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Review and photos by Grant Yoxon
If Dr. Jekyll were a car, it would be the Jaguar XJR.
Unquestionably country club respectable, the XJR has the refined, gracious look of classic Jaguar sedans. From the delicate “Leaper” perched on its hood to the matched burl walnut veneers inside, the Jaguar XJR is a sophisticated, elegant automobile.
But beneath this distinguished facade lurks one mean Mr. Hyde. 390 supercharged horsepower. 399 pound-feet of torque. Monster Brembo brakes. A track-tough suspension and point and shoot steering. Mr. Hyde is muscular, lithe, agile and brutally quick.
This is an all-new Jaguar XJ, the seventh generation of Jaguar’s XJ lineage and it is significantly more advanced than the previous model.
Modern manufacturing techniques such as rivet-bonded joining technology and aerospace-sourced epoxy adhesive, and the extensive use of advanced materials such as aluminum and magnesium allowed Jaguar to strengthen the XJ body, improving structural rigidity, passenger room and particularly safety without adding any additional weight to the car. In fact, the new Jag is 52 kilograms (115 pounds) lighter than previous.
The 2004 XJ’s doors are noticeably more substantial than before and the car is a bit wider as a result. More head room was added by raising the roof 97 millimetres (3.8 inches), while passenger room was expanded by lengthening the car 66 mm (2.6 inches) and its wheelbase by a full 164 mm (6.5 inches).
Despite the changes Jaguar maintained the traditional look of the XJ. The design changes are subtle and only really noticeable when the 2004 is placed beside an earlier model.
The base Dr. Jekyl XJ is powered by a new 4.2 litre V-8 with aluminum alloy cylinder head and block. This engine produces 294 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. and 303 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 r.p.m.
Mr. Hyde has a supercharged version of this engine, increasing horsepower and torque by nearly a third. The Automotive Journalists Association of Canada, in 2004 Car of the year testing, recorded a zero to 100 kilometres per hour time of 6.2 seconds. Jaguar says the big Jag will do the 0 – 100 sprint in 5.1 seconds. But by any measure, the XJR is plenty fast.
And acceleration from 80 to 120 km/h is nothing short of stunning. Press hard on the accelerator and the car surges ahead, moving from 80 to 120 km/h in about four seconds. In the real world of daily highway driving, the XJR is a passing phenomenon – 120 comes up very quickly and license threatening speeds are only a blink beyond.
But you won’t go where you don’t want to go without the determination to get there. The car has a well-modulated throttle and unleashing the beast requires a conscious decision.
Around town, the XJR is a model of restrained respectability. The cabin is quiet save for the muted burble of the V-8 in waiting. A lane change is as easy as a snap of the throttle and twist of the wrist. A freeway on-ramp uncages the animal as the wonderful high pitched whine of the supercharger overwhelms the understated growl of the engine.
In all but the one-two up-shift, the six-speed automatic transmission shifts gears imperceptibly.
The big Jag sails unperturbed over freeway frost heaves and pot holes, it’s long wheel base, enhanced computer active technology suspension (ECATS) and air suspension soaking up the bumps. The air suspension maintains ride height regardless of the number of passengers and automatically lowers the ride height at speed to improve stability and aerodynamic efficiency. ECATS adjusts the shock settings automatically to optimise ride and handling under any condition.
The steering seems perfectly weighted at any speed, not too loose in parking lots and traffic, not too stiff at speed. Handling is well beyond what anyone would expect for a sedan as big as the XJR. Despite wearing Bridgestone Blitzak winter tires – big 19 inch Pirelli Z-rated P-Zeros are standard – the XJR cornered flat and neutral without protest from the tires or slipping on the pavement.
The Brembo brakes are effective in most circumstance, but sent a disconcerting ABS shudder through the car when shifting from hard acceleration to hard braking.
Dynamic stability control and traction control are standard, but neither came into play during my time with the car – a mild and sunny mid-winter week.
