2008 Jaguar XJ Super V8 Review
By Kevin Miller
Last week, Jaguar’s local press fleet contractor dropped off a Radiance Red Jaguar XJ Super V8 for me to review. I had been anticipating the XJ’s arrival for several weeks, building up my expectations for the 400 HP, $95,200 car, which is the most powerful and most expensive vehicle I’ve ever driven. That price includes an MSRP of $94,750, with the single option being Sirius satellite radio for $450.
When it was delivered, I was immediately struck by the Jaguar’s sense of presence. The large sedan, with its 20″ wheels, chromed mesh grille, and long, low stance was impressive to look over. I got in, inhaled the heady scents of rich leather and real lambswool carpets, and luxuriated just for a moment in the richness of it all. Then I adjusted my seat and mirrors, paired my cell phone with the XJ’s Bluetooth system and headed off to a meeting.
The moment I pulled out of my driveway, I felt intimidated. The Super V8 is Jaguar’s most expensive XJ, truly a flagship for the brand. It is incredibly long, with a sculpted, shapely hood stretching out front and lot of vehicle behind the driver’s seat. Gently touching the accelerator resulted in the car leaping ahead powerfully, which I later realized was partly due to the six-speed transmission automatic transmission being in Sport mode. It was also partly due to the Super V8’s need to let me know it is a powerful machine, which needs time to bond with its driver.
As the week wore on, I grew used to the XJ . Remembering that a confident driver is a good driver, whereas an intimidated driver is not, I quickly mustered the confidence to drive the car like I had tamed its power, as though I was accustomed to the power and style Jaguar engineered into the XJ. I learned to approach the car confidently, climb in to the driver’s seat, and roar away without a rearward glance.
The XJ is instantly recognizable as Jaguar’s flagship sedan, a contemporary take on the familiar Jaguar style, with a subtly assertive and sporting exterior look . The four round headlights that make the face of the car, along with the car’s overall shape, is the latest iteration of what could charitably be called the evolution of Jaguar’s classic look. Large Jaguar sedans have shared this basic shape for generations. Launched in 2003 as a 2004 model, the current XJ features all-aluminum construction, which keeps the Super V8’s weight to 4006 lbs. The car was given a freshening for 2008, including new front and rear bumpers, eye-catching 20-inch wheels, chrome mesh (appearance) grille, side power vents, lower body sills and a subtle rear aero spoiler. The view out over the shapely hood is impressive. A subtle power bulge in the hood is evident from the driver’s seat.
The long-wheelbase XJ that underpins the Super V8 is styled such that when looking from afar, the car doesn’t seem that big. Only when standing near the XJ, or seeing it parked next to another “large” car, does the Jaguar’s size become evident. It is about 14 inches longer than the Volvo wagon I normally drive. Jaguar claims the XJ LWB is the longest car in its premium sedan class – 0.3 inches longer than the new Mercedes Benz S-Class and 1.4 inches longer than the longest BMW 7 Series. A test fit in my garage allowed less than a foot to get around the front of the car to get in to the house. Clearly the XJ Super V8 is destined for greater places than a suburban garage.
The nice, big exterior leaves plenty of room inside for Jaguar to pack the XJ Super V8 full of amenities, and the XJ has a lot of nice features you would expect on a luxury sedan of its caliber. The XJ Super V8 has standard one-touch power windows and sunroof, sunglasses holder (though the holder was too shallow to fit my Ray-Bans), parking sensors front and rear, radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward Alert, and Speed Limiter. The parking sensors were a bit irritating as they would beep for an obstacle in front of the car if the car was in reverse, and would beep for an obstacle behind the car if the car was in drive. That meant they also beeped when somebody walked in front of the car in a crosswalk, or if they jaywalked behind the car in traffic.
The seats are upholstered in soft, perforated ivory colored leather with mocha piping, and matching ivory leather was used on the console surround, console armrest and doors. Mocha leather that matched the seat piping is used on the dash top, door tops, and non-wood portions of the steering wheel. Burl walnut veneer with hand-inlaid Peruvian boxwood is found on the dash, doors, and shifter surround. The Super V8 (and Vanden Plas and XJR models) features a twin-stitched fascia top, so that stitching in the leather is visible along the edge of the dash board. Unfortunately that stitching in the car I drove was uneven, and lent a hastily-assembled feel to the otherwise beautifully-crafted interior.
The front seats, redesigned and evidently more comfortable for 2008, have 16-way power adjustment; those adjustments include the regular fore-aft, up-down, and recline/incline, plus headrest raise-lower, seat cushion extend/retract, and a lumbar support whose vertical position and level can be adjusted. Pedal position and steering wheel rake/reach are also electrically adjusted, and all of those adjustments for the driver’s seat can be saved in the three-position memory control. The front seats also are equipped with heating and ventilation, each of which has three intensity levels. A very nice touch was the heated steering wheel that turned on when the driver’s seat warmer was activated.
Storage in the front seat is provided in large door bins and a very large glovebox, which contains a 12 V power outlet. The center armrest has flip-out cupholders which are on the small side. Under the center armrest is a very shallow, small tray that could perhaps hold some business cards or a few coins. The tray cannot be any deeper because of the air ducts in the console for the rear seat climate control.
A touchscreen in the dash controls and displays settings for navigation, sound system, Bluetooth –connected phone, and climate control. There are redundant buttons for driver and passenger temperature (with a display which unfortunately disappears through polarized sunglasses), fan speed, window demisting, sound system band/mode selection, and CD eject/shuffle surrounding the touchscreen. That being said, using the Jaguar touchscreen itself was like stepping back in time. I’ve owned a Garmin Nuvi GPS for the past year, with a sharp, instant-reaction type touchscreen. The XJ’s touchscreen display is nowhere near as sharp, and doesn’t respond to touches/inputs nearly as quickly as my Garmin does. Sometimes nearly a second went by between the time I touched the screen and the result of my touch actually occurred. The display resolution and reaction time on this touchscreen system is substandard in a $95k car, it would be considered sub-standard even in a car costing substantially less. While Audi’s MMI and BMW’s iDrive have controversial control methods, their displays are significantly sharper-looking, and controls are faster-acting. That being said, the XJ’s touchscreen was easy to learn how to use, and although it is not flashy or particularly sharp it was a simple way to interact with several of the Jaguar’s systems.
Although the Bluetooth phone connection downloads the phone’s contact list for display on the screen on the dash, a contact’s name cannot be typed in. The address book can only be browsed by selecting a group of 3 or 4 first-letter-of-names. Searching for a contact whose name starts with K meant selecting the “JKL” button, then scrolling through several pages of names which start with J (each page displays just 8 names), which was truly inconvenient. On the positive side, incoming calls from people in the phone’s contact list cause the person’s name to show up on the screen when the phone is ringing, with buttons to accept or reject the call. Sound quality was good, and the pervasive quiet inside of the car made it easy to hear the caller and to be heard by the party on the other end of the call.
Navigation address entry is simple enough to use once figured out, and like most built-in navigation systems the spoken direction announcements mute the sound system when they are spoken. Unlike my Garmin, the unit doesn’t speak street names, so you must look at the navigation screen to see the name of the street onto which you will be turning. The navigation system is DVD-based, and the DVD for that system is trunk-mounted (along with the DVD player for the rear-seat entertainment and the optional 6-disc CD changer). The navigation DVD in our test car didn’t include the street of a friend of ours who lives in a Portland suburb, although the street has been there for about five years. While I knew how to get there since we’ve been to her house before, it was disappointing that the address wasn’t in the Jaguar navigation database. The odometer/message screen on the speedometer displays some redundant instructions, but only of the “Turn Right 0.5 miles” variety; the street name is never mentioned in the redundant display, which means that the driver must look down (away from the road) to read the street name on the main navigation screen.
The sound system controls and display on the touchscreen were disappointing. The XJ I drove had Sirius satellite radio in addition to FM, AM, and a single-disc CD player in the dash. Pressing the BAND button toggled between an FM display screen, AM display screen, and two Sirius display screens. Each display screen has nine “soft keys” for station presets.
