Beautiful, With No Buts
2004 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas
The new Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas is a beautiful car. That much is obvious. Its double-scalloped headlamps, elegantly sculpted door handles and sensuously tapered rear end all catch the eye.
But beauty carries a penalty. It is the perceived lack of ability.
There are, for example, beautiful women who have spent their lives proving their intelligence and value as human beings. They labor under a bias that says the Almighty subtracted from their brains what he gave to their bodies. It’s the pretty-but-stupid thing.
That also happens with cars. Jaguar long has been known for its physical attractiveness. But if you aren’t a racing fan, familiar with the marque’s competence in events such as the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-Am, you might believe that Jaguars embrace romance but lack passion for running or reliability.
Certainly, quality problems in previous Jaguar passenger models contributed to that thinking. Similar electrical and mechanical difficulties, such as the once-overwhelming smell of gasoline in the passenger cabins of all things Porsche, also plagued other automobiles. But in the hard-nosed, male-stance sports cars, those failures were seen as quirks. In the pretty Jaguars, they were seen as, well, failures.
The new Jaguar XJ, of which the tested Vanden Plas is one of three versions, rewrites the script. It is classic in terms of beauty and revolutionary in matters of vehicle construction and performance.
Look at that lovely body. Aluminum is in. Steel is out. As a result, the new XJ Vanden Plas — Jaguar is using “the new” for this one, as opposed to “2004 model” — is nearly 200 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Yet, Jaguar engineers claim, the new car is 60 percent stiffer than the previous model.
Much of that stiffness stems from the way the aluminum structure is bonded together. Jaguar took cues from the aerospace industry. The body components, which are called “pressings” in the auto industry, are joined by self-piercing rivets and epoxy adhesives. Robots apply the adhesives, which are heat-cured for strength. About 3,200 rivets are used in the process.
Increased body rigidity, coupled with a four-wheel independent suspension system using forged aluminum components, yields substantially improved handling. Although the new XJ is longer, wider and taller than its 1994-born and periodically freshened predecessor, it feels easier to drive than the previous model. It behaves better in curves, changes lanes at high speeds without the slightest hint of tail wiggle. Steering is precise, compliant. The car goes exactly where you point it.
Just watch where you’re going. The new XJ Vanden Plas and its XJ8 and XJR siblings are powerful automobiles. The Vanden Plas and XJ8 share a 4.2-liter, 294-horsepower V-8. The XJR comes with a supercharged, 390-hor sepower version of that engine. The cars leap from 0 to 60 mph — in 6.3 seconds for the XJ8 and Vanden Plas and five seconds for the XJR.
Should you leap into trouble, at speeds between 5 and 10 mph, you are not likely to shatter your bank account as well. Jaguar, in a nod to auto insurance companies, has designed a bolt-on front end capable of taking a 10-mph frontal hit without the car experiencing structural damage. As implied by its name, the bolt-on front end easily can be unbolted and replaced if it’s trashed.
Easy-fix technology also is applied to the doors of the new XJ. Should they be damaged in a low-speed, side-impact crash, they can be lifted off and repaired or replaced.
But the joy of the XJ Vanden Plas is in the driving . . . and arriving. It is a totally sensuous experience — slipping into the plush, leather-bound interior accented by burled-walnut trim and lambswool foot-well rugs, keying the ignition, hearing the soft moan of the engine, taking off. Invariably, when you arrive at your destination, people stop and stare at the car, you. They smile, nod in approval. It is a good feeling.
Nuts & Bolts
Complaint: I can’t keep it.
Praise: I wish I could keep it. The new XJ is performance art. It is a play or dance well done. You savor being a part of it, if only for a little while. On the practical side, kudos to Jaguar for coming up with a 10-mph bumper system that also looks great.
Head-turning quotient: Superior.
Ride, acceleration and handling: It’s pretty, and it kicks butt. The car moves fast with grace and authority. Very comfortable ride. Does not lean toward soft and mushy. Excellent handling in the curves.
Body style/layout: The new XJ , which will continue in its “new” iteration for several years, is a four-door sedan with front engine and rear-wheel-drive. It is available as the XJ8 (standard luxury), XJ Vanden Plas (super-luxury), and XJR (sport-luxury).
Engines/transmissions: The 4.2-liter V-8 in the Vanden Plas develops 294 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 303 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm. Both it and the 390-horsepower version in the XJR are linked to an electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission.
Capacities: The XJ Vanden Plas sits five people. Trunk space is 16.6 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 22.5 gallons of gasoline. Premium unleaded is required.
Mileage: I averaged 26 miles per gallon in the Vanden Plas in mostly highway driving.
Safety: All-aluminum body structure designed to absorb major crash forces, thus reducing crash shock in the cabin; a full complement of passive safety (dual-stage air bags, automatically tensioning seat belts, etc.) and active safety (anti-lock brakes, brake assist, traction control, etc.) devices.
Price: Base price is $68,995. Estimated dealer’s invoice price is $66,000. Price as tested is $68,995, including a $665 destination charge.
Purse-strings note: An absolutely beautiful car. Compare with Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS430, Infiniti Q45.