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A MISCHIEVOUS ARISTOC(R)AT

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Apr 2, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

A MISCHIEVOUS ARISTOC(R)AT

By ZORAN SEGINA

It's half past nine on Tuesday morning in early March, somewhere on Interstate Freeway 10, heading east from West Los Angeles to Downtown. The rain has been pouring, seemingly for weeks now. The puddles of water near the fast lane resemble small lakes, clouds of mist obscure the view, and ominous dark skies all around make the world gloomy. The cars nervously dart in and out of traffic; the roadway is slippery and soggy. On a normal Southern California day, the morning commute is a chore. Today, it resembles a barely controlled mayhem.

Thank heavens that in the small world of the private British club surrounding my soft-grain leather recliner, things are serene. The hypnotic steady beat of a baroque sinfonietta on the eight first-rate speakers unobtrusively permeates carefully climatised air. The burl walnut veneer with Peruvian boxwood inlay, and the dark piano finish on the surfaces next to my legs are pleasing and relaxing to the eye. My feet are resting on deep-pile lambs wool rugs. It is warm and cozy where I am - as it should be in a twin-stitched leather recliner in a private British club.

Except that my recliner is attached to three thousand, eight hundred pounds of classically shaped aluminum, sitting on four, eighteen-inch wheels. Somewhere in front of me, few of the two hundred and ninety-four horses of the 4.2-liter V-8 engine imperceptibly send some of the three hundred pound-feet of torque through the six-speed ZF automatic transmission, so that the leather recliner, walnut veneer, lambs wool carpet, speakers and all (me included) can effortlessly travel to my workplace that Tuesday morning.

However civilized the XJ Jaguar Vanden Plas I am in, too many of its brethren have won too many Le Mans endurance races for Jaguar to simply build a limousine. Jaguar sedans have always had a sporty edge, and the new XJ is no exception.

First, it is the all-aluminum construction that brings a five-meter long and nearly two-meter wide automobile way under four thousand pounds. Well, nearly all-aluminum. The XJ is built as a rivet-bonded aluminum monocoque. Suspension subframes are steel, but cross car beams are magnesium. A power-to-weight ratio is a well-known principle in racing, and when applied to the XJ, its 4.2-liter engine will propel the car from a standing start to sixty miles per hour in 6.3 seconds. The classic J-gate shift lever on the right hand side has a P-R-N-D layout, however, when moving the lever to the left hand side of the J-gate the gears can be shifted manually. Should this fail sufficiently to increase the acceleration (and the corresponding heart rate), there is a switch next to the J-gate that allows selection between normal and sport shift modes - the latter extends gearshift points.

The XJ has independent double wishbone suspension with a 29-millimeter anti-roll bar in front and a 19-millimeter in the back. A feeling that the leather recliner seems to ride on air is not entirely incorrect, technically speaking. The XJ does come equipped with a self-leveling air suspension, and a whole slew of electronic assistance gizmos that are so de rigueur in modern luxury motorcars. What Dynamic Stability Control, adaptive damping and Computer Active Technology Suspension exactly do is of lesser importance that the feeling they project inside the passenger cabin. Despite the crater-sized potholes in the fast lane, the ride is smooth. The eight-inch wide low profile tires on eighteen-inch wheels do transfer some of the road imperfections inside the cabin, but this should be expected of a car with so much performance heritage. After all, an occasional feeling of a road bump is infinitely more tolerable than the syrupy sensation of nothingness in some of the Yankee-made high luxury sedans. In an apex of a curve on a winding road, the XJ will communicate everything the driver needs to know to keep the car on the edge of the performance envelope. On a rainy Tuesday, point the all weather radials to the fast lane, next to the freeway wall, and the big XJ cuts through the standing water like Her Majesty's battleship.

