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Review: 2004 Jaguar XJR Sedan

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MODEL: 2004 Jaguar XJR sedan ENGINE: 4.2-liter supercharged V8 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 390 hp @ 6,100 rpm/399 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 119.4 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 200.4 x 61.3 x 57.0 in. STICKER PRICE: $74,995 (XJ - $59,995; Vanden Plas - $68,995)

Jaguar recently introduced the seventh generation of its luxurious XJ sedan range. First, it's hard to believe that the XJ has been around for seven generations. I can remember when the only sedans Jaguar produced were the large Mark VII and smaller, sportier 3.4 (later to be the Mark II).

But this new XJ is a winner. Longer, taller and wider than before, the XJ is built with an all-aluminum body using rivet-bonded joining technology. Self-piercing rivets in combination with epoxy adhesive joins the aluminum pressings, castings and extrusions.

The car doesn't look any different. Compared with Generation Six, the changes are subtle. Which is good, because the XJ has always had a certain panache about it that really shouldn't be changed. But the cabin offers more headroom, legroom and shoulder room and the trunk is 25 percent larger.

The XJ is available in three versions; the normally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 (294 hp), the more luxurious Vanden Plas with the same engine, and the powerful XJR with a supercharged version of the same engine that delivers 390 horsepower. All engines put the power to the rear wheels through a six-speed ZF automatic transmission incorporating Jaguar's now-famous "J-Gate" shifter that allows semi-manual operation of the gears.

We spent most of the interesting driving at the introduction behind the wheel of an XJR. With soft-grain leather interior, wood-and-leather steering wheel, and hand-laid burl walnut veneer wood trim, there was no mistaking the fact that we were in a Jag. It is one of the few cars that still retains its old-world charm.

And the power. Wow! Whenever we wanted to pass, all we had to do was punch the throttle and we were up to highly excessive speeds in a heartbeat. On the open roads of Arizona we had the space to stretch the car's legs, but with that engine under the hood, you don't need much space.

We also drove an XJ with the normally aspirated V8. While it was lower in power by almost 100 horsepower, we still had fantastic acceleration. I think it would have been preferable to drive the XJ before the XJR, but we didn't have a choice.

Shifting through the six-speed ZF automatic was imperceptible. Downshifting, of course, provided a sure kick in the pants, but normal upshifts were accomplished with little fanfare.

Jaguar had added a performance tuned suspension to the R, along with Brembo brakes with four-position calipers, 19-inch cast aluminum wheels and Xenon headlights. We had opportunities to test the brakes, both in normal driving and during high-speed runs and can vouch for their effectiveness.

The R also has Radar Adaptive Cruise Control, that maintains a safe distance between your car and the one in front, no matter what the speed. That's a nice feature, because cruise control often finds the driver paying less attention to the surrounding traffic and it's easy to run up on a car in front of you.

We had an opportunity to talk with David Scholer, who is the chief program engineer for the new XJ. Scholer said he lived with the project for two years, 24 hours a day. He admitted that Jaguar has had a reputation for questionable quality, and said one of his primary concerns was to design in greater reliability. We only drove the cars for one day, 360 miles, so any quality concerns weren't obvious. We hope that Scholer's team did a good job in this department (they did a great job in the overall design of the XJ), because it's a shame that a grand old marque like Jaguar has not had the reputation it deserves in that area.

© 2003 The Auto Page Syndicate