Our Jaguar turned out to be a base XJ8, which is just fine. The base car is a nimble and agile athlete, while the Vanden Plas, with more content and more heft, is more of a luxurious chaise in which those who have arrived can arrive. There were complaints about our XJ test car: The interior design wasn't "special" enough. The styling was dated. It failed to advertise all the things about the Jag that were breakthrough new. How, one wonders, are they supposed to design a car that says, "Look here, Bub, my structure is aluminum through and through!" Audi hasn't managed it with the A8, and BMW was unable to do so with the new Rolls-Royce Phantom. Perhaps aluminum architecture is meant to be enjoyed, not seen. Three of our four test drivers felt that the new XJ looked too much like the old XJ. I alone disagreed. I thought that the new XJ-with more head, hip, and luggage room-was beginning to look a bit like the Buick LeSabre. Recent Jaguar sedans have been low, sleek, and narrow. The decision to make the new car more commodious comes at a price, and that price is a loss of exclusivity.
Nonetheless, it is very much a Jaguar, and therein lies an explanation for the complaints we hear from some corners of the automotive press. The XJ8 does not feel like an Audi, a BMW, or a Mercedes-Benz. It is very proudly not a German car. It is an English car, and England has a greater grasp of the sports car tradition than any country on the planet. England has the kinky, narrow little country roads where the whole idea of the sports car was first realized. There have been fat, lazy, butter-and-egg sedans among the Jaguars of the last fifty years, but there have been plenty of dancers and athletes, too. This new XJ8 falls into the latter category. It is a very graceful dancer and a very powerful athlete, and that description does not conjure up very many German cars.
The main thing one takes away from this comparison is the Jag's feeling of lightness and quickness. The new aluminum unibody really has made a difference in that regard. At times, by comparison, the weight of the other three cars seemed ponderous. The 4.2-liter XJ V-8 engine is without doubt the best thing to have happened to Jaguar since the Ford takeover. It offers exactly the right kind of power for this relatively light sedan, and the sound it makes is pure performance car, smooth yet ribald enough to let you know it's sharing your good time. The traditional Jaguar J-gate manual-shift arrangement really proved its worth in these mountains-better by far than either Audi's or BMW's, it was completely intuitive. If it had been introduced this year instead of fifteen years ago, the automotive press would have done a collective swoon.