The FM preset buttons don’t display the station name or frequency. Instead they display eight characters of the station’s RDS info that was playing when the BAND was pressed, so each button can have a confusing display of letters/partial words on it; you really just need to remember what each of the nine stations are that you have pre-set. The RDS info while a station is playing is displayed in just eight tiny characters at the upper left of the screen. Even with all of the real estate available for display of that information, only cryptic scrolling of eight characters at a time is used.
The tuner’s Sirius screens don’t contain any playlist information on the preset screen; an OPTIONS softkey must be pressed to display the artist/title information. That seems like a waste of the available space on the display screen. The Sirius tuner in my car only worked intermittently, about every third time I started the car no sound at all would come out when in satellite mode, no matter how the volume was adjusted.
The audio in the XJ system does not play MP3 or other electronic music files, and there is no aux input for connection of a digital music player (Jaguar’s media information mentions availability of an Audio Connectivity accessory, though the test car was not equipped with that accessory, and no pricing information was given). The system has only a single-disc in-dash CD. My $95k test car didn’t come equipped with the optional CD changer, which would have been located way back in the trunk. Or the 1990s. Your pick. The Super V8 comes standard with Jaguar’s 320 W Premium Sound system, which was sufficient but not outstanding because it lacked both clarity and power.
All of this makes it obvious that Jaguar isn’t expecting many technophiles or audiophiles to buy the XJ; luxury buyers interested in cutting-edge electronics (or even merely current electronics) in their cars will have to shop elsewhere. However, as I stated earlier, the touchscreen’s functions and controls are easy to learn, and are a nice way to interface with the car. It is worth noting that many of the touchscreen’s functions can also be controled by JaguarVoice, which is a speech-recognition technology. I didn’t take the time to learn very many of the commands, but I did use it to redial the phone and to tell the navigation system to route me home. It is also worth noting that the screen can be turned off with a press of two buttons, which is nice for reducing driver distraction.
With all of those front seat features having been discussed, let’s chat about the back seat, which has enormous amounts of legroom. The rear bench seat’s outboard seating positions have electrically adjustable backrest rake, headrest level, and lumbar support. The passenger-side rear seat also has a control to move the front passenger seat forward to increase available legroom, which is astoundingly large even with the front seat motored all the way back (the seat adjustment controls are electrically locked out with the rear windows for child-proofing). The middle of the backseat has an armrest that folds out, and that armrest opens from the back to expose a bit of storage plus two mediocre cup holders at the passengers’ elbows, and also opens from the front to reveal the control for the rear seat media package. Like the driver’s seat, each of the two rear outboard seating locations has three programmable memory settings.
Manually raised/lowered sunshades built in to the rear doors and an electrically operated rear-window sunshade keep the occupants out of direct sunlight, keeping the cabin somewhat cooler and allowing easier viewing of the video screens which are built in to the back of each front seat headrest. The rear seats have three-stage seat heaters, and the rear seat passengers also enjoy the Super V8’s true 4-zone climate control, with each back seat passenger being able to set his own temperature, though the two do need to agree on air distribution and fan settings if AUTO mode is not selected. The rear-seat climate control can be programmed or overridden by the driver using the vehicle’s touchscreen. Unfortunately, the ducts for the rear seat ventilation eliminate the storage compartment that would otherwise be under the driver’s right elbow.
Tray tables on the backs of each front seat fold down and extend toward the back seat passengers. The trays, which are alternately referred to as Business Trays or Picnic Trays in Jaguar literature, are probably better for business than picnics, as they don’t sit quite flat, so your jar of Grey Poupon or cup of Earl Gray Tea is likely to slide forward and possibly spill on the deep pile lambswool carpets.
The rear seat multimedia controller is counter-intuitive, to say the least. When parked, a DVD must be installed into the player which is located in the trunk. It can then be selected from the control panel in the backseat armrest. There are screens in the back of each headrest, though it was a challenge to get the movie to play on both screens simultaneously. There are also two auxiliary inputs in the armrest (one for each side), but no 110 V power outlet for powering an auxiliary device such as a video game unit; even if there was a plug for a video game, there isn’t really any place to put the console inside the car. The rear seat controls can be used to override the front seat audio controls, such that suddenly everybody in the car is listening to the DVD being played. Of course, the system is set up such that the in-dash CD can be listened to with headphones on one side in the rear, the DVD can be listened to with headphones on the other side, and front seat occupants can listen to the tuner. Because the rear-seat media controller can control the sound throughout the car, but the front-seat touchscreen cannot control the playback on the video screens nor select the audio for rear seat headsets, the car is much better suited (and the system set up) for use by adult passengers being chauffeured by a driver than for families of young children wanting to watch cartoons in the back. To set up a movie for my daughter on a trip in the XJ, I had to start the car, move to the back seat to set up and start the movie, then move back to the driver’s seat to set off on our journey.
