Strolling through a cavernous building thrumming with huge metal-stamping machines isn't my first choice of entertainment, especially when it comes hard on the heels of a transatlantic red-eye.
Bleary eyes, however, were blasted wide open and an idling brain was kicked into overdrive upon viewing the innovative processes used to build the seventh-generation Jaguar XJ sedan. Stamping was never so fascinating.
This inside look--within a renovated Castle Bromwich plant outside of Birmingham--at the insides of Jaguar's newest version of its flagship revealed a completely new way of building luxury automobiles. And it also showed Jaguar's determination to be a first choice in the high end of the market, not just a secondary alternative to the Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs and Lexuses of the world.
Even though this XJ is built with aluminum body panels attached to an all-aluminum monocoque chassis (the first production car of its type), don't mistake innovation for revolution. Jaguar dared not alienate a loyal following by moving away from the luxurious motoring experience that's made the XJ the all-time best-selling Jag. Over half of all Jaguars ever built have been XJs, and more than 800,000 have been sold since the model's birth in 1968.
Even though the car breaks new technological ground, its advances were designed to enhance traditional Jag values and--here's the really good news--they transform the big sedan into a legitimate, thoroughly modern driver's car.
But why the expensive and complicated move to aluminum instead of tried and true steel. It's not as if Jaguar were struggling for direction: Five straight years of record sales growth would seem to indicate that doing more of the same might have been the prudent strategy. Why make this quantum leap into new materials and complex manufacturing techniques? Does the typical Jag buyer even care?
The answer was summed up by the XJ's chief program engineer, David Scholes: "We chose a lightweight aluminum vehicle for the new XJ not because it was something new, but because it enabled us to deliver real and significant benefits to our customers."
These attributes include better performance, a more dynamic driving experience, improved fuel economy, lower emissions and greater safety.
The new XJ is longer, taller and wider than before and its body structure 60% stiffer, yet it's also 40% lighter (about 200 lb). Interior room, never a Jag bragging point, is more spacious in all dimensions, and even the trunk is 25% larger; it can now handle much more gear, including the requisite four sets of golf clubs.
The criteria for the decision to approach the new XJ from this new direction arose from the profiles and expectations of today's luxury car customer, and from such external pressures as government safety legislation, fuel costs and, at least in Europe, taxation issues. As people have become wealthier, healthier and taller, they want more space, for bodies and toys, and they want the performance to keep up with the wealthier, healthier and taller folks down the block.
And if the typical XJ buyer cares little about the innards of the vehicle, or that the traditional welding together of steel panels has been replaced by aluminum sheets joined by rivets and space-age bonding, they will certainly appreciate the results.
In Europe, the XJ comes with four engines (we won't get the 3.0-liter V6 or 3.5-liter V8); U.S. buyers have a choice of a 300-bhp 4.2-liter V8 in XJ8 and Vanden Plas models and, in the XKR, its identically sized 400-bhp supercharged variant. Based on the 4.2 found in the S-Type, much detail work was done to make its performance and sonic feedback more rewarding. And it works: Jag states the new XJ8, compared to the outgoing model, can run from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 sec. compared to 6.9 sec. The XJR cuts its former 5.4-sec. time in the same sprint to a heady 5.0 sec.
Pricing of the base XJ8 is $59,995, the even more luxuriously appointed Vanden Plas is $68,995, and the hippest cat of them all, the blown XJR, is $74,995.
All models transfer power, seamlessly, to the rear wheels through one of the best transmissions around, a six-speed ZF unit (final-drive ratios vary by model). And the infamous J-gate has been vastly improved through electronic control, shorter throws and better placement in the center console.
Without a doubt, the most impressive aspect of the new XJ is its road control. Both models ride on a new air suspension that helps give the big cat the ability to claw its way through the toughest corners and pad silently over the roughest roads.
It's joined underneath by a wealth of new technology, including a double wishbone setup front and rear; an enhanced version of Jag's CATS adaptive damper system; a new Dynamic Stability Control program, which uses selective braking of any of the four wheels to prevent understeer or oversteer (and it can be turned off for those who might want to hot-shoe it); and a new speed-sensitive steering rack. This is a wonderful system that indeed "makes the car feel smaller," as pointed out by XJ chief engineer David Scholes.
Becoming de rigueur for the top luxury cars--and a growing number of SUVs--the air spring/damper system gives the suspension a latitude of effect impossible with the old steel spring/damper configuration. Ride height is adjusted automatically up or down based on speed and road conditions (plus there are additional modes for leveling the car when it's parked or being jacked). It's especially brilliant over long-wave undulations in the pavement, controlling re-bound far more effectively than the old steel suspension and thus preventing that floaty softness that makes some big cars so tiring to drive. Over rougher surfaces, which would have had the previous XJ chattering nervously, the air springs dampen the jolts to slight nudges, retaining the sweet ride quality that luxury car buyers have come to expect. And that Jag owners have traditionally enjoyed.
But where the new underpinnings really prove their mettle, and where the new XJ is such a radical departure from its predecessor, is in its newfound handling and cornering abilities. The car displays the sort of stability that lets you keep your foot in it through the apex and out the other side, and body roll is kept to a minimum. Credit for this sporting character has to be shared with CATS, Jag's Computer Active Technology Suspension, which now carries an "Enhanced" prefix, denoting its updating. The two-stage adaptive damping is so quick and quiet that the driver knows it's working only by the car's refined road manners no matter the conditions. The XKR's system is specially tuned for sportier response.
And there's plenty else new to help keep the XJ on a quiet, even keel: The double wishbone suspension, front and rear, is mounted on steel subframes for greater noise isolation. Attention to the geometry of the forged aluminum upper control arm and two-piece forged aluminum lower control arms result in enhanced ride comfort and reduced camber changes during cornering and dive during heavy braking.
