Shoppers who seek the best from Britains Jaguar turn to the rear-wheel-drive XJ sedans, which rival such high-end competitors as the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class in both prestige and price. A new XJ Sport sedan for 2002 combines the standard XJ8 powertrain with a sport-tuned suspension, sport seats and Pirelli P Zero tires on 18-inch wheels.
Formerly available by special order only, the extended-wheelbase Vanden Plas Supercharged sedan becomes a regular production model for 2002 and is called the Super V8. The long-wheelbase XJ8L has been dropped. Jaguars DVD navigation system is now standard in the supercharged XJR sedan.
A new, limited-edition XJR 100 marks the centenary of the birth of Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons. Only 240 of these models will be offered in the United States and will feature 19-inch BBS modular wheels, Brembo brakes, Anthracite paint and a red-stitched charcoal interior.
Jaguars top sedans come in two sizes. The base XJ8 and XJR models ride a 113-inch wheelbase and measure 197.8 inches long overall. The Vanden Plas and Super V8 sedans are 4.9 inches longer in both dimensions, and both versions are 81.7 inches wide. Styling is highlighted by a long, low profile, with four round headlights and the signature Jaguar vertical-bar grille up front. Alloy wheels hold standard 16-inch tires, but larger tires are installed on higher-end models. A power sunroof tops the long list of standard equipment, which includes front and rear fog lamps.
High-grade leather and generous amounts of burl walnut wood trim combine to create an elegant motoring abode for five occupants, who also benefit from quite an array of comfort and convenience features. Most of the extra length on the long-wheelbase models is evident in the backseat, which qualifies as huge compared to standard-size XJs. Adults actually have room to cross their legs in the back of a stretched sedan, and wider rear doors ease entry and exit.
In base form, the XJ8 includes a six-CD changer, three-position memory system, 12-way power front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic climate control and a remote keyless entry system with an immobilizer. Posh comforts in Vanden Plas and Super V8 sedans include a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, premium Connolly Autolux Recaro leather upholstery, lambs wool floormats and burl walnut wood trim inlaid with Peruvian boxwood. Jaguars traditional walnut picnic trays fold out from the front seatbacks.
Cargo capacity is a meager 13 cubic feet for all models, though the trunk is squarely shaped. A standard reverse parking control system utilizes sensors in the rear bumper to detect when the car is close to hitting an object at the rear, which then sound an audible warning.
Under the Hood
Jaguars 4.0-liter V-8 engine teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission and is rated at 290 horsepower in the XJ8 and Vanden Plas models. In the sporty XJR and Super V8, the supercharged 4.0-liter V-8 cranks out 370 hp. Traction control, antilock brakes and side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard on all models.
Piloting an XJ is a memorable experience all of its own and it becomes all the more so if its the extra-elegant Vanden Plas, which is one sweet motorcar. Few automobiles come across as smoother on the road, more refined overall or more luxurious in texture and detail. For buyers who appreciate owning an exquisite machine, these top Jaguars are almost worth their breathtakingly high prices.
After a momentary delay at start-up, the Vanden Plas bounds ahead with surprising haste for such a heavyweight, even if its not packing the supercharged engine. Passing and merging situations are handled with refined ease, and the automatic transmission reacts with exceptional smoothness.
Handling is top-notch for a luxury sedan, making the XJ a beautiful car to drive down the highway, where it behaves with suitable British manners. It also maneuvers well in urban driving. As for engine noise, only a modest purr is likely to be heard. The ride is utterly superior, as if the suspension is instantaneously dissecting and dealing with every pavement imperfection. Visibility is excellent all around, and that makes the XJ easy to judge. The seats are lushly comfortable and supportive in the spacious interior. Assembly quality is excellent, and an XJ gives the impression of being formed as a single, solid unit.