The XJ’s trunk is easily loaded through its enormous boot lid. It isn’t particularly tall, but it is quite deep. As you can see in the photo, the trunk is well illuminated at night, as is the vehicle’s interior. The entire trunk is carpeted, including the underside of the lid, and the carpet is nicer than what is found in many mainstream cars. Under the trunk floor was the battery and a space-saver spare tire; lesser XJs with 19 inch or smaller wheels get a full-sized spare, but the 20 inch wheel and tire is too big for the trunk’s well.
The accelerator pedal in the XJ Super V8 is calibrated for quick response off the line, and everywhere else. As I said earlier, it takes a few days of bonding with the car to learn to drive it smoothly. In the beginning, my wife grew tired of her head snapping back when I set off from a stop, and then her head jerking forward when I let up on the accelerator to compensate for the rapid acceleration. It took several days to learn to drive the XJ smoothly. When I finally did learn, I found that the automatic transmission didn’t shift smoothly in 0-10 MPH stop-and-go traffic, if often held a low gear when the accelerator pedal was released, then clumsily clunked in to gear. The Super V8’s large diameter brakes which are shared with the XJR always stopped the Super V8 quickly and without drama. Fortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to use them for any panic stops.
Seattle had two days of rain with temperatures in the upper 40s while I was enjoying life with the XJ Super V8. During those two dreary days I also got to find out what it’s like to drive a 400 HP, rear-wheel drive car in the rain. The Dynamic Stability Control had to intervene during even gentle acceleration from a stop, and pulling away from a stoplight to turn a corner always resulted in DSC-corrected oversteer. At any speed, it was easy to break the rear tires free by stomping on the gas pedal. The DSC system was nicely calibrated to let the driver have some oversteer or wheelspin before it would intervene in any condition (whether wet or dry), but at the same time the car never felt out-of-control even with the most injudicious use of the throttle.
When the weather improved, a weekend trip from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, gave the XJ a chance to stretch its legs. While its prodigious legroom allowed our family to stretch our legs at the same time, we found the seats to be too firm; after two hours our backsides were numb, and neither the heating, ventilation, or 16-way power adjustments could remedy the situation. Temperatures approached 100 degrees while we were in Portland, and the ventilated seats kept our backsides cool.
Fortunately for us, the car’s 400 HP means that every trip can be a quick one. At any speed, in any condition, brisk acceleration was just as close as the pedal under my right foot. Jaguar claims a 0-60 time for the Super V8 of 5.3 seconds, and I’d say it was easily that quick. The acceleration was truly incredible for such a large car.
On the road, the XJ was peacefully quiet inside. The ride was comfortable in almost every condition, although sometimes on rough road surfaces at freeway speeds the eCATS electronic air suspension could get a bit confused, causing odd suspension feel to enter the car. Electronic suspensions can suffer from this symptom if not perfectly calibrated, and in this regard the electronic suspension control, which provides automatic vehicle leveling by adjustment of the air pressure in the suspension components, is far better developed than the electronic (but not pneumatic) suspension in my own Volvo.
On our trip to Portland, I had plenty of time to play with the Radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control. This system maintains vehicle speed, but also uses a radar sensor to “see” vehicles in front of the XJ in its lane, and to maintain a specified following distance (gap) behind the car in front. The system will apply the brakes if necessary to slow the car down if a vehicle is ahead and will maintain a driver-selectable gap unt. The set speed resumes when the slower vehicle moves out of the XJ’s lane, or when the XJ moves over a lane to pass. I found the system to work well; when the XJ came upon a slower-moving car in its lane, it slowed down and displayed the word GAP in the info display. Changing lanes removed the sensed vehicle from the radar’s sight, and the car to promptly resumed its speed.
