It's the start of a new era. Jaguar is now owned by the Indian company Tata and a brand-new, radically different iteration of the Jaguar XJ has been launched. It's also the end of an old era, where Jags always looked like they were supposed to, and that cosy gentlemen's club interior of wood and leather was as familiar and welcoming as a family home, albeit a well-to-do one. But we don't have to bid farewell to it just yet. There's plenty of life left in these old cats. There are XJs out there in good condition with sticker prices at virtually half of their new MSRP. A more civilized world of driving awaits.
2003-2009 JAGUAR XJ (X350)
The quintessential British sedan. Rivals include the perennially brilliant Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7 Series, but there's something about a Jag that feels less brash, more classy, more like the acceptable face of capitalism. Although the XJ hasn't always enjoyed the best of reputations, the model codenamed X350-while still under Ford ownership-enjoyed a happier time. The body was now made of aluminum and build quality issues were fewer. Engine options chopped and changed somewhat. The range started with a 4.0-liter V8 producing either 290 hp in naturally aspirated form or 370 hp when supercharged. This went up to 4.2 liters making 294 hp, then 300, or a blown 400 hp in the XJR and Super V8. Each version deploys a ZF six-speed automatic transmission (with the famed J gate to select manual override) that sends power to the rear wheels. And because the standard car wasn't exactly blessed with plenty of rear passenger space, a long wheelbase version offered much more legroom. The longer and even more luxurious Vanden Plas and Super V8 models came out in 2005.
What Makes It Great
Jaguar invented the word "wafting." Not really, but the XJ has a ride quality that suits this description to a tee. When driving the unforgiving streets of a harsh world, the XJ is a serene cocoon furnished with fine materials. What people might not know, though, is that it can be pushed way beyond the limits of decorum, eschewing understeer as if it were a crass intrusion from a lower plane of existence. To translate, it's a great drive. These models have CATS (computer active technology suspension) as an option, giving the XJ a deceptively nimble feel. Occupant space can seem a tad limited compared to something like an S-Class, but there's a feeling of sitting in the driver's seat rather than on it, making one feel more involved, although in a seemingly effortless way.
What To Look For
"The newer, the better" is always a good rule. Most Jaguar woes usually center on iffy electrics; one computer glitch put the transmission into reverse at high speed, but this was fixed on a recall. And those annoying little parking dings are more expensive to fix with an aluminum body. Other than that, it's just the usual used-car rigmarole of service history, outstanding finance, checking the oil filler cap for white deposits, making sure the brake discs aren't scored or warped, and all the other standard checkpoints.
What We Found
How does a 2005 XJR with 33,000 miles for $30,800 sound? We found one for sale in Vegas through Craigslist. Better still, a 2003 XJR with 70,000 miles for $13,993. A 2005 long wheelbase model with a naturally aspirated V8 and 24,529 miles is selling for $22,992. Auto Trader came up with a nice XJ Sport with 60,535 miles for $11,800. Remember, Jags come with a lot of goodies and chances are these prices are negotiable.
For a supercharged XJR, finding 35 more horses and 37 lb-ft is a simple ECU re-flash. Arden (through German Motoring) also offers a high-performance exhaust. Combine the two and the result is an extra 60 hp. For bigger numbers, it's an engine rebuild with uprated crank, cams and pistons. To go with forced induction, a company like Vortech can probably help. Finding someone to put a supercharger on a V8 in America should be a simple task.
For The Money
A 2005 Mercedes-Benz E350 with 60k miles, a 2003 S500 with 45k miles, or a 2004 Range Rover with 87k miles-each can be had for $20,000. Yes, the S500 is tempting, but none of these options have the cachet of an XJ. The Range Rover will be too thirsty and will probably be plagued with more reliability issues. Come on, it's time to put a bit of class on that driveway.