These are daunting days for Jaguar. Ford has yet to earn a penny from the $2.5 billion bet it placed on the venerable British brand fifteen years ago. S- and X-types engineered around corporate components never achieved their sales targets, and the Formula 1 fling was an embarrassment. Jaguar residual values suffer in comparison with other luxury brands, and current cat fanciers are aging, partly because there's no SUV across the showroom floor.All of which obliges Jaguar's fresh flagship to leap forth and growl with a vengeance. Introduced at the 2002 Paris show on the birthday of the 1968 original, the fifth-generation XJ was a scrupulous blend of old and new. Inside a larger but familiar-looking envelope, a roomier interior is furnished with traditional burled wood and lavish leather. Powertrains were refreshed, and computer-controlled air springs replaced steel coils. The headline attraction is a unibody consisting of more than 300 aluminum components bonded, riveted, and welded to produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts. That unibody is 40 percent stiffer and 60 percent lighter than the steel structure it replaced.
Senior editor Joe DeMatio reported from the XJ8's launch that it finally had caught up to dynamic standards established by aggressive German competitors. Four months later, we pitted the newly arrived Jag against an Audi A8L, a BMW 745Li, and a Mercedes-Benz S430 4Matic, concluding that the Audi was our overall favorite, the Mercedes was most likely to provide a pleasant ownership experience, but the XJ8 was the foursome's true athlete. Author David E. Davis, Jr., called it the most fun of the bunch.
But could that endorsement stand a Four Seasons thrashing? To find out, we ordered an XJ8 and sent it on a twelve-month, 33,780-mile mission that would touch a third of these United States plus the odd Canadian province. Debate simmered season after season: Is this a dated and doddering old fogey's ride or a pleasant respite from the cold efficiency wrought by the Germans and the Japanese?
One logbook contributor admitted that the new Jaguar drew more than its share of admiring glances, but it was not his cup of orange pekoe. He dubbed the XJ8 ancient-looking, cramped to ride in, and floaty in flight, before expressing strong preference for the BMW 745i. Others acknowledged the tendency for the body to waft about at speed while chiming in with praise in defense of the XJ8's honor. "Wheel control on impacts is terrific," one commentator pointed out before chastising the cut of this Jaguar's headliner, which he deemed "appropriate for a '70s cheapskate, not a $70,000 luxury car."
Executive editor Mark Gillies strongly disagreed: "My complaints stop after the ho-hum exterior and an interior that lacks character. The driving experience is excellent thanks to a supple ride, just-so brakes, beautifully linear steering, and handling that's both composed and athletic. Where a German car crushes the pavement, the Jaguar XJ8 floats serenely."
Editor-in-chief Jean Jennings's enthusiasm began with a favorable overview of the interior: "This is my new fave nav system. It's easy to use and full of information. Likewise, the wheel-mounted cruise control is perfect; hit the 'set' button, and your velocity is locked. While the gauges and the clock are dated-looking, they are at least clearly legible.
"During a trip to New Hampshire fraught with wind and blizzards, we loved the smooth ride. You hear the suspension working, but the cabin remains unflustered. I'm not feeling 'floaty.' The wheel is padded in the right places, and the steering feels tightly connected. Front-seat roominess and comfort remind me of a British Airways business-class lounger. The headliner looks like nice wool to me. Long stints at the wheel didn't wear us out."
On a winter trip to Detroit for a play, DeMatio and three friends enjoyed a delightful evening in the Jaguar's cozy confines. "I found myself blasting out of intersections leaving everyone in this car's dust. But if you take it easy, you can achieve 25 mpg on the freeway."