Another useful speed control device is the Automatic Speed Limiter. When the cruise control is not being used, the speed set buttons on the steering wheel can be used to enter a maximum vehicle speed. If you want to make sure you don’t drive faster than 25 MPH on a neighborhood street notorious for speed patrols, set the limiter to 25 MPH. You can roar away at full throttle from a stop, and the car will accelerate to 25 MPH and just cruise along at that speed; the info display shows “25 MPH LIMITER SET” when you’ve reached the set speed. It works just as well on the freeway to prevent from exceeding the speed limit by TOO much.
When not being used for the Adaptive Cruise Control, the radar can be used for the Forward Alert system. This uses the radar beam to scan for obstacles in front of the car, at a distance which can be set by the driver. When an obstacle is sensed, a chime sounds, and a red light illuminates near the info display, which reads DRIVER INTERVENE. This system seemed a little superfluous: a driver who is looking ahead will see the obstacle long before the car senses it.
Around town, the XJ Super V8, which has an EPA rating of 15/22 and requires premium unleaded fuel, got about 14 MPG as indicated by the trip computer. At the end of my 400 mile freeway trip, the average economy on the trip computer indicated 22.9 MPG, which is quite impressive for the large car, and a testament to the fact that I judiciously used the cruise control for much of the trip.
I’ve spent the past week trying to determine what the demographic is for the XJ Super V8. It’s a $95,000 car with an incredible amount of presence and an incredible amount of equipment. The big Jaguar gets attention and attracts commentary almost everywhere it is driven. The 400 HP is more than enough to pass any vehicle in any necessary situation I encountered in a week of driving. It is incredibly well appointed with luxuries. But at the same time, it is almost $20k more than the 300 HP XJ Vanden Plas (which has most of the same features), and about $27k more than a basic XJ8 LWB.
Comparable luxury sedans include the $78,900 BMW 750 iL with 360 HP, the $86,700 Mercedes-Benz S550 with 382 HP, and the $74,600 Audi A8L Quattro with 350 HP. In this company, the XJ Super V8 is the most powerful vehicle, and it appears to be the most expensive. However when priced with features comparable to those found on the XJ Super V8, the Jaguar looks like a much better value. Using TrueDelta’s price/feature comparison, a similarly-equipped BMW would cost $99,855, a similarly-equipped Mercedes-Benz S550 would cost $101,530 and a similarly-equipped Audi would cost $81,925.
Moving up to more powerful versions of the other cars means moving up to 12 cylinders for a long-wheelbase Audi or BMW, at a cost of $120,100 for 450 HP in the A8, or $122,600 for 483 HP in the 760Li for $122,600. The Maserati Quattroporte also offers 400 HP from a non-supercharged 4.2L V8 for an eye-watering $138,236. Ironically, while driving the XJ Super V8 downtown Seattle, I came upon a Maserati Quattroporte, and the driver visibly checked the Jaguar out from the next lane, then looked over at me and gave me a thumb’s up. In my shock I managed to give a nod of my head in return.
I can’t decide what makes the XJ Super V8 $45k better than a $50k car, or $35k better than a $60k car. It is devilishly good looking, with 20″ wheels showing off huge brakes, silver vents and mirror caps. I can’t think of another car with such legroom in the back seat. It is intoxicatingly powerful. During my week with the Jaguar, I went from infatuation to indifference to respect. Only after the car had been collected did I realize how much I enjoyed driving it, and how much I appreciated so many of its nice appointments.
For days I considered the low-resolution, touch-and-wait touchscreen to be a disappointment. In a car that is almost $100k, surely the electronics should be more modern, right? But gradually, the subtle elegance and functionality of the system began to grow on me. The XJ isn’t all about the flashy electronics. It’s about decorum, familiarity, and ease of use. Everything about the XJ was easy to use. That is when I realized that the target buyer of the XJ Super V8 is somebody who wants a performance luxury car that is easy to use. It has classic good looks, a tasteful interior design, and modern features that are controlled in a straightforward manner. What could be better?
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