Jaguar Vanden SC


The Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas Supercharged is a spectacularly comfortable luxury cruiser -- just the thing to drive to the yacht anchored in East Hampton. It's also got a spectacularly high price tag to match -- over $90,000. The Vanden Plas version we tested is the long-wheelbase model with a 370-horsepower, supercharged engine.

The XJ8 hasn't changed substantially since 1998 when the all aluminum double overhead cam straight six with four valves per cylinder became the V8-powered XJ8. The XJ series itself has been around in one form or another for decades, and it's never really warmed our crumpet, so to speak. In the old days, the abysmal reliability record, cursed British electrical components, sloppy handling, and controls that were an ergonomic nightmare, all dampened the car's appeal.

After buying Jaguar a few years ago, Ford found many ways to make the XJ8 a much nicer car. They added a powerful V8 engine, improved the handling and ride, and brought the Jags electronics into the twenty-first century. Now, whether it's $83,500 worth of nice (that's the cars.com target pricebefore you add $1,300 for the gas guzzler tax, $1,890 for the luxury tax, and $4,775 for sales tax) is a matter for you and your portfolio manager to decide. Of course, if you're looking to economize, there's always the regular-wheelbase, non-supercharged XJ8 which starts at a mere $58,145.

Driving Experience

This is a pretty big car. It has the same wheelbase as the Lincoln Town Car. Perhaps because it's a foot shorter it doesn't feel nearly as big as a Town Car, although it handles an order of magnitude better.

The XJ8 is really at its best while moving in a straight line. It's neither nimble nor particularly maneuverable. It does handle fairly well for such a substantial vehicle, however, with an ultra-smooth, soft ride. As for noise level ... there is no noise level.

We found the supercharged four-liter V8 to be unnecessary for the average driver. But, then again, if you're shelling out this kind of money for a car like the Vanden Plas, you'd be unhappy if you didn't get an enormous amount of power.

Like lots of other luxury cars, the Jaguar has rear-wheel-drive and an automatic transmission -- in this case, a five-speed. We didn't get to test it in snow or ice, so we can't say how well it performs in winter conditions -- generally the Achilles heel of rear-wheel-drive cars. But the XJ8 does have traction control as a standard feature, which presumably helps.

Interior

The Vanden Plas is five inches longer than the run-of-the-mill XJ8 and all of that extra room is devoted to rear-seat passengers. There's now plenty of room in the back. The front winds up being roomier, toobecause you can move the seat back without having to endure grumbling from the back-seat passengers. The XJ is a bit rakish, standing four inches lower than a Mercedes-Benz S Series, so the headroom is only okay.

This is an extraordinarily comfortable car, in our humble opinion. Seldom have our tuchuses touched such firm yet cushy seats. They're not pillowy or tufted, such as you might find in a Chrysler New Yorker, but firm and tasteful. The bits of genuine wood trim that adorn the interior are another tasteful touch.

Visibility is good, although we thought the single wiper blade could have done a better job of clearing the windshield. Trunk space is adequate.

Cup holders await your Earl Grey, while there are bins in the seats and doors, and an average-sized glove box for the obligatory jars of Grey Poupon.

Front and side air bags are standard equipment on all XJs, as is a six-disc CD player, automatic climate control, cruise control, a power sunroof, remote locking, power mirrors and windows, a split-folding rear seat, a tilt-telescope steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers. Two things we've gotten used to seeing on lesser vehicles, automatic-up windows and dual-zone air conditioning, are missing.

Ergonomics

Measured against any other car, the XJ8's ergonomics are good. Measured against earlier Jaguars, they're magnificent. We could go on and on about how much we hated the ergonomics of the old Jaguarsuffice it to say that the new Vanden Plas is a vast improvement.

The new gauges are excellent and the pod that holds the buttons that control various functions isn't too difficult to figure out. (It did, however, take us four days of hunting to figure out that the electric door locks were located in the top of the center pod.) Thankfully, there is no touch-screen display to deal with.

The analog clock was a particularly nice touch. Other luxury car makers have strayed over the line from tastefulness to garishness with glitzy, gold-colored clocks smack dab in the middle of the dash. Not so with Jaguar. Its clock blends in with the rest of the interior.

With all the thoughtful elegance in the XJ8, it's a shame that there's a cartoonish, roaring tiger head decorating the center of the steering wheel. The newly revamped Jaguar logo looks to us like Tony the Tiger. Whatever happened to the classic leaping cat?

Styling

So what does it look like? It looks like a classic Jaguar, which means it's elegant and sporty. Ford's Jaguar de-uglification program has eliminated some of the more awkward styling details that have crept in over the years, like the big, rectangular headlights and blacked-out taillights, both of which have been consigned to the dustbin. The back end looks like that of the new, smaller S Type Jaguar, and the front has four tasteful, round headlamps.

The long-wheelbase version of the XJ has incredibly long back doors and enormous rear windows. Fortunately, Jaguar did manage to reduce the apparent enormity of the doors in the overall styling of the car.

Reliability

In the olden days, say, about 20 years ago, you couldn't say "reliability" and "Jaguar" in the same sentence without provoking howls of laughter. To Jaguar's credit, reliability is an area that they've been working hard on, and the new cars are reportedly much better. The car we drove felt particularly well put together.

Maintenance

If you have to ask about service and maintenance, then this is definitely not the car for you. This car should go straight to the dealer for everything except filling up the gas tank. You just spent $90,000, remember? You'd be nuts to save fifty bucks by having Manny at the corner Quik Lube drag his knuckles across the XJ8's resplendent golden surfaces.

Overall comments

We've tended to think of Jaguars as $50,000 to $60,000 cars, and, in fact, the basic XJ8 has a cars.com target price of $58,145. This puts the XJ8 in competition with a number of nice, comparable vehicles like the Infiniti Q45 or the Lexus LS 430.

At the $90,000 level, you're talking about the best cars in the world. There's the long-wheelbase version of the Audi A8, the BMW 750iL, and the Mercedes S-Class, all of which offer power, comfort, sophistication and luxury commensurate with their rarefied price tags.

But, if your heart is set on the XJ8 Vanden Plas Supercharged, and money is no object, who the heck are we to stop you?

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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