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March 19, 2005

Review: 2005 Jaguar XJ8

Jaguar’s XJ-series is the epitome of luxury and performance for the British car maker.  And even with Ford money, and the subsequent introduction of new models such as the XK-series, X-Type, and S-Type series models, the XJ-series has remained the company’s all-encompassing product.  The XJ-series, especially in XJ8 form, proves that the British do stand a great chance in toppling the Germans in the ultra-luxury car game.

So when Jaguar had to redesign an all-new XJ-series, there was cause for great concern.  How can the new XJ-series keep the fiercely loyal Jaguar clientele happy with all the sorts of walnut and leather trim they’re so used to, but at the same time, be modern and high-tech enough to attract a new sort of buyer?  How can the new XJ-series gain new market share in an industry with powerful players that include Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz?

For starters, they embodied the XJ-series with an all aluminum body and chassis.  Although this process doesn’t sound too groundbreaking as the Audi A8 and various Ferraris have been using them for decades, what makes the XJ’s different is that it’s a monocoque chassis, similar to a conventional steel-bodied sedan.  Unlike cars which use a spaceframe, the new technique used by Jaguar enables the XJ8 to gain 60 percent more stiffness, while reducing 40 percent of the overall weight.

On the open road, the Jaguar XJ8 feels as nimble as its smaller X-Type or S-Type brethren.  Although it comes standard with large, 17-inch cast alloy rims, the XJ8 rides on the soft side, gliding through the smallest of road ruts.  Noticeably is how good the ride is, by remaining supple but without the barge-like feeling of other luxury sedans.  However, show it a corner, and the XJ8 can take it without hesitation.  Though there’s a degree of body roll, overall the XJ8 isn’t a barge, as its looks may suggest.

The steering, although a bit uncommunicative remains true to Jaguar form by being responsive and reactive.  There are fancy ‘active this or active that’ on the XJ8, and it doesn’t need it.  This is one aristocratic blue-blooded handler that shows perfect balance between performance and comfort.  The Jaguar DNA, is truly alive in-between those front and rear double-wishbones.

The XJ8’s cornering prowess is enhanced further by the addition of a highly potent 4.2-liter double overhead cam V8 upfront.  This range-topping engine produces 290 horsepower and 411 Nm of torque.  This means that the XJ8 can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in approximately 6.6 seconds and reach an electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h.  Though these figures are handy in a game of Trump Cards, in real life, the man in charge won’t really be concerned with that.  What’s important is that the XJ8 accelerates like a maniac on fire and that the exhaust note is burly and one to die for.

It seems that the Jaguar XJ8 is one fine example of an excellent sports sedan.  So why isn’t it really trampling its competition?  Why aren’t world leaders relying on the leaper rather than the three-pointed star?  Well, in the case of the XJ-series, it probably has to do with the overall design.

Unlike its rivals, like the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which continue to push the envelope of design forward, Jaguar remains too cautious, deciding on just improving the old XJ-series’ shape for the new one.  Although there’s nothing genuinely wrong with taking design cues from the past, the problem here is that it’s hard to distinguish the new XJ8 from the old one, a shape that started originally started in 1994.  This means, that although the shape is classic Jaguar, it doesn’t announce itself as being high-tech.  It may receive a couple of nods of approval from onlookers, but not the same ‘hey look at that’ reaction that one may receive from its German rivals.

It’s this same problem that plagues the XJ8 on the inside.  Although finished well with only the quality walnut trim and leather seats, it makes one feel like a decade older in the way it’s designed.  The flat, almost vertical wood slab that runs through the entire front part of the cabin may look great on the lacquer cabinet, but it doesn’t seem to push the right buttons when it comes to a car with sporty pretensions.  In addition, the button-fest central console is hard enough to decipher when driving past 120 km/h, but add to that the lack of tactile feel from the Ford-sourced buttons.  And that’s a shame given that the half-priced Volvo S80 gets it own high-quality, rubber-finished buttons.  Perhaps giving better quality stalks and buttons to a P 7 million car isn’t too much to ask.

And there’s the rub.  The Jaguar XJ8 may have been able to fuse sporty performance with luxurious touches, but it doesn’t have to wrap everything in a ‘been there, done that’ shell.  The addition of a light-weight body, 290 horsepower V8 engine, and 6-speed automatic are all welcome compliments to Jaguar’s sporty heritage, but the lack of design originality is one that’s not.  There lies the problem, with so many concept cars coming out every so often; one expected that Jaguar would come out with an anti-gravity XJ8 by now.

When Ford bought Jaguar, it understood that it bought a brand filled with history and respect.  However, it completely misunderstood the brand’s so-called loyal customer base.  Being loyal to the brand and heritage doesn’t have to mean that designers have to completely borrow the lines of past cars.  With the XJ8, Jaguar engineers had the opportunity to trounce the Germans at their own game, but alas, in the end, it’s the leaping cat that has to play catch-up.

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