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Car reviews - Jaguar - XJ - XJ8 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Style, serenity, cabin's old-world, cosy elegance, performance
Room for improvement
Dated style, poor ergonomics, steering too light at low speeds

Jaguar logo16 May 2001

By MALCOLM LIVERMORE

BY Australian standards, Jaguar's 3.2-litre V8 is pretty small beer. We have bigger V6 motors in much cheaper cars.

But the V8 engine - launched here in November, 1997, and designed primarily for the XK Coupe and Convertible - works just fine in its reduced capacity, short-stroke guise, despite having to haul a heavy sedan body around.

It is not a powerhouse of muscle but the light, stiff, alloy engine still endows the big cat with an impressive level of agility.

Put it down to the smooth revving engine, which purrs quietly while delivering its urge in a refined and sophisticated manner. Overtaking grunt is easily accessed when needed, the five-speed box slipping seamlessly back a cog to raise the revs and power past slower traffic.

Put the lazy cat on a diet and shave 200kg, and the 3.2-litre would be as sharp as its rivals and the 179kW engine would have a more equal chance to demonstrate its abilities.

It is an efficient engine yet smothered by the car's kerb weight of close to two tonnes.

Accelerate too hard on a slippery surface or exiting a corner and the active traction control steps in to keep the vehicle in line.

Its activation, throttling back the engine and using the anti- lock to slow spinning wheels is subtle, often only a flashing LED on the dash alerts you to its operation.

The suspension is, as usual, biased towards ride although it was noticeably noisy over badly surfaced roads.

The seeming lack of a self-centring system on the over-assisted steering caused some discontent. It was incredibly light at low engine revs, which is fine for parking. But it is less helpful negotiating a roundabout or complex of low-speed curves.

The direct steering with apparently all tyre and friction resistance overcome means incautious tugging on the wheel results in a smart, sharp change of direction.

In the steering wheel's favour, it is a chunky leather-bound item, good to hold and complete with phone, radio and cruise control buttons.

From the revamped showrooms to the thus far reliable V8 engine, the Jaguar buying experience has been hitched up several notches. In fact the Jaguar brand ranked above all others - including the vaunted Lexus - in recent JD Power owner satisfaction ratings results.

This is a far cry from the reputation for unreliability and shoddy craftsmanship that lingers in the long memories of hapless XJ6, XJ12 and XJS owners.

In terms of ownership, creature comforts and dealer liaison, the Ford-owned brand has made substantial inroads into its German and Japanese rivals.

The road to recovery and equal competition is a long one and the XJ8 makes a fine case for itself. But it is unable to counter the inherent weakness of the product. Although some may see the following ''weaknesses'' as part of the core Jaguar experience and thus regard them as strengths.

The cabin still feels too small by class standards.

A low-slung body may look sporty and classy, and that feeling continues inside. Opulent finishes may enhance the appearance but the sporty cockpit means insufficient leg room and shoulder room.

Unfortunately for long legged folk, there is little Jaguar's engineers could do to broaden the front foot wells.

They seem to have tried to offer the driver more foot room by lowering the brake pedal. The result is a slightly awkward angle of attack. Brake pedal feel is also a little too spongy for our liking.

Rear passengers enjoy adequate rather than spacious surroundings, such as in Mercedes and Audis, with headroom at a premium.

Mix in a tall driver and tall rear passenger and the interior begins to feel cramped.

Attention to detail with fittings is typically Jaguar. The analogue clock mounted in the centre of the dash has delicate, elegant, silvered hands and it looks like a timepiece, a focus of interest. It beats the clock in the new Rolls-Royce hands down.

The new slush-moulded dash is a touch of class and is dominated by three deeply recessed instrument gauges in front of the driver.

But the three clocks are hard to read, especially so the 280km/h speedo, which could pose a problems for older drivers with deteriorating eyesight.

At last Jaguar Australia has seen fit to equip even its entry- level XJ sedan with alloy wheels but choose one of the attractive metallic paint options and the preposterous asking price will be hard to believe.

External appearance upgrades which mark out the V8 range include chrome bumper cappings which cover the corners areas but do not stretch full length across the front or rear as well as new clear lens headlights (complex surface reflector technology in Jaguar- speak).

It is unlikely a 3.2-litre V8 buyer would have outright performance ticked at the top of his or her shopping list. The car's purpose is to offer entry into the rarefied world of opulence afforded by Jaguar. It is still a compromised package but offers plenty of that elusive feel-good factor.

- Automotive NetWorks 27/05/1999

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