The excellent new braking system reinforces the XJ's theme of being for drivers who do more than motor to the spa. For the XJ8 and Vanden Plas, there are 12.6-in. ventilated discs up front with two-piston floating aluminum calipers (yet another example of a successful strategy to reduce unsprung weight), and in back are 11.3-in. ventilated discs with single, floating aluminum calipers. The XJR's binders were developed with Brembo: Up front are giant 14.4-in. ventilated discs with Brembo aluminum, four-piston monobloc calipers; at the rear are solid 13.-in. discs with aluminum two-piece, fixed, opposed four-piston calipers. The four-channel ABS is augmented by Emergency Brake Assist, helping the driver apply maximum braking during emergency stops.
I could go on for six more pages describing additional technology and features of this remarkably good luxury sedan. That will have to wait for a U.S. test drive, which we look forward to with great anticipation.
All aluminum, except for a magnesium cross brace under the firewall and steel door hinges, the new XJ's structure is stiffer by 60%, is virtually resistant to corrosion and provides a safer structure. In a UK government study, the XJ displayed the best "real world" safety of any car in its class. The 339 separate pieces are formed from three types of aluminum alloy supplied by Alcan. Forming the various elements of the body is by casting, stamping, extruding and hydroforming. Aluminum's advantages in production include better "memory" than steel during the stamping process and greater control of quality than steel, all at less expense.
All aluminum, except for a magnesium cross brace under the firewall and steel door hinges,
More than 3,000 rivets, of 16 different types, are used as well as over 300 feet of special bonding epoxy, which is then "cured" in the heat of the paint shop. The only welding is to the four roof joints and is merely for cosmetic reasons. Examples of the weight savings include a rear door more than 13 lb lighter and a front hood almost 30 lb lighter than on the previous XJ. Repair will be through selected Jaguar dealers and a number of "partner" body shops scattered throughout the U.S.
More than 3,000 rivets, of 16 different types, are used as well as over 300 feet of specia
Jaguar states the new XJ boasts three times more luxury features than its predecessor.
These include an electronic parking brake (no brake lever for more room); electronically adjustable pedals (by a full 2.5 in.) and a heatable steering wheel; rain-sensing wipers; rear Park Control (optional for the front); exterior ground illumination via lights mounted in the underside of the rearview mirrors, which can be electronically folded for tight spaces; a heating element at the base of the windshield to keep the wipers from sticking in freezing weather; and a glovebox that can hold much more than a pair of gloves.
These include an electronic parking brake (no brake lever for more room); electronically a
Some of the more rewarding cockpit revisions include an improved J-gate shifter, with shorter throws for a more precise feel and better placement on the center console; and extremely comfortable and supportive 12-way electrically adjustable seats (16-way is standard on Vanden Plas and XJR models; XKRs get more pronounced side bolsters as part of a "Performance" interior package). Increased interior volume (more than 40% by the European measure) is particularly evident in the rear seats, which now can accommodate three adults in two available configurations--a fixed bench seat with two head restraints and four-way manual adjustment or a twin electric bench seat with electrically memorized recline of the seatback and four-way adjustable lumbar control for the outboard seats. There's also an optional four-zone climate control system to keep everyone happy.
Some of the more rewarding cockpit revisions include an improved J-gate shifter, with shor
Designer Ian Callum on the new XJ: "The new car clearly had to be instantly recognizable, capturing the essence and style of XJ but in a more modern idiom." Because it's a much bigger and taller car than its predecessor, the trunkline had to be raised for good aerodynamics, yet the rear still retains the trademark "boat-tail shape, achieved via the slope of the trunklid. Callum also pointed to the roofline as an integral part of retaining classic Jaguar sleekness, even suggesting that the chrome line is the most important design element of the car. Despite the XJ's size, elegance was maintained with slimmer glass-to-door proportions. Avoiding the "laid back" stance of previous XJs, Callum penned a high degree of wedge in the profile and created a cab-forward, aggressive stance by positioning the wheels closer to the corners, using a shorter hood and a less acute rake angle for the larger windshield.
Designer Ian Callum on the new XJ: "The new car clearly had to be instantly recognizable,
New levels of luxury extend to the rear seat, where passengers can access audio and DVD video programs independently of each other via two optional 6.5-in. color monitors in the back of the front headrests. Front occupants can continue to enjoy their own programming choices.
The dash panel contains a 7-in. LCD display for fingertip control of climate, audio and DVD navigation systems. Also available is a voice-activated system that can adjust primary audio functions, telephone, climate control, nav system and in-vehicle displays. The standard audio system features eight speakers, and an in-dash radio and CD slot. On XJRs (and optional on the XJ8) the system grows to 12 speakers with digital sound processing, power amp, subwoofer and remote six-disc CD changer in addition to the in-dash CD slot. Despite this plethora of electronic goodies, operation is not complex. Said the XJ's chief engineer David Scholes, "You don't have to be a computer programmer to operate this car."
New levels of luxury extend to the rear seat, where passengers can access audio and DVD vi
The baddest of the new cats is the XJR, its 400 bhp and 408 lb-ft of torque capable of taking the 3663-lb sedan from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.0 sec. Standard R running gear is 8.5 x 19s with 255/40R19 Pirelli P Zeros; optional are 20-in. alloys with 255/35Rs. Designer Ian Callum said anything smaller than 20s on this car should be illegal. To match the supercharged power, the brakes were developed with Brembo.
The baddest of the new cats is the XJR, its 400 bhp and 408 lb-ft of torque capable of tak