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1999 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION
1999 Jaguar XJ Series
by Mike Knepper

One of the finest luxury cars built today.

Base Price $55,780
As Tested $66,880

The proof is in the long haul, of course, but it appears as if Jaguar has finally thrown off the curse of unreliability. Credit typically goes to many sources, but leading the pack has to be Jaguar's owner, Ford, which has brought its mighty engineering and quality suppliers into the Jaguar picture.

Based on our experience, the XJ8 represents the highest point in Jaguar's history. We think it's one of the finest luxury sedans built today. The Vanden Plas, named for a famous British maker of custom automobile bodies, is the most luxurious XJ8, swathed in chrome, walnut and lambs wool.

As the XJ8 designation suggests, this is a V8-powered Jag. The V12 and inline 6-cylinder engines were discontinued with last year's models. The 4.0-liter V8 we called a sweetheart last year has been refined for 1999 to reduce emissions. Performance has not been affected.

Jaguar's XJ8 is available in four versions: the $55,780 XJ8, the $60,830 long wheelbase XJ8L, the even more luxurious $64,880 Vanden Plas reviewed here, and the $69,030 supercharged and fully loaded XJR. Those prices compare favorably to those of the $66,970 BMW 740iL and the $74,495 Mercedes-Benz S420.

Walkaround

Regardless of trim line, Jaguar's XJ is a beautiful car. It is stately without being stuffy, and the soft lines are uniquely Jaguar. The XJ8 continues the design theme set in 1986; Jaguar tried horizontal, contemporary-looking headlights in the 1980s, but they were so universally assailed that the company came back with round lights and they are critical to the overall look.

The Vanden Plas shares the longer wheelbase with the XJ8L, which is 117.9 inches. The standard XJ8 and the XJR ride on a 113-inch wheelbase. Visually, that wheelbase extension is reflected in the length of the rear windows.

The powertrain, suspension and electrical system are new to the sedan. Ford now owns Jaguar and has brought financial support and technology to the company, which has greatly benefited the XJ8. Electrical systems, electronics and other traditional Jaguar problem areas have been eliminated since Ford got involved.

The 4.0-liter V8 has double overhead-cams and four valves per cylinder. It produces 290 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 290 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm.

That impressive power is delivered to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. This electronically controlled automatic adapts to varying driving conditions; it senses whether the driver is cruising along the highway, hot-footing down a back road or climbing a long grade and it varies shift points accordingly for optimum power and efficiency. The transmission also has a self-regulating adaptive capability; it compensates automatically for the effects of aging by adjusting shift quality based on any slippage it detects. Sport and standard modes can be selected by the driver: The standard PRNDL pattern can be used, or shifts can be made manually by moving the stick to the left.

Automatic Stability Control comes standard on all Jaguars. ASC operates at all speeds, using engine intervention to reduce wheel spin on slippery roads. If a rear wheel starts to spin, the anti-lock brake (ABS) controller signals a computer, which controls the spinning by reducing throttle, retarding ignition timing or cutting fuel to the cylinders.

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An optional traction control system includes all ASC functions plus brake intervention. This system comes as part of the All-Weather package, which also includes heated front and rear seats. Both types of traction control can be switched off.

The front suspension is fully independent with unequal-length upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, shocks and an anti-roll bar. Double wishbones are also used at the rear with the driveshafts acting as upper links. They are arranged for anti-lift under braking and anti-squat under acceleration. Variable-ratio rack-and-pinion power steering is speed-sensitive.

The Inside Story

Jaguar's uniqueness is especially evident inside. Getting in is like sliding into an English gentleman's club, with yards of supple leather, luxurious deep-pile carpeting, and polished wood on the doors, instrument panel and steering wheel. The instruments are simple and understated in keeping with the elegant mood.

Memory functions automatically adjust the driver's seat, steering wheel and outside mirror. The driver's seat moves back when Park is engaged for easy exit. It moves back to the last position it was set when the ignition is turned on. A cupholder pops out from the console, but any drinks in it tend to get in the way of shifting.

Thanks to the long wheelbase of the Vanden Plas, the rear compartment is huge and legroom is expansive. The bench seat has two depressed seating areas, but a third person would be comfortable in the middle. Airplane-like tray tables fold down from the front seatbacks. A small pod with two rocker switches on the left side of the passenger seat allow rear-seat passengers to move the seat fore and aft and adjust the angle of the seat back. Headroom is just as generous as legroom.

Ride & Drive

The unique looks of the XJ8 are complemented by a driving experience all its own. Mercedes and BMW share a ride that is more on the firm side and generally feel tight and buttoned up. Lexus and Infiniti offer a softer ride and a more relaxed atmosphere. The XJ8 is wonderfully comfortable with an elegant feel.

Acceleration performance is startling with instant throttle response. On dry pavement, the Jag will light the rear tires up if the traction control is turned off. In a handful of seconds it's hurtling past the speed limit. Jaguar says the XJ8 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, an impressive feat given its size and weight. (The 370-horsepower XJR can do it in a mere 5.4 seconds.)

Shifting is silky smooth, even at full throttle. You can almost feel the transmission signaling the engine to reduce power slightly because a shift is coming. It's an almost imperceptible pause as the shift is made.

We had some fun with the manual shifting mode, but it seemed superfluous with a transmission that does such a great job on its own. The manual operation is electronically controlled to prevent downshifting at an inappropriate speed. The gear can be selected, but the shift won't be made until speed has dropped sufficiently.

Differences between Normal and Sport suspension modes are perceptible on rough surfaces and in hard cornering. The Sport setting lets a little more road roughness come through the steering, but gives the car a slightly flatter stance in cornering.

Driving on narrow Connecticut roads, we discovered that the fenders loom large from the driver's seat. The left front fender obscures the center line and the right front fender masks the verge to give the driver a feeling the car is taking up all the lane and more. But it isn't; we never posed a threat to mail boxes or other vehicles.

The steering lets the driver feel connected to the road, providing a strong sense of control. The wheels do not straighten by themselves after a tight maneuver; they must be brought back in line by turning the steering wheel, just like a race car.

Quiet is an expected part of the luxury quotient, but we didn't expect this much quiet. It is so quiet inside it's almost eerie. No wind noise, no road noise, no harmonics from various systems. You can hear the transmission as it reaches a shift point, and there is a sound you realize must be the engine, but it is more like an electric motor humming than a V8 combusting.

Visibility is good in all directions. The C-pillars are quite thin, so rear visibility is above average for cars this size.

Overall, the XJ8 provides a very pleasurable driving experience.

Final Word

This is certainly one of the finest cars built today. Ford's involvement has undoubtedly had a lot to do with that achievement. The old quality bugaboo seems to be just a memory.

BMW and Mercedes and the rest really can't be compared with the XJ8, other than in price, because the Jaguar offers something altogether different. In price, however, the XJ8 is very competitive.

For luxury with a difference, drive a Jaguar XJ8.

© New Car Test Drive, Inc.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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1999 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas