $72,995
Engine: 4.2-liter V-8; 294-hp; 303 lb-ft torque
EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Key competitors: Audi A8 L, BMW 745i, Cadillac STS, Infiniti Q45, Lexus LS 430, Mercedes-Benz S430
12-month insurance cost² : $2,516
Where built: England
1 Includes $665 destination charge 2 Estimated by AAA Michigan. Rates may vary depending on coverage and driving record.

For our annual summer trip up to Mackinac Island, we chose a 2004 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas sedan -- a perfect example of how a proud marque can update and modernize a key product without abandoning its heritage.

Jaguar is the renowned British sports car maker that's owned by Ford Motor Co. It spent hundreds of millions to overhaul its most important model, which comes in two flavors: The XJ8 and the high-performance XJR.

Before our trip, we also spent some time in the XJR, which gave us a good basis to compare which model makes more sense for most couples.

After putting more than 500 miles on the XJ8, we both came to the same conclusion: This elegant, five-star sedan is well worth the $72,995 sticker price. It's so good, you needn't bother to shell out the extra $6,000 for the XJR.

SHE: I almost hate to admit it, but I couldn't resist driving barefoot in the XJ8. My feet sank into those wonderful black lambs wool floor mats, so I kicked off my sandals and enjoyed the sensation. I think it's great when you can have outstanding tactile memories of a test drive.

HE: I hope you don't have athlete's foot because I was tempted to do the same thing. In fact, the new XJ8 is such a great car, it almost felt like it drove itself up to northern Michigan. My single complaint is that the legroom is cramped both in front and in the rear, especially with that wide center console next to the driver.

SHE: I had three complaints, two of which are probably less the fault of the car and due more to my nontechnical nature. First, I couldn't fit my big can of Arizona ice tea in the XJ8's tiny front cupholders. And, despite the fact that I did pore over the instruction manual, I couldn't get the fancy voice-recognition system to work. Finally, why couldn't I get that $2,200 DVD/touch screen navigation system to show the rest stops along I-75? I wish the techno wizards would simplify those systems so distracted dummies like me could access that type of information in a snap.

HE: That's the micro stuff. What's probably more important is the ground-up renovation of the XJ, which started with a new chassis derived from Ford's corporate DEW98 platform -- the basic architecture underneath the Lincoln LS, Ford Thunderbird and mid-size Jaguar S-type. The body of the XJ is made of lightweight aluminum alloy, with the whole structure riveted and bonded using aerospace techniques. While the new XJ sedan is longer, taller and wider than its predecessor, the '04 model weighs 200 pounds less and is 60 percent stiffer, which makes for a quieter cabin and more controlled ride. And while some of our auto writing colleagues have griped that Jaguar didn't do enough to jazz up the exterior, I disagree. The classic exterior styling plays up the storied Jag heritage nicely, as well as complementing the interior, which is laced with walnut burl veneer trim and ivory leather.

SHE: The rear-wheel-drive Jaguar has a short list of tough competitors, including the new Audi A8 L and BMW 745i. I think it's much more stylish than either of those. I'm really glad Jaguar kept the chrome leaper hood ornament on the XJ. And looks aside, we got breathtaking performance from the 4.2-liter V-8. It's fitted with a standard six-speed ZF automatic transmission and sprints from zero to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. We were concerned that 294-horsepower engine would be a disappointment, following on the heels of our time in the XJR, which features a supercharged 390-horsepower version of the same engine and can do the 0-to-60 dash in five seconds flat. But the base model felt just fine.

HE: As you would expect from a luxury sedan, the Jag has a full range of features and equipment, including power windows with one-touch open/close, automatic climate control with particle/odor filter, power adjustable pedals with memory, and a premium audio system. Our test car had such ritzy options as a $350 heated wood-and-leather steering wheel and $200 headlamp powerwashers.

SHE: I was happy to see standard safety features like side curtain air bags above the front and rear doors, anti-lock brakes and dynamic stability control, which will keep you firmly planted on the pavement, despite slick conditions. But even with those features, I was still too chicken to cross the Mackinac Bridge. I'd rather grab the ferry in Mackinaw City, not St. Ignace, thank you.

HE: I saw you heave a big sigh when you had to put those sandals back on. But at least the new Jag gave you a real big taste of the good life.

Paul's rating:*****
Likes: Elegant cabin with tasteful use of wood and leather. Plenty of power from 4.2L V-8. Greatly improved fit and finish. Classic exterior styling plays up Jaguar heritage. Supple suspension. Splendid for long-distance drives.
Dislikes: Cramped front and rear legroom.

Anita's rating:*****
Likes: More stylish than Audi A8 or BMW 745i. Same switch on steering column controls power adjustable pedals and tilt/telescoping column. Optional heated steering wheel. Kicked off sandals to sink toes into thick carpeted floor mats. Heated rear seats. Terrific standard safety features, including side air curtains for front and rear passengers, plus dynamic stability control.

Dislikes: Fancy navigation system doesn't show rest stops on expressway. Couldn't figure out how to make voice recognition system work.

Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.

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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.....
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