Used Jaguar XJ8 review: 2003-2005
June 30, 2009
There are few more elegant cars than the big cats, they’re long and lithe and seem poised to pounce the moment you bury your right foot in the shag pile. Even when you delve back in history to the Mark V model of the late-1940s, the Mark VII of the 1950s, or the original XJ6 of the late-1960s you find a fabulous heritage of beautifully elegant saloons, and little has changed in the 60 years that have passed.
The company once used the slogan “pace with grace” and that pretty much sums up the big Jaguar saloons. They were sporty, but still oozed charm and elegance. Today’s models are no less elegant than those early classics, even if some think they’re mired in the past.
The seventh generation Jaguar XJ saloon emerged in 2003, and yet again it looked for all the world like a makeover of the first XJ shown back in the late-1960s. That first car was such a beauty that it seems Jaguar couldn’t let it go, but then why should they. That original XJ6 was perfectly proportioned, with a balance of lines that keep it looking fresh 40 years later.
The XJ8 of 2003 boasted a similar balance despite being significantly larger than the model it replaced. It was longer, wider and taller than its earlier cousin, and also had a longer wheelbase and reduced front overhang.
If it looked a throwback to the past the X350, as it was known, was no such thing once you dug under the skin and realized the depth of engineering that marked this cat out as a very new beast.
If there’s been a constant criticism of the big cats over the years it’s that its exterior size wasn’t translated into interior room and that the interior was cramped, particularly in the rear seat. But the extra length, width and height was put to good use and went a long way to making this XJ competitive in terms of interior space.
At the core of the XJ was a rivet-bonded aluminium monocoque construction that slashed the big cat’s weight by 200 kg or more. Remarkably, it weighed just a little over 1500 kg. The lightness clearly comes through in the driving when the XJ feels agile and responsive, with quick, sensitive and precise steering that belies its physical size.
While Jaguars have always been a pleasure to drive the dynamics and sheer speed of this model shifted it into an elite class occupied by the likes of BMW M-Series and ’Benz AMG models. Under the XJ’s long, elegant bonnet at launch was a choice of two V8s, which in early 2004 were joined by a V6.The V8 choices were a 3.5-litre unit and a larger 4.2-litre engine, the latter available in normally aspirated and supercharged forms.
Both were of a double overhead camshaft configuration with four valves per cylinder. The 3.5-litre version boasted 196 kW at 6300 revs and 345 Nm at 4200 revs, while the normally-aspirated 4.2-litre engine put out 224 kW at 6000 revs with 420 Nm at 4100 revs. The big cracker blown 4.2-litre engine, which powered the awesome XJR, had 298 kW at 6100 revs and 553 Nm at 3500 revs. All that drive was then transferred to the black top through a ZF six-speed automatic with the final drive going through the rear wheels.
When it arrived in 2004 the double overhead camshaft 3.0-litre V6 had 179 kW at 6800 revs and 300 Nm at 4100 revs. There was no lack of zip with the XJ; even the V6 was quick. When asked the V6 would race to 100 km/h in just 8.1 seconds, faster than the small V8 in its predecessor, but the smooth short stroke 3.5-litre V8 required half a second less to make the same journey. The larger V8 took around 6.5 seconds to reach 100 km/h, the supercharged version was even less. With a solid, rigid foundation the XJ had a stable platform that could support the sort of handling the Jaguar engineers wanted to achieve, but it was just the start.
Add to the aluminium masterpiece self-leveling air springs to adjust the ride height to suit the speed the big cat is being driven at, and Jaguar’s adaptive shock absorbers and you have an awesome package. A stiffer, more sporting setup was optionally available, and there was the XJR for the ultimate ride. Tradition played as big a role in determining the design of the interior as it did the exterior, with lashings of leather and touches of wood, as well as a raft of luxury features, like power seats, adjustable pedals and steering wheel, parking sensors, cruise, air, and a super sound system.
IN THE SHOP
Build quality plagued earlier XJ Jags. The problems were mostly silly little things that should never have occurred, but did, and were very frustrating for owners. But since Ford took over the quality has improved and there is little for owners to be concerned about. Make sure the service schedule has been adhered to and the oil in particular has been changed. With 18-inch wheels standard, and 19 and 20-inch wheels optional, be prepared to pay dearly when it comes time to replace the tyres.
IN A CRASH
There’s an awesome array of safety features in the XJ, as there should be on a car that cost around $200,000 when new. The rigid monocoque chassis, its agility, precise and responsive steering, and powerful brakes give it the road holding to escape many crash situations you might encounter. Once the metal begins to crumple there’s also an array of front and side airbags that come into play to protect you.
AT THE PUMP
A big lump of a car, but surprisingly light for its dimensions means quite reasonable fuel economy. If you can light pedal it you could expect to see average numbers between 10.5 and 12.5 L/100 km.
• Timeless classic styling
• Wonderfully balanced chassis
• Precise steering
• High performance
THE BOTTOM LINE
Classic looks belie a thoroughly modern sporting saloon capable of matching the German bahn-stormers.