The Jaguar XJR is an iconic car. No wait. I mean, it's an ironic car: an automobile with a huge gap between expectation and reality. For example, you expect a leather-lined British luxury sedan to literally reek of class. The XJR smells of… nothing. You expect the torch bearer for Jaguar's performance heritage to handle corners with cat-like reflexes. It doesn't. And yet, the XJR perfectly embodies the Jaguar creed of "pace and grace". Truth be told, the XJR is both more and less than it seems.
On the more side, the XJR will pleasantly disappoint anyone expecting dodgy electrics, rusting panels and faulty mechanicals. While JD Power's Initial Quality Survey is more about customer satisfaction than build quality, the brand's ascension to the second place slot is a reasonable reflection of the XJR's reliability. No part of the sports sedan seemed predisposed to rot, break, fall off or fail. It's a thoroughly modern machine.
Also on the more side, the XJR is one Hell of a quick car. Give those 390 supercharged horses a prod and the XJR charges down a straight with monumental rapidity– and keeps on going. While there are a few cars of this bulk that can muster a sub-five second sprint to 60, not many offer the XJR's tremendous in-gear shove. With 399ft.-lbs. of torque at 3500rpm, you can morph from double to triple digits with neck-snapping ease. The supercharger whines like a detuned strimmer, but the sound soon forms a neurological pathway to your adrenal glands.
The British luxofighter rides on the company's thoughtfully-named CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension). The system continuously adjusts the XJR's shock absorbers to match the vehicle's speed and the prevailing road conditions. The car still floats like a butterfly and stings like a butterfly. If only Jaguar's chassis gurus had attached the suspension computer to the gear-holding Sport button, to firm things up by 20% or so. Sadly, surprisingly, Jag's top cat is a comfort-biased machine that's easily flustered by a combination of broken surfaces and lateral G's.
If comfort it is, then comfort it is. Considering the amount of leg and head room in the outgoing XJR (somewhere between slim and none) the new [for-'03] model's generous accommodations are a real bonus. The XJR still feels a bit snug compared to, say, all of the competition, but the extra interior volume adds mightily to the fast Jag's sense of occasion. There's something marvelously decadent about going like stink in an elegantly-tailored, loose-fitting car.
Yes, well, the XJR is also loose-fitting in areas where it should be tight. In fact, a close examination of the XJR reveals a startling lack of attention to detail– especially for a car that costs $83k. You can fit an entire magazine into the panel gaps on either side of the hood. The plastic covering the radiator is both poor and poorly attached. Ditto the carpet lining the trunk lid. The carpets underfoot are a sad (if hard-wearing) departure from the plush Wilton fabric of days gone by. The felt-like material lining the roof and surrounding the cupholders, and the plastic topping the dash, also err on the side of the industrial.
I could go on. So I will. The texture and design of the key (a part nicked from the Euro-spec Ford Mondeo) is so down market that handing it to a parking valet feels like an act of betrayal. Though intuitive, the touch-screen display is more dated than Colin Farrell. The gauges are po-faced. The driver's door won't open without a fight. Etc.
To be fair, for every sybaritic distraction, there's an equal and opposite delight. The stereo is magnificent. The seats are supportive during press-on driving, yet mileage friendly for the long haul. The headlights are brighter than an Oxford scholar. And so on. But we are talking about a car that costs some $10k more than a fully-loaded, anally retentive Lexus LS, or the same as the equally rapid, immaculately constructed Mercedes E55 AMG Station Wagon. Not to put too fine a point on it, you'd be perfectly within your rights to expect more from Jag's finest.
I guess buyers put up with the XJR's English "eccentricities" because of the car's cachet. There's no denying that she's a stunner, blessed with a curvaceous design that easily lives up to Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons' unassailable artistic legacy. Although I am so not an anglophile, I know there are plenty of pistonheads prepared to pay a premium for English snob value. So the question for potential XJR-lovers comes down to this: are you willing to forgo perfection for supersonic speed and aristocratic bearing? If so, think of the XJR's irony as nothing more than an arched eyebrow on the face of a beautiful woman. Hold on, isn't that a metaphor?