OK, so it's true. I'm an unabashed Anglophile, at least where automobiles are concerned. Everything from MG and Triumph to Aston-Martin and Rolls-Royce, from Sunbeam Rapier to Humber Super Snipe, I just dig them. British motorcycles, too.
All-American car guys, go ahead and laugh. But no one can mock this week's offering from Coventry, England. It's the Jaguar XJ8 L, a lovely and spirited automobile exuding heritage and upper-crust sensibilities. Actually, not much of Jaguar's big
sedan heritage remains, for better or worse. Some new stuff comes from Ford, which now owns Jaguar. Some changes are mandated by time and technology. Gone is the classic double-overhead-cam straight six with its direct lineage to Jaguar sports cars
and race cars of the '50s. It has been replaced by a silky-smooth V-8, also found in the smaller S-Type sedan and wonderful XK8 sports-touring car. Also gone is the XJ's beautiful old interior with its squared off panels of lacquered wood and funky,
classic gauges and switches. Instead, the XJ8's dashboard and door panels have been modernized with softy-contoured surfaces and ovoid shapes reminiscent of Lincoln or Mercury. Thankfully gone is Jaguar's notoriously quirky electrical system, spotty
brake hydraulics and other quality-control problems. Jaguars now get top ratings for quality from consumer groups. Ford's dollars did help improve the breed, certainly more than Ford's influence harmed it. The test XJ8 was the long-wheelbase
version, a U.S.-only model with a back seat big enough for the fussiest passengers, even the Queen Mum herself. The additional five inches is noticeable in the longer rear doors. Despite its bulk, the XJ8 L (for "long") is an enjoyable drive,
cornering nicely and fending off road irregularities with a suspension that is pliant but not too soft. The big Pirelli tires grip like epoxy. The steering is appropriately responsive. The view over the hood is lovely, the familiar contours
accentuated by the classic Jaguar mascot leaping ahead. The current body, restyled a few years back, successfully captures the flavor of the original XJ6 that had been lost in the previous revision. The V-8 is very appropriate for this car, giving it
a relaxed smoothness and plenty of pulling power, at least once under way. Off the line, the modest low-end torque equates to slow acceleration until the two-ton Jag gathers up its skirts and starts to run. In the lighter S-Type and sporty XK-8, the small
V-8 exhibits sharper performance. For those who need a big power rush, the XJR version of the flagship sedan packs a supercharged version of the same V-8 that packs a whopping 370 horsepower and will blow the doors off most so-called muscle cars.
While the exterior styling remains fresh and distinctive, the interior lacks any semblance of Jaguar character. It's without the broad wooden surfaces and classic gauges that recalled either a tony men's club o
r a Rolls-Royce. The current gauges are green and luminescent and look all the world as if they were lifted from a Taurus. Even the cat face in the center hub is merely embossed vinyl instead of gilded metal. Still, the cabin is comfortable and
well-appointed with a full range of electronic features. Options on the test car were a navigation system, $1,500; premium stereo, $1,000; and heated seats, $500. Despite the toned-down interior, the XJ-8 is still a true thoroughbred, expensive and
exclusive. It's also equipped to compete with today's rich crop of luxury cars and uphold one of the most admired marques in motoring.