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The British have a penchant for revering (and some say clinging to) things past — old buildings and dentistry from the 16th century, warm beer, 50-year-old double-decker Routemasters, the royal family and the Jaguar XJ Series. Introduced in 1968, the XJ's basic styling has strayed very little through three generations and several midlife redesigns. About the wildest thing to happen was the addition of square headlamps in 1990 — and they were generally met with a smattering of jeers and "cor blimeys!"
Not since Prince Charles was a teenager had the Jaguar XJ Series been considered the cutting edge of full-size luxury sedans, even when it introduced a lightweight aluminum frame, powerful V8 engines, active damping suspension and high-tech features like adaptive cruise control, navigation and Bluetooth. Indeed, Jaguar's insistence on maintaining "timeless" styling backfired, leading to disappointing sales at a time when it could ill afford any false starts (or whatever English rugby analogy would apply). Not only did the XJ's fortunes tank, but the entire Jaguar brand was threatened with financial ruin.
All of that changed for 2011 when Jag pulled the covers off its radical fourth-generation XJ. Gone was the ye olde styling and in came sexy, modern duds inside and out unlike anything else on the road. That car, now without the "Series" nomenclature, is covered in a separate Jaguar XJ review.
Past Jaguar XJ Series
The previous, third-generation XJ was produced from 2004-'09. There was no 2010 XJ. This generation may have looked like the previous one, but it was in fact completely redesigned and featured an all-new aluminum chassis that was significantly stiffer and lighter than the previous steel structure.
This XJ was offered in two wheelbases and five trim levels. The XJ8 and supercharged XJR are short-wheelbase models, while the XJ8 L, Vanden Plas and supercharged Super V8 have long wheelbases. The latter two were introduced for 2005. The XJ8 and XJ8 L came with a respectable amount of equipment for a luxury sedan, while the Vanden Plas added more luxurious trappings. The XJR was equipped for enhanced performance and handling. The Super V8 was essentially a Vanden Plas with much of the XJR performance equipment, plus a few extra high-end features. Much of what is standard on the Vanden Plas and Super V8 was optional on the base XJ8 models.
The base engine was a naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8, which originally produced 294 horsepower and then 300 hp for '06 and later. The XJR and Super V8 got a supercharged version of the same engine originally good for 390 hp, and 400 hp for '06 and later. The only transmission offered was a six-speed automatic attached to Jaguar's classic and controversial J-gate shifter.
The interior, much like the rest of the car, was a peculiar mix of current technology and heritage design. Burl walnut trim, chrome and supple leather were liberally strewn about, providing a coddling environment that would make the Fifth Duke of Wellington feel at home. Yet in reviews, we found this classic British style came at the expense of ergonomics and general usability. Controls and switchgear were laid out illogically and set low in the dashboard, while their craftsmanship was not up to par. Whether that was considered "charming" or just "irritating," we yearned for the XJ's cabin to join the 21st century even as it added such newfangled features as Bluetooth, cooled seats and satellite radio over the years.
Our road tests showed the Jaguar XJ8 to deliver an isolated ride that filtered out even the most punishing roads with little intrusion into the cabin. The soft suspension, though, tended to mask the car's stiffer body structure and good steering. On the other hand, the XJR (and to a lesser extent, the Super V8) made the most of its advanced aluminum chassis. Its quicker steering, more aggressively tuned air suspension and 400-hp supercharged V8 proved that Jaguar could produce a luxury sedan that pleased enthusiasts and luxury-minded buyers alike. In total, this Jag XJ drove like a thoroughly modern car — it just didn't look like one.
Other than its modest power increase, few features additions and the for-2006-only Super V8 Portfolio, the only significant change you should note was for 2008, when the XJ was mildly restyled to adopt XK-style front fender vents and a more aggressive front fascia. You'd be hard-pressed to tell the differences at a glance, though.
The first Jaguar XJ debuted in 1968 and lasted through 1987, while the second generation was on the prowl from 1987 (yes, both generations were offered that year) to 2003. The second generation started out with round headlights, but for 1990 adopted ungainly rectangular units that were met with disdain by Jaguar enthusiasts. On the whole, this era of the XJ (which ran to '94) was seen as one of the darkest, as it was plagued with various problems, many of which were electrical in nature.
For 1995's midcycle makeover, the round headlights returned, along with a sleeker, lower grille. The interior was also significantly revised to bring it into the 1990s, with improved materials and more up-to-date electronics. The traditional look remained, however, with radio and HVAC controls contained in a pod under a large swath of wood.
There were a number of different engines offered during the second generation's lifespan. The square-headlamp version came with a choice of either an inline-6 (3.6 liters and later 4.0) or a 6.0-liter V12. These models were referred to as the XJ6 and XJ12, respectively. The engines carried through the 1995 overhaul, with a supercharged, 310-hp version of the six-cylinder engine first appearing in the new XJR in '95. The V12-powered XJ12 was dropped in 1997.
For '98, Jaguar replaced the inline-6 engines with all-new V8s. A 4.0-liter V8 (290 hp) was found in the XJ8 (the "8" in the name signifying V8 power), while a supercharged version (370 hp) powered the XJR. A few years into this generation, the supercharged V8 became available in other XJs as well, namely the Vanden Plas Supercharged and Super V8 models.
Performance of the 1995-2003 Jaguar XJs ranged from swift for the six-cylinder cars to thrilling for the supercharged V8 versions. Our road test of a 2000 Vanden Plas had that long-wheelbase luxury sedan sprinting to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. Ride and handling are composed but (except on the XJR) biased toward plush comfort, as one might expect of a vehicle whose cabin resembles an Edwardian parlor.