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MOTORNET: Smooth Operator - Jaguar XJ8

Smooth Operator - Jaguar XJ8


SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie - http://www.onlinefotos.com/neil

The midnight black Jaguar XJ8 gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight, its pristine paintwork accentuating its sleek lines. Lost in a reverie, as I moved stealthily through the traffic, I never saw it coming - that winged prey of doom and destruction - but it certainly saw me. The first I knew of the attack was when I heard the distinctive sound on the roof and seconds later my worst fears were confirmed when the evidence materialised on the windscreen and then the bonnet.

'Curses!' I thought. 'Of all the luck...' I had driven less than a kilometre from the dealership and yet, here I was, working the windscreen washer in frustration, it doing its best to remove the sticky mess. Was this a sign, or just a random act? Was this bird some larger metaphor that I should try to decipher - an extension of the tall poppy syndrome perhaps? Or perhaps simply a warning that driving a black car - especially one this expensive - is always asking for trouble...

Whatever the answer to this particular riddle, there's no denying that there is something special about any Jaguar and the new XJ is no exception. In many respects, the new XJ looks a lot like the XJ of old, if just a little pudgier. It is taller and broader, as if the old car needed some filling out. Despite the increase in proportions, the car has lost none of its elegance and poise and is certainly something to look at - the admiring glances of fellow motorists and pedestrians confirmed that many punters would agree.

In fact, at first glance, you might even conclude that not a great deal has changed, but you would be wrong. The new XJ hides its most distinctive feature just below the paintwork - namely its aluminium bodywork. Jaguar's PR material claims the XJ is the first luxury saloon ever built with a monocoque structure made entirely of aluminium, using rivet-bonding technology found in the latest aerospace construction technologies. Jaguar says this makes the car both lightweight yet enormously strong with improved fuel efficiency. More on the fuel efficiency later but the car certainly is lighter, weighing in at 1730kg - or close to 180kg less than a Lexus LS430.

And it shows. Even around town, where the old model felt heavy and ponderous the new XJ feels lithe and taut by comparison. But the car truly comes into its own out on the open road. The big Cat is agile and responsive, turning in nicely to corners. Around tight bends, the nose tends to go slightly wide and a hint of understeer is the order of the day. And while it doesn't shrink around the driver in the same way that, say, a BMW 7 series does, it still makes for a very rewarding drive. Feedback through the beautifully crafted leather and wood steering wheel is excellent - especially for a car with such luxury aspirations. Increased stiffness is also a definite plus (60 percent improvement over its predecessor claim Jaguar). No creaks or groans throughout the cabin which must come as a relief to long-time Jag fans. The steering is a smidgen too light in my opinion, but probably reflective of the expectations of the average Jaguar buyer rather than anything else.

If the exterior of the vehicle is cutting edge, the interior still has the presence and feel of a gentleman’s club from early in the last century. The leather is soft and supple while the high dash trimmed in polished burr walnut is exactly as you would expect in a Jaguar. Ergonomically, it works well too. The large instrument dials are easy to read and the secondary switches fall easily to hand. The front and rear seats are both exceptionally comfortable and for once, there is more than ample head and leg room, though some may find the 'intimateness' of the cabin a little claustrophobic preferring the acres of room more commonly found in say, a Mercedes. The analogue clock is also a nice touch.

Neither front nor rear passengers will won't for anything in terms of creature comforts as the Jaguar comes fully loaded. The list of standard features is endless, and in addition to the usual items like traction control and ABS braking add automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, electric rear sunblind, and a 12 speaker, 320w stereo. Of course, you can always go to town on the options list if you have a mind. Four zone temperature control air con will set you back four grand while xenon headlights will add another two grand to name just a few.

The XJ also enjoys a first rate ride thanks to very clever electronically controlled, self-levelling air suspension, standard on all XJ models here in New Zealand. It automatically lowers the car at speed to improve stability and aerodynamics and keeps the car level regardless of passengers and weight distribution. More importantly, it does an excellent job of soaking up the bumps for a truly sublime ride, though judder bars seem to occasionally get the measure of the system!

But what about the power plant, I hear you ask. After all, a good ride means diddly-squat if you can't beat a Honda Prelude off the lights. Fear not friends, the Jaguar does not disappoint. The test model came equipped with Jaguar's superlative 4.2 litre V8, which develops 224kW at 6000rpm and 420Nm of torque at a respectable 4100 rpm. In truth, the big Cat feels somewhat leisurely under modest throttle, but nail the accelerator and it gathers its skirts quick smart. Jaguar claim 0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds which is probably a little ambitious, though New Zealand Autocar managed 7.1 which is not far of the mark and no mean feat for a car of this size. For dedicated power worshippers, the supercharged 'R' model adds a further 70 odd kilowatts to the output numbers.

A truly perfect luxury sporting saloon then? Possibly not perfect, but pretty close. I have to confess that the self-locking doors irritated me. The pull handles can be difficult to open easily and throw in the likelihood of the doors self-locking after take-off and it can all get a bit complicated. Equally, the great six-speed electronic transmission is somewhat spoiled by the anachronistic 'J-gate' box. Sure it's iconic, but it doesn't work very well! Final niggle is the indicator and wiper stalks. You use these a great deal yet they feel like they've been borrowed from a Focus... should be improved! Neither is fuel efficiency exactly a strength.

Comparing apples with apples, the Jaguar could almost be described as a bargain - assuming that like me, you think it's perfectly okay to spend the equivalent of the cost of a modestly priced house on a car. At a whisker under $175,000 the Jaguar XJ8 4.2 is $10k less than a Lexus LS430, $35k less than a BMW 745i and a whopping $57k less than a Mercedes S500. However, it would also be fair to say that historically Jaguar's have not depreciated especially well which may be a factor to consider if you happen to be a tax lawyer or a recent Lotto winner eyeing up what's on offer.

Whichever way you look at it, Jaguar has created a very desirable car in the XJ8. On the one hand, it feels thoroughly modern, incorporating technology and cutting edge features to make for a supremely well put together car. On the other, it has all the charm, personality and luxury that made people want to buy Jaguars in the first place. While the odd strike of pigeons may not approve, your neighbour certainly will, and let's be honest, that's probably half the reason you'll buy it in the first place.

**** ENDS ****

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