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Review: 2003 Jaguar XJ

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SEE ALSO: Jaguar Buyer's Guide

Road test: Jaguar XJ 2003 By Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

Scottsdale, Arizona is a nice place at any time but after 4 weeks of rain in San Francisco it was sheer bliss. Glorious sunshine, great people, great food and most importantly a great car to drive!

Yes folks, the brand new Jaguar XJ range is without a shadow of a doubt the finest ever made by that famous company. Don’t take my word it, take it for a drive, it will be in showrooms by the time you read this review.

Is it, I hear you ask, a genuine rival to the BMW 7 series and to the S class Mercedes? Absolutely. I am not saying that it is better than either because personal taste comes into it but I would advise a visit to the nearest Jaguar dealer before forking out 60 plus thousand dollars for a luxury car.

To a casual observer it looks pretty much like the original XJ which was launched back in 1968. Is it a good thing or a bad thing, you’ll have to decide. It certainly is instantly recognizable as a Jag, there is no “what is it” factor about it. The new XJ certainly looks the part and what is more the parts are now made to a vastly superior standard compared to those back in ’68. The bad old days of Joseph Lucas have been relegated to history much to everyone’s delight.

The company is making a huge song and dance about the fact that the car is made out of aluminum and not steel. Stronger, lighter and more economical are just some of the claims.

I have no problem with any of these except that I doubt if most customers will be particularly interested in the mechanical details. I know a lot of people in Marin County who drive Jaguars and most of them have been sold partly by the name, partly by the looks, partly by reliability and partly by good service.

The new XJ offers an advanced 6 speed gearbox-although most customers will just pop the lever into “D” and leave it there. On our 300 mile test run in Arizona we were tempted to do just that, wafting along in total peace and quiet. Having been warned about some over-zealous cops we kept the speeds down, never exceeding 110 miles per hour. A perfectly sensible speed for cruising the autobahns of Germany I would suggest. We were not too keen on the instrumentation, far too many numbers and confusing lines on the speedometer. Sometimes less is more, before taking the car out we saw a video featuring Chief Engineer Mike Cross doing a few quick laps of a race-track in the XJ which proved that a. the car handles really well and b. that it would be foolish to try and emulate it on the road.

We had the quickest model, the XJR which got us from O-60 in just 5 seconds, not so much limo as sports car territory! Regrettably I had to take the company’s word regarding the top speed of 155 miles per hour although it would have been fun to try! We did inspect the much improved trunk which has been a weakness for the best part of 35 years. Jaguar, just like big Bimmers and Mercs and synonymous with golf, consequently having room for 4 sets of clubs instead of trying to squeeze in just two will be very welcome from St Andrews to Pebble Beach.

As one would expect the leather seats are straight out of a London club and just as comfortable. I loved the concept of the multimedia system, the front passenger could be listening to a CD while the two in the back could view a DVD or play a video game.

While aluminum may mean little to the average customer spending less on fuel is always welcome. Here the weight savings and improvements to the engine will result on consumption of 20 plus per gallon and a non-stop cruise from San Francisco to Los Angeles with fuel to spare!

A couple of lovely touches which I particularly liked. One, the non-stick windshield wiper blades. An electrical heating element is embedded in the base of the windshield which prevents the wiper blades from sticking to the screen in sub-zero temperatures. The other is the very neat electronic parking brake replacing the traditional lever. Dislikes: apart from the somewhat messy speedometer not a lot. In my opinion the big Jaguar is not a car for all seasons, for a skiing trip with all the paraphernalia a Volvo V70AWD would be infinitely more practical but for going to the office or on long Coast to Coast drives the new XJ has few rivals.

Prices for the new range start at $60,000 dollars for the 4.2-liter XJ8 with the lavishly equipped Vanden Plas at $69 thousand and the 390bhp supercharged XJR at $75 thou.