The crucial element in the 2008 Jaguar XJ's design and construction isn't visible from 20 paces, or even up close in its lacquer-look paint, but it's one thing that separates the XJ from most other full-size luxury sedans available today: aluminum.
Most automobiles are using more aluminum parts all the time. Aluminum is light, and in most cases, light is good, as long as it's also strong. Many luxury sedans have a couple of aluminum fenders or an aluminum hood; a few have complete aluminum bodies. The XJ, on the other hand, is made almost entirely of aluminum from the chassis crossmembers up. It has a conventional unit-body design, meaning the body and chassis are a single, assembled piece, with some visible elements of the exterior serving as structural, load-bearing components. But the XJ's unit-body is entirely aluminum, with steel subframes that cradle the engine and suspension.
The long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ models, the XJ8 L, Vanden Plas, and Super V8, are the longest cars in this class. They're a fraction of inch longer than the Mercedes Benz S-Class, and 1.4 inches longer than the longest BMW 7 Series. Yet the XJs are also the lightest, thanks to their aluminum intensive construction. Other things equal, lighter means better performance and better fuel economy.
Of course, no one will be thinking about the aluminum when they're sizing-up the XJ in a showroom. We suspect many buyers choose Jaguars for the styling, and there's no mistaking this big sedan for anything other than a Jaguar. The XJ looks as though it's ready to pounce even when it's standing still. The hood has the traditional curves that flow back from the top edges of four round headlights. The wide grille protrudes forward slightly and the leaping jaguar, called the Bonnet Leaper, sits on top of the hood.
For 2008, the front bumper and lower fascia are redesigned. The bumper loses its chromed rub strips that sat below the headlights, and the fascia now has a smaller lower air intake that looks like an extension of the chromed wire mesh grille. It is flanked by two smaller intakes that also house round fog lights. The look is sportier and better integrated than in previous years, when the lower air intake looked like a wide, elliptical grin.
From the side, the XJ has a high belt line, a trend that can be at least partly attributed to people feeling safer with taller side panels. This makes the side windows appear shallower. The windshield is set at a modern, raked angle. The subtle way in which the belt line edges up as it runs toward the rear gives the car a purposefully crouched look. All the glass is laminated, with two layers separated by an ultra-thin acoustic interlayer, which cuts interior noise and protects trim from the damaging effect of UV radiation. Jaguar also claims that the laminated side glass makes smash-and-grab thefts more difficult.
For 2008, the front fenders add what Jaguar calls power vents, blade-like chrome gills that play off similar elements on the XK roadster and new XF sedan.
The rear is uncluttered and features iconic triangular taillight clusters. Wheel packages range from 18 to 20 inches in diameter. In terms of appearance, bigger is generally considered better when it comes to wheels, though we think the XJR and Super V8, with their 20-inch wheels and chromed power vents might have a little too much bling. Smaller wheels with taller sidewalls tend to offer a smoother ride; larger wheels with shorter tire sidewalls tend to produce a slight decrease in ride quality, or at least more tire noise.
Inside, the 2008 Jaguar XJ exudes tradition and good taste. It may not be as avant-garde or precise as its German competitors or as Zen-like or techie as some from Japan, but it looks and even smells like success.
All XJs feature polished burl walnut trim and contrasting piping on the leather seats. Some have soft, long-pile wool rugs in the footwells, which make you want to ride with your shoes and socks off (even if those rugs are harder to clean and tend to shed). The walnut in the Vanden Plas and Super V8 is hand inlaid with chunks of Peruvian boxwood, and a lighter elm trim is offered on all models at no cost.
The XJ dashboard sweeps across the front of the cabin in a fairly high position. Three primary gauges are clustered in front of the steering wheel, with the speedometer slightly larger in the center, the tach to the left and the fuel and temperature gauges combined on the right. The center stack is surrounded by leather trim in the shape of a horse collar. It features a seven-inch LCD touch screen for managing climate, audio and navigation functions. Jaguar has made the controls easy to operate and avoided the temptation to include a host of gee-whiz computer controls. We find the Jaguar's control center and the touch-screen navigation system easier to operate than the point-and-click devices in the BMW, Audi, and Mercedes cars.
While the XJ is a large car, everything adjusts to accommodate drivers from tiny to almost huge. All seats feature 16-way adjustment, and the foot pedals can be moved up to 2.5 inches at the touch of a switch. The XJR and Super V8 feature more heavily bolstered sport seats. We'd recommend them to drivers who like the occasional blast down a canyon road, but the standard seats are just fine.
The current XJs are roomier than ever. Gone are the days when the unmistakable Jaguar styling brought an obvious (obviously cramped) payback inside, compared to German cars. While the long-wheelbase versions have proven popular with American consumers, they were originally developed for Europe's chauffeur-driven executive class. Five extra inches in the car's length is entirely behind the B-pillars (between the front and rear doors), so inside it means a lot more rear seat room. Plus, the front seats are revised for 2008 to add more rear toe space.
The rear seatbacks recline, and long-wheelbase models have a switch for the person riding in the right-rear seat to power the front passenger's seat forward. This allows plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the wooden picnic trays that flip down from the backs of the front seats. The Super V8 comes standard with separate climate controls for each side in back, as well as the dual-screen DVD entertainment system. The 6.5-inch LCD monitors are embedded in the back of the front-seat headrests, with a control panel located in the rear center armrest that operates the screens independently. One person can be watching a DVD while the other plays a video game or looks at snapshots from a camera.
The trunk offers 16.4 cubic feet of volume, which is more than the Audi A8 (14.6 cubic feet) and BMW 7 Series (16.3), but less than the Lexus LS460 or Mercedes S-Class (both 18.0). To be sure, we wouldn't expect buyers in this league to choose primarily on trunk size, and the XJ's trunk is large in any case. The XJ trunk will swallow lots of luggage, or at least two big golf bags.