And then there are the luxuries that befit a luxury sedan. The parking brake is an inconspicuous silver handle, slightly larger than a knob. A slight upward nudge, and the brake is applied. Driver and passenger seat can be adjusted a dozen different ways. Foot pedals have a memory. Climate can be set separately for the driver and passenger sides, and the air coming into the cabin is filtered. The windshield wipers sense rain and are automatically activated when rain or moisture is detected. The seats are heated, of course, and so is the steering wheel. And so are the aforementioned windshield wipers when the temperature drops below freezing. The electronic center in the center console is easy to understand and, unlike a product by its southern competitor (an erstwhile unsuccessful invader), does not require advanced studying of the "concept." The navigation system is exceptionally user-friendly, and will instruct the driver which turns to make to arrive at the destination. When the instructions are disregarded, the system will recalculate an alternate route. An exceptionally picky user may object to the fact that the screen keyboard used to type the street and town destinations, is not in a standard "qwerty" layout.

The XJ cannot be fully appreciated unless one experiences a back seat. The sensation of an exclusive British private club is further enhanced when one isolates oneself by pulling curtains on the back windows, while a push on another button raises sunblinds over the rear glass panel. The blinds are transparent enough to allow the view from the inside out, but not the other way around. A traveler can then read a newspaper, watch a movie on the screen imbedded in the headrest, or perhaps pull a small table from the back side of the front seat and do a little work while the big cat glides smoothly through traffic.

A note of advice, though. When experiencing the back seat, do not give control of the steering wheel to a fellow journalist who will thereupon proceed to test the edge of the performance envelope of the XJ. The electronically controlled brakes (twelve-inch in front and eleven-inch in rear) easily slow the big car, but rapid acceleration followed by an intense deceleration, despite the yaw control, turns a serene environment of a back seat into a boneshaker.

While driving the XJ, one may experience a rather remarkable attitude transformation. The automobile's ability to perform is evident and available at any time. However, the outward display of the car's spottiness quickly becomes so unbecoming, so lacking class. In this respect, the XJ resembles a true British gentleman whose abilities and achievement are never to be publicly displayed or bragged about.

Like Jack and his lovely wife, Helen. When the attendant at the Belfry Golf Club asked if I mind giving them a ride to Birmingham in the XJ, I readily accept because they seemed such nice people, almost like I met them before - especially the husband. He's an unpretentious man with a charming Scottish accent that does public relations for Jaguar, as I understand it. During a short trip through West Midlands on a country road to Castle Bromwich plant where Jack has a meeting, he readily agrees with me that going to a race school can improve one's driving ability in everyday traffic, especially with a high-powered car like Jaguar. Jack seems genuinely interested in my "expert" explanation of race car handling, and wholly tolerates my success stories in two SCCA amateur events. When I drop them off, they thank me profusely. Later that afternoon, while buying the International Herald Tribune, my eye catches a headline on a local newspaper. Tonight's honored speaker is Sir Jackie Stewart, a former Formula One champion and one of the best race car drivers of all times. Could this be the same Jack I just dropped off? Come to think of it, his wife did call him Jackie. Did I just offer a driving tip to,,,? Naaah.

Find more information at www.jaguar.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $70,995

Engine type: 90-degree V8, aluminum alloy cylinder heads/block, DOHC per bank, four valves per cylinder

Horsepower: 294 @ 6000 rpm

Maximum Torque: 303 lb.-ft @ 4,100 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / rear drive

Transmission type: Six-speed automatic ZF6HP26 with Bosch Mechatronix; driver-adaptive shift

Suspension: Front: Independent forged aluminum double wishbone design with 29 mm anti-roll bar; Self- leveling air springs

Rear: Independent forged aluminum double wishbone design with 16 mm anti-roll bar; Self- leveling air springs

Touring tuned enhanced Computer Active Technology damping; Dynamic Stability Control

Wheels and tires:Front: 18 x 8.0, 235/50 R 18 Rear: 18 x 8.0, 235/50 R 18

Brakes: Front: Ventilated discs 12.6 X 1.18 inches diameter Rear: Vented discs 11.3 X .79 inches diameter

Teves Mk 25 electronically controlled 4-channel anti lock with yaw control

Overall length: 200.4" Overall width: 73.2" (w/o mirrors) Overall height: 57" Curb weight (lbs.): 3,806

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 18/28 mpg

Top Speed, mph: 121, electronically limited

0-60 mph: 6.3

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