Jaguar’s XJ line is the epitome of tradition. The basic shape, with its classic long hood and deck, hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. The four circular headlights, the double-kidney grille, and the leaping cat are as recognizable as any set of automotive features on the road.
So when I clambered behind the wheel of my first XJ – the top-of-the-line, long wheelbase “Super V8″ – I was expecting to find something dated and anachronistic. Burled walnut was everywhere, and Jaguar’s trademark “J-gate” shifter (which is certainly an anachronism) greeted me by forcing me to dip my right shoulder in order to shift out of park without hitting the contents of the Jag’s cup holder.
However, once I got the big cat moving, I found something totally unexpected and even a bit scary. The Super V8 is equipped with Jaguar’s infamous supercharged 4.2-liter V8, which makes 400 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 413 lb-ft of torque at just 3,500 rpm. This is the same motor found in the XJR and XKR, and if you’ve ever driven either of those sleds then you already know how nasty this lump is. It hurls the car forward with unexpected ease and unrelenting fury, blinking to sixty in just over five seconds and howling through the 1/4-mile in less than 14 seconds, all to the stirring soundtrack of the supercharger’s distinctive wail.
The motor doesn’t deserve all the credit for this, though. The XJ’s body is made entirely of aluminum, and the entire car weighs just 4,006 lbs. That’s light as a feather considering the Jag’s competition. The long-wheelbase models from BMW (the 750li), Audi (the A8L) and Lexus (the LS460L) all weigh considerably more, with the Lexus closest at 4,332 lbs.
The aluminum construction gives the Jag an unfair advantage. It gives up nothing to its rivals in terms of size; in fact it’s got a longer wheelbase than anything in its class save the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which only comes in one size. Yet it’s lighter, and more powerful. The supercharged V8 bests the Lexus’ 4.6-liter unit by 20 horsepower and 46 lb-ft, the Audi’s 4.2 by 50 and 88, the BMW’s 4.8 by 40 and 52, and the Merc’s 5.5 by 18 and 22, respectively. It also moves better than any of those cars. It feels lighter because it is, and braking is outstanding. The Super V8 grinds to a halt from 60mph in just 118 feet.
It does fall behind a bit in terms of appointments. There are only four cup holders in the Super V8, and all of them are too small. The two up front are part of the center armrest, so forget about opening it while the cup holders are in use while the rear pair are only accessible when the backseat center armrest is open.
You can also watch the 2008 Jaguar XJ Super V8 Video on YouTube.
The armrests themselves are not up to snuff, offering very shallow and scant storage. The XJ has a large and thick center console, yet lift the front armrest and there is scarcely enough space for a credit card or two. With all that space taken up by the transmission tunnel, why couldn’t the compartments be deeper? Questions of this nature plagued me until the next time I put my right foot down, and then promptly disappeared.
The Jag’s interior is by far the most distinctive of the bunch, and it has the traditional British elegance, accomplished with touches like wool floor mats and acres of burled walnut. However, in overall quality, the Benz and the Audi are just nicer inside. The Jag’s switches and dials don’t feel cheap, but they are not the finely detailed decorations the Germans are using.
There are some neat features, however. The rear seat is a triumph of luxury, despite the Super V8′s sporting nature. Both outboard seats have reclining functions with memory capability, and the person riding in the right rear seat can also adjust the front passenger’s seat with an independent set of buttons (a feature that is ripe for abuse on family trips). There are manual sunshades for the rear windows, and an automatic one for the rear windshield. The rear passengers also get individual audio controls inside the folding center armrest, and, as the Super V8′s crowning achievement, their own LCD screen embedded in the rear of the front seat’s headrests.
The net effect of this big cat’s perceived inferiority in the interior department is a prized quality in today’s market: simplicity. The XJ line, and in specific the Super V8, are remarkably easy to operate compared with the German offerings. No tyrannical ‘smart’ button, no poring over the owner’s manual to figure out how to get the car in gear.
This car isn’t for the luxury-car buyer who wants to be coddled. The ride is too firm and the motor is too noisy. And, it’s too damn fast. It’s a driver’s car to the core, not a pretender. And thankfully, it hasn’t played follow-the-leader and become some kind of straight-line appliance, choking on its own technological complexity. If you think that the full-size, high-luxury segment needs a shot of raw testosterone, but you still want a well-crafted interior and an elegant shape, look no further.
No car is perfect, not even the Super V8 but there is a price for this particular brand of luxury: about $95,000. Our test car had no options; ‘loaded’ is just how Super V8s are built, apparently. Ninety-five large isn’t cheap, and represents a premium of almost thirty thousand dollars over an entry-level XJ8. However, if I had the money to shop in this segment, this would be my choice. Whatever the Super V8 gives up in interior aesthetics and fun-smothering technology is more than compensated for by its muscular engine, sharp handling, and uniquely British style.
What to do next: Visit the Jaguar XJ8 Forum