Jaguar XJR Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
jaguar xjr review

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?

Join the conversation
  • Ambulancechaser Ambulancechaser on Jul 25, 2009

    I agree, you'd never buy one new. But used...that's another story. Second hand shoppers will benefit from Jaguar's legendary depreciation. I've seen gently used, low km XJR's for well below $40k. Canadian dollars people. Try that with something German. I dare you.

  • Unimoged Unimoged on Jan 05, 2018

    I own the 1st gen XJR with the supercharged V8 and steel coil springs for a suspension. Love the car. Especially the Mercedes sourced 5 speed automatic AMG spec transmission that can handle the torque and the acceleration from 55 to xxx. None of the complicated suspension crap air ride struts that leak causing the 2nd gen in this article to get into a cat in heat position. I also have few late 90's and early 2000 AMG sedans. The jag is alive and pleasing to the eye, compared to the boring Teutonic Swabian nature of my AMG's. But both are on par when it comes to performance.

  • Fred Private equity is only concerned with making money. Not in content. The only way to deal with it, is to choose your sites wisely. Even that doesn't work out. Just look at AM/FM radio for a failing business model that is dominated by a few large corporations.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Lots of dynamics here:[list][*]people are creatures of habit, they will stick with one or two web sites, one or two magazines, etc; and will only look at something different if recommended by others[/*][*]Generation Y & Z is not "car crazy" like Baby Boomers. We saw a car as freedom and still do. Today, most youth text or face call, and are focused on their cell phone. Some don't even leave the house with virtual learning[/*][*]New car/truck introductions are passé; COVID knocked a hole in car shows; spectacular vehicle introductions are history.[/*][*]I was in the market for a replacement vehicle, but got scared off by the current used and new prices. I'll wait another 12 to 18 months. By that time, the car I was interested in will be obsolete or no longer available. Therefore, no reason to research till the market calms down. [/*][*]the number of auto related web sites has ballooned in the last 10 to 15 years. However, there are a diminishing number of taps on their servers as the Baby Boomers and Gen X fall off the radar scope. [/*][/list]Based on the above, the whole auto publishing industry (magazine, web sites, catalogs, brochures, etc) is taking a hit. The loss of editors and writers is apparent in all of publishing. This is structural, no way around it.
  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..