The Automobile Magazine editorial offices are abuzz with the recent arrival of the new Jaguar XF in our test fleet, but last weekend I enjoyed a long road trip in a car that, for many Americans, remains the quintessential Jaguar: a long-wheelbase XJ sedan.
My friend Mike D., who is also an automotive journalist, and I drove a silver XJ Super V8, the XJ with the mostest, from Ann Arbor to Washington, D.C., for a fun early-spring weekend. In truth, I had Mike drive most of the time so that I could be a swell in the back seat, burying my feet in the lambswool rugs and working comfortably on my laptop.
The right rear seat, the preferred location when one is being chauffeured, features a seat control lever that moves the front seat forward to create maximum leg room for one's fabulous chauffeured self. This is definitely not a car you'd want to drive your kids around in---they would amuse themselves nonstop by moving the seat forward on unsuspecting front-seat passengers. The rear seat also reclines slightly. The seatbacks of the front seats present fold-down picnic tables to rear-seat occupants, but the excitement you feel when you first see them in their wood-veneered elegance dissipates quickly once you fold them down and discover that they are not half as useful as the trays in your average tired Boeing 737, and the undersides are lined in hard plastic, not wood veneers, and they don't even fold down flat. Other gripes? The huge front-seat headrests accommodate screens for watching DVDs, but they also severely block your forward view. I did not watch any movies, as I had plenty to do writing a story on my computer, chatting with my chauffeur, and reading my book.
Five years after the current-generation XJ debuted, this car is still a pleasure to drive and to be driven in. It received a light freshening last year, with a revised front end, new side vents, and a few other tweaks. The all-aluminum body structure and aluminum body panels give it a decided weight advantage over other big luxo sedans, so it handles really well for its size. Ride comfort, long a Jaguar strength, is supreme, and the miles melt away. We reached Washington in an easy 8.5 hours, completely refreshed, rarely exceeding the speed limits by more than 5 mph. You learn to keep the XJ's radar cruise control at its highest tolerance setting, meaning it will maintain the shortest possible distance between you and other cars in front of you before it brakes automatically, which can be a bit jarring. But when you want to dispense with some traffic, the supercharged 400-hp 4.2-liter V-8 makes quick work of most other cars on the road.
On Saturday morning, I delivered my friend Charley S. to the boathouse on the Potomac near the George Washington University, where he would be coaching the University of Michigan Mens Rowing team in a regatta. As I pulled in, a group of Navy rowers who were unloading one of their boats stopped in their tracks to gape at the big silver Jag. Jeez, if college athletes are into this car, why isn't anyone buying it?
I was afraid that our long-wheelbase XJ would be a liability in the crowded streets of our nation's capital, but it wasn't. Dashing through late-afternoon traffic in Georgetown, I found it easiest to move the J-gate lever to third or even second gear; in that position, I could squirt through holes in traffic easily.
Everywhere we went, the XJ Super V8 was warmly received, and there was lots of finger-pointing and waving. I saw only one other XJ the whole weekend, a short-wheelbase black one idling at the curb on M Street, the main drag through the chi-chi Georgetown neighborhood. It seems that everyone admires the Jaguar XJ, but no one wants to buy it. For Jaguar's sake, let's hope things are a bit different for the new, mid-size XF.
An all-new Jaguar XJ with modern styling will make its debut this September at the 2008 Paris Motor Show and go on sale here sometime in 2009 as a 2010 model. That car will seek to bring the flagship sedan into the 21st century with modern styling and cutting-edge performance, and I look forward to driving it. But having made a relaxing journey in the current XJ, I dare say I'll miss the old girl once she is gone.