Jaguar is a car company with a distinguished history and a strong sense of tradition. But no matter how storied the past, no car brand survives the 21st century without constant change. So when it came time for Jaguar to redesign their hallmark XJ sedan, the challenge was striking the precise balance between traditional style and technical innovation. So let’s see how they did.
The Jaguar XJ-Series has been prowling U.S. roads since 1968, with a grace and poise befitting its English heritage. That character is reflected in the 2004 XJ-Series, but this cat is all-new and totally-modern from nose to tail.
Unlike previous XJs, its skeleton is all-aluminum. This lighter, stiffer monocoque is assembled with rivets and cutting edge adhesive bonding. All XJs now ride on a long 119.4-inch wheelbase. Our car’s Vanden Plas badge, which used to indicate an extended wheelbase, now simply means the most opulent interior. The new cat’s legs are more athletic, with double wishbone air suspension, lots of aluminum links borrowed from the S-Class, and the latest version of Jaguar’s CATS Computer Active Technology Suspension automatic damping system. The XJ then connects with the road through 17, 18, and on the XJR, 19 inch wheels.
The heart of the new XJ-Series is a 4.2-liter V8 engine that also is shared with the S-Type and XK-Series. In the XJ8 and our Vanden Plas, it generates 294 horsepower, and 303 pound-feet of torque. In the supercharged XJR, this dual-cam, 32-valve beast roars out 390 horsepower and 399 pound-feet of torque. The transmission, a 6-speed automatic with manual shift override complete with odd-ball J-gate shifter, is also shared with the XK and S-Type.
With the V8 growling, our Vanden Plas leaps to 60 in 6.9 seconds, and dashes through the quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 95 miles-per-hour. Acceleration is deceptively smooth. The engine has a polished delivery, with no peaks or valleys in the rev band. Shifts are almost invisible, even under hard acceleration.
In the corners, our Vanden Plas feels well planted, if quite soft. Its 3,803 pound weight is about 200 less than last year, as the alloy chassis and suspension greatly improve weight distribution. This means faster, lighter response to driver inputs. The new XJ displays less front plow, and more mid-corner grip. Turn-in is quicker, but while the variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering is also quicker, it’s still short on feel.
For extra safety, Jaguar has fitted all new XJs with both traction and Dynamic Stability Control. Braking is by 4-wheels discs. Stopping distances averaged a longish but rock-solid 136 feet, thanks to a Teves 4-channel ABS system with yaw control. Pedal feel is also soft.
Tradition dictates that all XJs display a classic leather-and-wood lined cabin that has gained some in size. But even with more wheelbase, and two inches more front leg room, the front foot wells are still a little cozy for those 6-foot and over. Seats do, however, provide 12-way power adjustments with memory, linked to the power tilt/telescoping steering wheel that’s also available with heat, and to the adjustable foot pedals. The dash, with its lovely walnut trim, boasts a clean, logical, timeless layout, while the analog gauges are easy to read, but incomplete. Naturally, there’s a navigation system available.
Our Vanden Plas included the optional split rear bench with electric recline and lumbar adjust. While leg room is down from the previous Vanden Plas, it is still among the most generous in its class. For rear entertainment, a video game-compatible multi-media system with DVD player uses screens in the front seat’s head rests. Trunk space, never an XJ strong point, is up 30% to a healthy 16.6 cubic feet.
Healthy also describes prices, which start at $59,995 for the XJ8. Our super posh Vanden Plas is based at $68,995, while the supercharged XJR starts its growl for $74,995. Yet even the top-cat XJR undercuts a Mercedes-Benz S500 by more than $8,000.
The 2004 Jaguar XJ-Series are sedans with a history. A history that it proudly acknowledges with style and luxury. But thanks to its intelligent cutting edge engineering, performance, and convenience features, it’s a cat with a very bright future as well.
Engine: 4.2-Liter V8
Torque: 303 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.2 Seconds @ 95 MPH
60-0 MPH: 136 Feet
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 28 MPG Highway