There are as many ways to build an automobile engine as there are engines themselves. But most of the world’s great car makers are known for using only one or two configurations. For instance,the cars of Jaguar are best known for the inline-six and the V12. These motors have lowered Jaguar cars to some of the greatest glories in automotive history. But times change, and Jaguar has just introduced their first V8 engine. It made its debut last year in the stunning XK8 coupe. And now it appears in a 4-door platform, with the arrival of the new XJ8 sedan. Is this the start of a new Jaguar tradition?
If so, then the new Jaguar XJ8 Sedan must live up to a formidable reputation for smoothness and driveability. That’s in addition to the usual Jaguar luxury givens of comfort, quiet, as well as vintage elegance and style.
Style won’t be much of a problem, since the latest XJ sedan is as distinctly Jaguar as any of its predecessors. Added to the ‘98 XJ8 is a new grille with more chrome that visually lowers the hoodline between the contoured headlight tunnels. The round lights themselves are now clear lensed with a jeweled effect. Under them are chrome paddles on new body-colored bumpers. Jag says they are needed for proper light aim. The round fog lamps are new, too.
Along the flanks, changes are limited to new alloy wheels. Otherwise the lines remain flowing but never boring. Like the revised taillamps, the shape is thoroughly modern, yet still recalls earlier times of enterprise and empire.
But while the exterior may strive to evoke a time when the sun never set, what’s under it makes no such attempt. The 4.0-liter, 32-valve, dual-overhead-cam V8 is an engine for the ‘90s. It’s as refined as any powerplant available today, yet produces a potent 290 horsepower and 290 pounds-feet of torque. And is mated to a ZF-built 5-speed automatic transmission, with a revised version of Jaguar’s familiar J-gate shift pattern. Regrettably, no manual box will be made available here.
But despite that, the two-ton XJ8 can still leap to 60 in only 6.9 seconds and claw to a top speed of 150. All with the smoothness that Jaguar aficionados demand. It makes a BMW feel positively uncivilized! And shows just how much its much-loved, but clearly past-their-prime, 6-and-12-cylinder predecessors were ready for retirement.
More competitive XJ owners can opt for the hotter and more extroverted XJR model. Here, the V8 is supercharged, and punches out no less than 370 horses, and 387 pounds-feet of torque. We expect the XJR to cut 0 to 60 times to under 5½ seconds. Unfortunately, limited driving time in the XJR at the official U.K. press introduction meant that we spent most of our time in the standard car, and here in the states, too.
And that’s hardly a bad place to be, because the new double-wishbone front suspension and variable boost power steering systems, both adapted from the XK8 Coupe, give Jag’s standard saloon a feel closer to a serious sport sedan than any XJ before. All without losing that feel of suppleness and sophistication that has long been a hallmark of Jaguar’s top luxury models.
To achieve a perfect blend of suspension components for both ride and handling, without electronically adjustable shocks or air springs, is impressive. But that’s not to say there aren’t electronics where they should be, such as the new, less intrusive anti-lock braking system. Or the new Automatic Stability Control. ASC retards engine power when wheel slip is detected under throttle. Oddly, traditional Traction Control, that works the rear brakes individually for icy take-offs, remains an option on all but the XJR.
While other car makers may build cars of similar overall performance, the XJ’s interior shows that few can equal the purity of Jaguar’s old world luxury. But the acres of leather and walnut on the XJ’s redesigned dash are backed by modern ergonomics and safety features.
The front bucket seats now boast bolster-mounted side air bags, while pyrotechnic pretensioners have been added to the seat belts. The new XK8-style wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel carries satellite switches for the stereo, cruise control and optional cell phone and adjusts through a wider range of motion. Once settled behind it, the driver faces individual analog instrument pods and a restyled center console, with the same easier-to-use-than-it-looks climate controls as the XK8, as well as a stereo that also functions as a telephone keypad. A voice activated phone is also available.
After the front seat, the rear seat area is a place of calm and comfort. It’s also quite spacious. Those that need a little more leg room can opt for the long-wheelbase “L” or this Vanden-Plas model. Though all XJ models provide a healthy 12.7 cubic feet of trunk space.
Expect a healthy price, as well. The base price of the 1998 Jaguar XJ8 Sedan is $55,330.
Our initial drives in the new XJ8 have shown us that, despite decades of six-and twelve-cylinder engines, the arrival of Jaguar’s first V8 and the XJ8 Sedan that it powers, isn’t really the start of a new tradition. It’s rather the continuation of the tradition of elegance in motoring that has always been valued by the Jaguar faithful, and a return to a tradition of engineering excellence to match the world’s best.
Engine: 4.0-Liter, 32-valve, Dohc V8
Torque: 290 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.9 Seconds