by Dan Lyons
When I was a boy, I used to go out with my dad some Sundays and shoot skeet. For those who don’t know the sport, it basically consists of moving from station to station around a semi-circle and trying to send as many clay pigeons to meet their makers (via shotgun blast) as possible.
One of the regulars at the club was a distinguished looking 60-something Englishman. Although in those days I wouldn’t have known a Harris Tweed from a hayseed, I remember thinking that he looked like he stepped off the pages of an Orvis catalog. This classy British gent was well dressed, well-mannered and well, a damn good shot.
Like that elegant chap, the Jaguar XJR is a sharpshooter, defined equally well by its refinement and sportiness. The hot-rod version of the classic, full-size XJ series, the XJR touring sedan beautifully blends classic British luxury and serious, sporting performance. For those with pockets of sufficient depth to entertain such notions, it is a luxury car of considerable character.
Classic looks, postmodern performance
2001 Jaguar XJR interior
If the latest generation XJ8 cars have a styling weakness to modern eyes, it is the preponderance of bright work. The XJR solves this nicely by adopting a mesh, body-color grille in favor of the blander chrome XJ grille. Removing the shiny stuff restores the accent on the graceful front-end styling. The side view carries a lot of chrome framing the windows, but attention is drawn away from this by BBS seven-spoke “Milan” alloy wheels, shod with low profile, 255/40ZR-18 tires. A long rear deck with a formal roof line complete the rear view. The big alloys, beefy Pirelli treads and wide mouth dual exhaust pipes give the XJR a purposeful look.
2001 Jaguar XJ
Inside, it’s a mix of classic British luxury staples and enough technology to satisfy our post-millennium sensibilities. The seats are swaddled in Connolly leather and well-bolstered to keep you in place during spirited driving. The dash and doors are adorned with burl walnut trim. The main disappointment inside is rear seat room. I’m 6’1” and with the front seats adjusted to suit me, it’s a tight squeeze to sit in back, with hair grazing the headliner and knees wedged against the seatbacks. While it is true that Jaguar offers a long-wheelbase version of the XJ8 and Vanden Plas, for $70,000, the “basic” XJR model ought to allow you the luxury of taking your knees along for the ride.
There is but one option in the XJR: a GPS Navigation system with both graphic and voice directions is a $1500 option. Every other luxury feature one would expect can be found in here, except the CD changer, which is housed in the trunk. Speaking of trunks, the XJR’s has only a modest appetite for luggage, with a capacity of just 12.7 cubic feet.
Refined road rage
On the road, the XJR is a joy to drive. The supercharged AJ-V8 produces 370 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque. The five-speed automatic transmission provides seamless shifting. The company claims a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds – this in a vehicle weighing 4050 lb. The seat of the pants analysis indicates that the XJR is impressively quick for its size, particularly once under way. Equally notable is the XJR's roadworthiness. The XJ suspension defines supple, and the R’s 51/49 front/rear weight distribution make the car as light on its feet as a two-ton car can be. High-performance Brembo cross-drilled brakes put claws in the paws when it is time to stop.
The lone gripe about grip occurs in slush and snow. On wet or dry pavement, the XJR’s performance wheel/tire package enhances traction with just a slight payback in terms of ride quality. In winter travel, it’s a different story. The flashing traction control light is a constant companion as the big cat works to keep its footing. If you live in a part of the country where Mother Nature poses this sort of seasonal question, there are at least two answers. One would be to swap out the Z-rated Pirellis for a set of serious snow tires for the winter months. The other is, park the Jag and pull out the Range Rover, Mercedes ML55 or Lexus LX450, which no doubt you’ll already possess.
The XJR offers an intoxicating blend of good breeding with a hint of uncivilized behavior. It makes an elegant statement wherever it goes and if you are so inclined, it also responds well to a bit of sport driving.
In light of other recent corporate takeovers, it’s interesting to see how well things have gone for Jaguar, almost twelve years after its acquisition by Ford Motor Company. Jaguar’s success is largely due to Ford’s light touch at the helm. They had the good sense to fix what needed fixing (quality control, reliability) while leaving the rest (grace, pace, space) alone. The result is a car like the XJR: a wonderful blend of old world civility and modern age drivability.
2001 Jaguar XJR
Base price: $69,355
Engine: 4.0 liter supercharged and intercooled V-8, 370 hp
Transmission: Five speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 197.8 x 70.8 x 52.7 in
Wheelbase: 113.0 in
Curb weight: 4050 lb
EPA city/highway: 16 city/22 highway
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners, traction/stability control, anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: Connolly leather upholstery, BBS alloy wheels and Pirelli 255/40ZR-18 tires, Brembo disc brakes, Reverse Park Control, heated front and rear seats
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles