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First Oz drive: Jag XJ is no lightweight

Dressed for success: Jaguar's first real rival for the likes of S-class, 7 Series

Jaguar's new XJ has arrived Down Under, heralding a new era for big cats

3 Jun 2003

THE new 350 Series XJ Jaguar which goes on sale on July 15, must have caused massive angst in the development stages as reality dictated a change of direction for the company's flagship and tradition demanded retention of the core DNA.

They must have know they were in trouble when the marketing department's requirements for the car included a headroom measure so great that it would have been an inch outside the height of the roof they requested.

In any event, the low-slung sports saloon is relegated to history and a full size luxury sedan stands in its place ready to gnaw away at the sales aspirations of the likes of the BMW 7 Series and the S-class Mercedes.

The Germans may scoff at such suggestions. On past performance there may have been some justification. But our advice to them is not to take the XJ 350 Jaguar too lightly.

The big story is the all-alloy monocoque body. Not because it is advanced automotive technology (which it is) but because of the benefits that flow from it in terms of performance versus vehicle package size, improved on-road precision and improved fit and finish.

The new XJ body is longer, taller and wider than the 308 XJ that preceded it. So there is a considerable increase in room inside - a 40 per increase of cabin space according to the factory - and because passengers can sit more upright leg and foot room is enhanced as well.

But the legacy of the all-alloy body is that it is actually 40 per cent lighter than its predecessor - that is the equivalent weight of a car-full of passengers.

This has a considerable effect of the power-to-weight ratio of the XJ and allows much improved acceleration without even taking into account any benefits from the revised engine range. Fuel economy also benefits from less work to do.

As any home carpenter will tell you: gluing is stronger than screwing. Jaguar does both.

The body is riveted and bonded instead of spot welded. The body features more than 120 metres of bonded surfaces held in place by 3200 rivets. An equivalent steel body car would have more than 5000 spots welds and no bonding.

Jaguar claims the adhesive creates a body that is 60 per cent stiffer than a steel body. In other words it does not twist as much as most cars and therefore provides a much stronger location for things like suspensions arms and steering.

Because these location points are so much sturdier, they can control the wheels more precisely and that means the car can be directed more accurately in corners and the ride can be more easily controlled as well.

The greater cabin stiffness is also a benefit in terms of fit and finish. Less movement means that trim and fixtures are not subject to as much movement over the life of the car and therefore much less likely to start creaking or rattling.

Which raises the spectre of quality something the company says still haunts it to this day and something that was a key focus in the development of the new car.

The chief program engineer for the new version, David Scholes, who has run the programs for the last three XJs, says that the company built 200 road test vehicles of which 100 were given to customers to drive before the start of production.

Speaking at the Australian launch of the XJ, Mr Scholes said that when the XJ passed the corporate durability testing the engineers went through it for a second time at it passed again.

Mr Scholes told GoAuto that the quality of the XJ in 1990 was the second worse in the world. He said that the XJ 308 introduced in 1997 was in the top 10 cars for quality but behind Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

He said that Jaguar data indicates the new XJ will prove to have better quality than BMW and Mercedes but would still not match Lexus.

"We are still not sure how Lexus does it," he saidThe XJ has three engines: a 3.5-litre V8 derived from the outgoing 3.2-litre V8, the 4.2 litre V8 used in the S-Type and XK, and the 4.2-litre supercharged engine for the XJR and Super V8 flagship.

The supercharged engine delivers 33 per cent more power than the same naturally-aspirated engine.

Jaguar has selected the same six-speed automatic ZF gearbox (which is mandatory across the range) as that used in the BMW 7 Series. It is lighter than the former Jag gearbox and creates more ground clearance.

It is controlled by the retained Jaguar J-gate selection system and uses change points and features specified by Jaguar engineers.

All this rides on standard air suspension which is available across the range. This takes the value equation right up to BMW and Mercedes, where air suspension is optional or only available on upscale models.

Like Lexus paint, the XJ alloy body needs expert care if it is crashed.

Minor damage (up to 15km/h) can be fixed by the dealer replacing removable assemblies at the front of the car. But greater damage will see the car sent to special repair centres which have already been trained in XJ alloy body repair techniques. There will be one repairer in each capital city.

PRICING:
XJ8 3.5 $169,000
XJ8 4.2 $189,000
XJR (4.2 supercharged) $219,000
Super V8 (4.2 supercharged) $229,000

XJ8 3.5 and XJ8 4.2 features:

Air suspension
Computer Active Technology Suspension
18-inch alloy wheels
16-way adjustable seats
Electrically-adjustable foot pedals
DVD satellite-navigation
TV tuner
Premium sound system with rear multi-media
Front phone
Rear electric sunblind
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
Rain-sensing windscreen wipers
Park Distance Control - rear
Metallic paint
Classic interior theme

XJR features in addition to XJ8:

Supercharged 4.2-litre V8 engine
Brembo brakes
Bi-Xenon headlights
Park distance control - front/rear
19-inch alloy wheels
"R" interior
Jaguar Voice activation - front
Powerfold mirrors
Heated front screen

Super V8 features in addition to XJ8:

Supercharged 4.2-litre V8 engine
Brembo brakes
Bi-Xenon headlights
Electric glass sunroof
Park distance control - front/rear
Electric rear bench seat
Jaguar Voice activation - front/rear
Heated front seats
Adaptive cruise control

Options:

Adaptive cruise control
Electric sliding glass sunroof
Twin rear 6.5-inch video screens
DVD player for rear screens
Heated seats
20-inch alloy wheels

XJ8 3.5/BMW 735i specification comparison

XJ8 3.5BMW 735i
Aluminium body (265kg lighter) Steel body
Adjustable pedals Not available
Wood/leather steering wheel Optional
Premium sound system Optional
Rear and side sunblinds Optional
Air suspension Coil
Three-year/unlimited km warranty Two-year/unlimited
Three-year/100,000km Free Service $$$

XJ8 3.5/Mercedes-Benz S350 specification comparison:

XJ8 3.5 S350
V8 engine (16kW more power) V6 engine
Aluminium body (195kg lighter) Steel body
18-inch alloy wheels 16-inch alloy wheels
Six-speed automatic Five-speed automatic
16-way front seats 12-way
Three front seat memory settings Two settings
Adjustable pedals Not available
Wood/leather steering wheel Optional
Premium sound system Optional
Front phone Installation/no phone
Rear & side sunblinds Optional
Three-year/100,000km Free Service $$$

New/old engine comparison:

OLD
Power Torque Fuel consumption >(L/100km)
3.2 V8 179kW @ 6350316Nm @ 435017.1/9.0
4.0 V8 216kW @ 6100393Nm @ 425016.9/9.0
4.0 s/charged V8276kW @ 6150525Nm @ 6000 18.3/10.0
NEW
3.5 V8196kW @ 6250345Nm @ 420015.9/7.7
4.2 V8224kW @ 6000420Nm @ 410016.0/8.1
4.2 s/charged V8298kW @ 6100553Nm @ 350018.6/9.0

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

WHEN Rupert Murdoch bought The Times of London, there were wails of anguish from the traditional supporters of the long-standing publication that the so-called "Dirty Digger" would lower the standards of the newspaper.

The Times had a reputation as a newspaper of record with erudite writing in which journalists were given long periods of time (sometimes months) and travelled the world to research and prepare their reports on science, social trends, politics and economics.

This lifestyle and content was seen as under attack from the mass market newspaper proprietor.

And so it was. The Times had made losses for years. The fact is there were no longer enough people sufficiently interested in buying that kind of information.

And given that the paper was a commercial enterprise expected to pay its way in the world, and not a repository for the pontificating of elite writers, the style of the paper had to be broadened to appeal to a wider group of readers willing to pay for a less exclusive coverage.

That was the same dilemma facing Jaguar when it came to replacing the XJ Series which had been running for 30 years.

The XJ had a very traditional following. It had been a real sports saloon. Long and low, it was unique and admired for its shape and appeal.

But the shape came at a price. Interior cabin space and boot space were not a match for its main rivals.

Like Murdoch and The Times, as admired as the XJ Jaguar was for its low-slung sports driving position and visual appeal, there were not enough people left who were sufficiently attracted to that uniqueness. Not enough people were prepared to buy it.

Sales had fallen to just 15,000 last year worldwide and the new model was going to need 25,000 sales a year to break even and 30,000 to really contribute to the Jaguar coffers which are well in need of replenishing.

So the next generation had to be built in a way that would be sufficiently challenging to the main rivals, the S-class Mercedes and the 7 Series BMW.

That means that, even though it retains many Jaguar styling cues, it has now lost that core DNA in the shape. That is a disappointment to many people like me who have always enjoyed driving and looking at XJs.

Imagine, then, the pressure when the XJ 350 project team was faced with moving away from all that had made Jaguar great in the past 30 years.

What could you do to ensure that you do that would not drive away your loyal owners while making sure you attract others to the new car who have always felt well catered for by the likes of BMW and Mercedes?What they needed was a silver bullet.

Something that would be ground breaking but something that would lead to a quantum leap for owners that would more than compensate for the move away from the traditional base.

They chose the all-alloy body.

The advantages of that choice are detailed above in terms of power to weight issues, handling precision and fit and finish.

Then they chose to develop their existing range of engines to improve output.

In many ways they were on a roll because, whatever they did to the engines, they were going to be picking up heaps of performance and a bucket of economy from the light-weight alloy body design.

So they could afford to have a real lash at increasing power and torque without being fearful of doing to much damage on the economy front because, with such a weight saving under their belts, they knew the XJ would have to be easy on the gas.

As you can see from the table above they actually got much more power and some extra economy as well.

So how does it translate into practice?First of all the body is very light. Three of us lifted a body-in-white (no doors, bootlid or bonnet) without too much trouble.

Secondly, it does translate into an incredible machine. We drove the XJR first. This was a mixed blessing because it was harder to objectively assess the other lesser engines in the range after stepping out of the supercharged version.

Having said that, if you want to put a smile on your face, go test drive the XJR.

That thing just keeps on winding on the acceleration until the scenery is rushing at you like a Star Wars video. Very handy for those nip and tuck overtaking jobs that can get you out from behind slow coaches on winding roads and on your way on an open road.

An XJR is a very quick way to the other end of the landscape.

The normally-aspirated, non-supercharged 4.2 engine proved to be very flexible and capable albeit a little softer on the acceleration front, as you would expect. But it is a fine engine for easy, undemanding, motoring.

The 3.5 V8 needs a little more rowing around through the six-speed auto. But that is easy enough using the J-Gate and you can work your way around in grand style. This engine actually gets the most benefit from the lightweight body because it would be the one most likely to struggle with a full complement of passengers if it was still housed within a steel body.

In fact, the XJ8 3.5 model is another 75 kg lighter than its more expensive stablemates so they have built in even less work for the small-engine version.

It needs to be said that Jaguar Australia did not shelter the car on the launch. The company wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the air suspension and the sturdiness of the glued and screwed body.

They put the drive route over some pretty horrible roads with very severe undulations and nasty potholed edges. It would be fair to say that the XJ8 sniffed the air at these colonial roads and proved itself to be just as at home in the Queensland hinterland as in Barclay Square.

And while the air suspension ignored the thumping and pounding that must have been taking place at the wheels, they have secured enough proper control of the undercarriage to allow full command from the helm while navigating these rotten roads with their nasty nooks and troublesome turns.

And the body. Not a creak.

Inside it is beautifully Jaguar. Jag lovers will know they are at home amongst the leather and walnut.

Ironically, the alloy body has a curious side effect.

Luxury car owners tend to have a bullion mentality that says: the heavier it is, the more you value it. So, with doors that weigh about 10kg (about half the weight of a steel door), Jaguar found it necessary to build some resistance into the hinges to ensure a heavier feel.

And clunk it does.

True, the old sports saloon is gone. Now there is a Jaguar that is a noble alternative to well-known German aristocrats.

Like The Times of London, maybe it was time for Jaguar to move on.

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