The XJ8 L almost looks like that, but not quite. And it certainly doesn't drive any differently from the regular XJ, which is a good thing, because the new-for-2004 XJ is one of the best-behaved luxury sedans on the roa d. The extra length seems to go exclusively to rear-seat legroom, where 6-footers can cross their legs and stretch out, even with a couple of other 6-footers sitting in the front seats.
This is not to say the regular XJ isn't roomy, because it is. The XJ8 L is just roomier. But unless I frequently had rear-seat passengers whom I genuinely wanted to make comfortable -- a rich and ailing uncle, for instance, who needed the room and the neat aircraft-style flip-down table to prepare his will -- I can't think of any reason to get the extra-length XJ. Regular, poor uncles, which are the only kind I seem to have, would be plenty happy in a standard XJ.
The reason why the XJ8 L looks so long is because it is. Overall length is 205.3 inches, making it the longest car in the premium sedan class -- 2.2 inches longer than the lengthened version of the Mercedes Benz S-Class, and 1.8 inches longer than the longest BMW 7-Series. It is also 6.4 inches longer than a Cadillac Escalade SUV.
When I first wrote about the new XJ in August 2003, my central, and lone, complaint was the styling. The 2004 XJ, while brand-new under the skin, looks oddly like the car it replaces.
"It's a classic style," countered one Jaguar executive then, "and did not require much update." Well, maybe, but you'd think when a company updates its flagship sedan for the first time in nine years, they'd want it to look like a new car. But that's my personal opinion.
The test car was a Jaguar XJ8 L Vanden Plas, which is the most deluxe model, but not the most expensive: That would be the Super V-8, which is similar to the Vanden Plas, but instead of a 294-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8, it has a 390-horsepower supercharged version of that engine. That car starts at $89,995, making the starting list price of the test car, $70,330, seem slightly less likely to give you terminal sticker shock. Shipping, a $675 xenon lighting package and a $2,300 navigation system upped the total price to $73,505.
Really, you don't much need the 390-horse engine. The six-speed automatic transmission does such a competent job of maximizing the regular engine's 294 horsepower that you are never at a loss for acceleration. The engine is silky-smooth and quiet, too. Handling is very good, especially given the XJ8 L's size, and the ride is excellent.
Jaguar continues to excel in interiors. The creamy leather and wood trim -- burl walnut veneers with Peruvian boxwood inlay -- is gorgeous. Instruments and controls need some work, but they always have in this car.
Aside from the too-familiar looks, the XJ remains a delightful car, and the L just gives you slightly more of it.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith's TV reports air Wednesdays on Central Florida News 13.