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Car of the Year 2004: Jaguar XJR

Paul Dean

 

Improvements to the Jaguar XJR are so impressive that they should have made this car a serious contender. Sadly, the modifications for 2004 are not readily apparent, and so the car stands as a dowager of design: same old exquisite lines, same old peerless leathers and woods, same old engine that purrs before it pounces, and same old gentleman’s club feel that has been enchanting elitists and Anglophiles since the Jaguar Mark X of the 1960s.

Even sadder, this

perception of stagnation may well follow the superb and supercharged 390 hp XJR

into the marketplace, where only the most inquisitive shoppers will appreciate

what Jaguar has done to get back into the executive-sedan battle against luxury

opponents from Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, and Audi.

To delve below the

traditional surface and hallmark shape of Jaguar’s veteran flagship is to

recognize that the new XJR has progressed well beyond standard evolution. Under

the well-established parenting of Ford, Jaguar has cast out the discomforts of

earlier XJs and finally taken advantage of space-age technologies in aluminum,

bonding, and riveting without shortchanging anyone interested solely in the

established characteristics and traditional luxuries of Jaguar ownership. 

Our

contest car was the XJR, which differs only in trim (a mesh grille instead of

horizontal bars), price (about $15,000 more), and performance (almost a second

quicker from rest to 60 mph) from the undergraduate XJ8. More significantly,

both XJs address some incessant complaints from Jaguar customers: When, went the

chronic whine, will Jaguar stop building cars with trunks for only $15 worth of

groceries? The new cargo hold has been enlarged to accommodate four bags of golf

clubs, many dozen tubes of balls, several sweaters, and enough groceries for the

entire week. Why are all Jaguar interiors sized to fit the shoulders of

supermodels and the legs of jockeys? For 2004, the XJ is several inches taller,

wider, and longer than its ancestors. Why does the XJ slurp gas and weigh more

than a tugboat? Thanks to an all-aluminum unibody and ultralight fastenings, the

car has shed more than 400 pounds and thus reduced its gas consumption. Are all

Jaguar stylists pensioners living in a 1960s time warp? Remember that Porsche,

with the 911, has been milking its own icon since John F. Kennedy was

president.

The point is that Jaguar has improved from within—with Brembo

brakes, a 6-speed transmission, an automated air suspension system, and all of

today’s sophisticated traction and stability controls—without corrupting its

classic exterior. The XJR has also retained its Jaguarness. This translates to a

smooth ride that roars and an interior stuffed with tasteful subtleties, imbuing

buyers with a sense of style, elegance, and continuing pride of ownership. In

this respect, the XJR remains a car for all seasons and reasons. 

“It’s sound, functional, and there are no negatives for practicality.

But
Jaguar has left its identity, heritage, sense of style, soul, and sex

appeal. It’s for an old person without a care for style.” —Bill Harlan 

“It has the smoothest engine and transmission around, plus a posh

interior. The body style is so old that it’s almost retro-looking. This is

for an elderly couple taking their neighbors to dinner.” —Bruce Hannay

Specifications
Engine 4.2-liter supercharged V-8
Power 390 hp at 6,100

rpm
Torque 399 ft lbs at 3,500 rpm
Zero-to-60 time 5.0

seconds
Top speed 155 mph
Transmission 6-speed

automatic
Wheelbase 119.4 inches
Curb weight 3,948

pounds
Base price $74,330

Return to Robb Report Car of the Year

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