Originally created 05/13/05

Jaguar adds long-wheelbase XJ

Polished wood burl trim, aromatic leather and sumptuous lamb's wool floor mats aren't all that's needed for a luxury ride in Jaguar's flagship XJ sedan. Backseat room needs to be luxurious, too.

Thus, for 2005, Jaguar revived the long-wheelbase version of its XJ four door.

With a length that's stretched 5 inches over the regular XJ to 17.1 feet overall, the XJ Long Wheelbase is the longest Jaguar in the lineup. It also has more rear-seat legroom - 39.3 inches - than any previous XJ, according to company officials.

"There are few more luxurious, more inviting places to be than in the back of a new long-wheelbase XJ," said Ian Callum, a former director of design for Jaguar Cars.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the base 2005 XJ8 Long Wheelbase is $64,495, or $2,500 more than the starting price for the base XJ8 Short Wheelbase.

The three trim levels of the new, long-wheelbase XJ - the base, Vanden Plas and Super V-8 - join the two trim levels of short-wheelbase XJs that debuted as new-generation cars for the 2004 model year.

All XJs have the same distinctive Jaguar styling, with four large head lamps and a long, low hood, that's immediately recognizable.

The long-wheelbase models, however, have much larger rear doors that look almost like limousine doors. In addition, the longer XJs stand 0.28 inch taller than the regular XJs.

All XJs also share the same two AJ-V-8 engines. Drivers notice quickly that the long-wheelbase XJ is a rather sprightly car, despite its size and more than 4,000-pound weight.

The test XJ Vanden Plas model, which had a naturally aspirated V-8, seemed eager to launch from stoplights and zoom down highways. I had to watch the speedometer carefully because it was easy to misjudge how fast the car was traveling.

Part of this obviously comes from the strong power the 4.2-liter, Jaguar AJ-V-8 delivers: 294 horsepower and 303 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm. This is the base XJ engine.

The uplevel V-8 is a 390-horse, supercharged, 4.2-liter AJ-V-8 delivering 399 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm.

The throttle tip-in on the test car was sensitive, so that a slight touch of the accelerator pedal brought an instant and strong response - strong enough to push my head back into the head restraint.

In addition, the six-speed automatic transmission, the only one for the XJ, worked so smoothly, I couldn't detect that the test car already had worked through a number of gears to get up to speed.

Adding to the performance is the XJ's aluminum monocoque construction. Lighter in weight by about 40 percent than a comparable conventional steel body, this special kind of structure uses aluminum that is joined by self-pierce rivets and aerospace-sourced epoxies.

The result is less body mass, which means even a large car can be more responsive in handling, accelerate faster and use less fuel than a similar, heavier car. For example, Jaguar estimates the top, supercharged XJ Super V-8 can travel from 0 to 60 miles an hour in just 5 seconds. This is performance akin to some smaller, sporty cars.

Fuel economy is better than a buyer might expect. The test car was rated at 18 miles a gallon in city traffic and 27 mpg on the highway.

The interior is plush, yet quaint in a classic British sense. The instrument gauges are smallish compared with other cars, and I found it took some adjusting to find the 55-mph mark in the speedometer, where small numbers denote 20-mph increments.

The stereo provided strong sounds. While many lower-priced cars now put a six-CD player conveniently into the dashboard or at least in the glove box, Jaguar continues to put the XJ's six-CD disc magazine in the trunk so a driver must get out of the car to change discs. The DVD for the navigation system also is in the trunk.

The back seat is a welcoming place because the door opening is unusually wide. Riders sit down into this car, and I could extend my legs and fold them at the ankles.

Competitors don't have the snazzy, pull-down "business trays" that the XJ offers. Mounted like airplane trays on the backs of the front seats, these wood-trimmed trays are designed to hold a computer laptop for busy executives. Large side windows, which can be closed off with optional sunshades for privacy, are a thoughtful touch.

Steering in the test car had a light feel but response was quick.

The XJ is not loaded with a lot of interior technology. While an integrator is available for iPods, there's no complex layering of computer screen menu screens on the center display to frustrate drivers, for example.

specsthe vehicle: 2005 Jaguar Vanden Plas LWB, a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger, large luxury sedanBASE PRICE: $61,330 for base XJ8 short wheelbase; $63,830 for XJ8 long wheelbase; $71,330 for Vanden Plas long wheelbaseDESTINATION CHARGE: $665price aS TESTED: $75,595ENGINE: 4.2-liter, double overhead cam, AJ-V-8epa MILEAGE: 18 miles per gallon city, 27 mpg highwayTOP SPEED: 121 mphLENGTH: 205.3 inchesWHEELBASE: 124.4 inchesCURB WEIGHT: 4,391 poundsBUILT in: EnglandOPTIONS: Navigation system, $2,300; warm-climate package, $1,300


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