“I like this car,” pronounced my six-year-old daughter. “It goes softly.” Indeed.
The XJ8 also possesses the uniquely Jaguar ability to attract women like raccoons to a campground dumpster. Driving the Vanden Plas attracted smiles, waves and comments from women like we haven’t seen since, well, the XK8 convertible. They lust for the car. If Jaguar could just find a way to bottle the pheromones its cars apparently exude, Ford’s financial troubles would be permanently solved. Schoolgirls stopped to declare, “Your car is very pretty.” Amazing.
Maybe it is the car’s feminine, curving lines. Maybe it is the implication of wealth. There’s a psych major’s thesis in there somewhere.
The Vanden Plas differs from the run-of-the-mill XJ8 in that it is five inches longer (202.7 inches vs. 197.8 inches) on a five-inch longer wheelbase (117.9 inches vs. 113.0 inches). It also features Autolux leather seats, front and rear seat heaters, and a booming 320-watt Alpine CD stereo system.
We confess a personal bias to taut, lithe sports cars and sedans, categories that exclude the XJ8. Nevertheless, after a blissful cruise through the Virginia piedmont to historic Charlottesville, we came to appreciate the car’s ability to cruise effortlessly. Jaguar has built a compliant suspension that produces a silky ride without a mandatory Dramamine prescription.
2002 Jaguar XJ
With the sub-woofer-equipped Alpine pouring out the tunes, the sunroof open, and the prow pointed to the horizon, the XJ8 is a magic carpet ride. The same 4.0-liter, 290-horsepower AJ-V8 engine that seems a touch underpowered in the lighter XK8 is perfectly suited for the relaxed XJ8. Customers who truly feel the need for speed can order up the supercharged version, good for 370 horsepower. The five-speed automatic transmission clicks imperceptibly through the gears, with sport and normal modes to suit the driver’s mood.
Despite the veneer of perfection, there are shortcomings that are frustratingly hard to overlook in a car in this class. The instruments look just plain cheap, and do not even hint at the clocks of classic Jaguars. They do, unfortunately, hint at the cheesy dash in the Escort rental car you drove last year.
The power window and sunroof switches have one-touch open, but not one-touch close. The VW Golf has one-touch close. There is no rear sunshade, power or manual. The Camry and Passat have rear sunshades. The rear windows don’t open all the way. More new family sedans have rear windows that open fully than don’t. The XJ8’s windows should open all the way too. The CD changer is in the trunk instead of in the dash…
Also, remember to have your people send your steamer trunk in advance, because you’ll only find room in the XJ8’s trunk for your briefcase and hanging bag. The 12.7 cubic foot trunk isn’t tiny, but it is small for a car in this class, and it is very shallow, so no medium-sized objects will fit with the lid closed.
What we have here is a great car that is very enjoyable when used as directed, but that falls short of consumers’ expectations in many areas only because the car seems to have been allowed to lag behind the times in terms of equipment.
2002 Jaguar XJ
Jaguar was commendably responsible, however, when heaping on the latest safety gadgets. Sure, everybody’s got air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control, but the XJ8 includes stability control, three-point belts at every seating position, pre-tensioning belts with load limiters and side airbags in the front seat.
Despite the shortcomings, there are few other cars that can match the Jag’s prestige and comfort. The rear seat in particular is designed to coddle, with seat heaters and power seat controls for the front passenger seat on its back, so rear passengers can control the position of the front seat. There are also little fold-down tray tables on the backs of the front seats. They are too small and far away to be useful, but they show the Jag guys care about the Grey Poupon types.
2002 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas
Base price: $68,330; as tested: $68,425
Engine: 4.0-liter DOHC V-8, 290 hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length: 202.7 inches
Wheelbase: 117.9 inches
Width: 70.8 inches
Height: 53.2 inches
Weight: 4006 lb
Fuel Economy: 17 city/24 highway
Major Standard Equipment: Automatic climate control, 12-way power seats, leather interior, Alpine 320-watt six-CD stereo, power sunroof, power windows, rain-sensing windshield wipers, puddle lamps on rear-view mirrors, heated seats, 16-inch alloy wheels
Safety Equipment: Front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, pre-tensioning seat belts with load limiters
Major Optional Equipment: DVD-based navigation system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles