Jaguar XJR Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

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?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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 2 comments
  • 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.

  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.
  • THX1136 I would not 'knowingly' purchase a Chinese built or brand. I am somewhat skeptical of actual build quality. What I've seen in other Chinese made products show them to be of low quality/poor longevity. They are quite good at 'copying' a design/product, but often they appear to take shortcuts by using less reliable materials and/or parts. And , yes, I know that is not exclusive to Chinese products. When I was younger 'made in Japan' was synonymous with poor quality (check John Entwistle's tune 'Made in Japan' out for a smile). This is not true today as much of Japan's output is considered very favorably and, in some product types, to be of superior quality. I tend to equate the same notion today for things 'made in China'.
  • Mike Beranek No, but I'm for a world where everyone, everywhere buys cars (and everything else) that are sourced and assembled regionally. Shipping big heavy things all over the planet is not a solution.
  • Jeffrey No not for me at this time
  • El scotto Hmm, my VPN and security options have 12-month subscriptions. Car dealers are not accountable to anyone except the owner. Of course, the dealer principles are running around going "state of the art security!", "We need dedicated IT people!" For the next 12 months. The hackers can wait.
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