Sitting in the XJR, it is easy to forget this is a full-size sedan. The seating position – on 16-way power adjustable seats – is lower than most cars in this class. Although roomier than the previous XJ, the cabin is still tight – the dash and steering wheel, despite power adjustability, feel close. Power adjustable pedals help find the best seating position, but the pedals are set too close together and the footwells are cramped.
The driving position feels more sports car than luxury sedan, but this is a car that blends sports car characteristics and luxury accommodations better than most.
The rear seat, complete with audio and video controls for an optional twin screen rear seat entertainment system (which our car didn’t have) housed in the pull-down centre arm rest, is roomy enough, but not limousine-sized like the Audi A8L or Lexus LS430.
Everywhere, of course, there is soft leather. Instrument pods are set off with chrome surrounds. Door handles are meaty chrome appliances. The grain of the burl walnut interior trim is matched perfectly, as if cut from the same piece of wood.
R model XJs get “R” insignia on the leather shift knob, brake calipers and front fenders, as well as a mesh grille instead of intersecting horizontal and vertical bars.
Standard creature comforts include 320-watt AM/FM/CD premium sound system, dual zone automatic climate control (4-zone is optionally available), electric rear sun blind, electric tilt and telescopic steering wheel, electrochromic interior and exterior mirrors, heated front and rear seats, DVD-based navigation system with touch screen controls, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, dynamic levelling headlights and front and rear parking assist, as well as a host of other lesser features.
Of course, you can expect a lot of switches to work all these gizmos. At first the sheer quantity of buttons and knobs on the dash and centre console is intimidating. You’d be wise to sit down with the owner’s manual for a bit before driving.
Despite the initial complexity of the controls, I very quickly came to realize that Jaguar has found the right balance between traditional hand controls and computerized on screen settings.
The Jag’s navigation screen doubles as a control module for climate and audio controls. However, common and frequent tasks, like changing radio stations or audio source, or adjusting the temperature or window defrosters, can be accomplished with traditional buttons that surround the screen or are mounted on the steering wheel.
You may need the manual to set “home” for the navigation system, to specify radio station pre-sets and select preferred climate settings. But once done, there isn’t much need for the on-screen menus. You don’t need to be a computer whiz to find your favourite jazz station.
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Despite the pleasure of driving the XJR, the car is not perfect. The gauges are too small and calibrated in unusual increments of 30. So too is the analogue clock which rear-seat passengers cannot decipher. The ignition key is located perilously close to one’s knee. Red indicator lights are used inconsistently to signify that a function is on or off. And the zig zag pattern of the elements in the heated windshield can be distracting and distort night time vision.
As well, items that one would expect in a car costing more than $100,000 are conspicuously absent. There is no rear back-up camera, although with the Jaguar’s excellent visibility, it is hardly necessary. And in a time when even entry-level vehicles can be equipped with a six-disc in-dash CD changer, the Jag’s is curiously mounted in the trunk.
But these imperfections are as traditional as the look of the XJR. If it were perfect, the XJR would not be a Jag. It is like a comfortable old tweed jacket that, despite a loose button and a well-worn elbow, is still the most desirable item in the closet.
Technical Data: 2004 Jaguar XJR
|Price as tested||$105,000 plus freight, retailer preparation, taxes and licensing|
|Type||Four-door, five passenger luxury sport sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine||4.2 litre V-8 supercharged|
|Horsepower||390 at 6,100 r.p.m.|
|Torque||399 ft.-lbs. at 3,500 r.p.m.|
|Brakes||4-wheel disc brakes, electronically controlled 4-channel ABS with yaw control and active brake booster|
|Tires||255/40R19 Bridgestone Blitzak (255/40ZR19 Pirelli P-Zero standard)|
|Curb weight||1,791 kg (3,948 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||3,034 mm (119.4 in.)|
|Length||5,090 mm (200.4 in.)|
|Width||1,868 mm (73.5 in.)|
|Height||1,448 mm (57 in.)|
|Trunk space||470 litres (16.6 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.6 L/100 km (21 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.9 L/100 km (32 mpg)|
|Recommended fuel||Premium unleaded required|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|