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Test drive: 2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas

Pace, space and grace

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2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas

2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas

© Philip Powell
Decades of prestige are behind this British luxury sedan, which enjoys a pedigree evolved from success in motor racing and is often the vehicle of choice for royalty, politicians, and captains of industry. Underneath those exquisite lines lies an all-aluminum body and a 32-valve, double-overhead-cam aluminum V-8, harmonised with a 5-speed automatic. The long wheelbase Vanden Plas version we tested starts at $71,995. It is backed by a comprehensive 4-year/50,000-mile limited warranty.

First Glance

When the first XJ sedan appeared in 1969, Jaguar creator and boss Sir William Lyons advertised it as having "Pace, Space, and Grace." Those words certainly apply to the 2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas: Sprinting from 0-60 in 6.3 seconds, reaching a top speed of 121 mph, it has pace. With those added inches it offers prime ministers and leggy basketball players plenty of space. And unlike almost every new car on the road today, the XJ symbolizes grace.

The Vanden Plas combines Jaguar tradition with modern technology in subtle ways: no in-your-face styling like the new Cadillacs, no F1-influenced look of a Mercedes S-Class, no 1938 Auto-Union race car aggressiveness of an Audi A8. Instead it murmurs quietly of six LeMans 24-hour victories and with its long hood, short deck and low-to-the-road stance, awakens the curiosity of those who lack a sense of motoring history. In plainer words, the XJ has a presence capable of speaking for itself.

Yet there is a segment of the luxury car market ñ in many cases chauffeur-driven ñ that demands added back seat space and it was for them that the long-wheelbase XJ was created. The Vanden Plas (named after a Belgian coachbuilder) version offers a further touch of class.

In the Driver's Seat (and the back seat, too)

2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas back seat

2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas: Luxury and elegance are what the British do best

© Philip Powell

Normally I'd begin this section with comments from a driver's perspective. But because the Vanden Plas' added wheelbase was intended for back seat comfort, please join me where privileged passengers ride. Which is surprisingly easy to enter, considering that Jaguar sedans are normally sports-car-low (sexiness has its price). Legroom isn't a question, it's a given. As are head and elbow room.

Lambswool carpets tempt one to travel barefoot. Passengers get a choice of two seating configurations, including an electrically-adjustable rear seatback with power-adjustable lumbar support and head restraints. A privacy screen can be raised to protect tender necks from sunlight pouring through the rear window. Trays fold down from the front seatbacks, ideal for laptop computers or a picnic lunch en route to that Swiss chateau where global meetings are secretly held. The fold-down armrest reveals an entertainment screen plus controls to check on whether your editor made the proper cuts prior to DVD release.

Indeed, the back seat of Jaguar's 2005 Vanden Plas sedan would be more inviting than the front, were it not for the fact that every Jaguar made, including this one, is a driver's car. Read on.

On the Road

Having devoted the previous section to rear seat pleasures, I must add a few words from a driver's perspective. Curvaceous forms abound as Jaguar sees no need to replicate the video game designs prevelant in today's interiors. Burl walnut veneer trim with Peruvian boxwood inlays offset the supple cream leather and olive-green seams in my test car. Even the shifter knob is an example of the woodworker's art.

And what a delight to see a long hood with its Jaguar mascot out front! Looking back is a problem as the rear-view mirror is too small and the headrests (or the heads) impede vision, but reversing into a parking slot is made easier with a beeper-type radar and tilt-down mirrors. Power-adjustable pedals combine with wheel and seat controls so that any driver, short or tall, can be at ease. Still, though acknowledging the above, your test driver insisted this Jaguar must live up to his fantasy of Jaguars past. Thus he slammed the throttle to the floor, hurtled into the winding roads, tortured the brakes, terrified the neighbourhood.

Well, not quite, but let me assure you that the Vanden Plas accelerates like an executive jet and stops and handles superbly. Best suited, however, to high-speed bends, not tight turns.

Journey's End

2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas dashboard

2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas: Eschews "video game" design for proper Old World taste

© Philip Powell

It can be difficult to judge a car like this objectively, because doing so requires seeing it through the eyes of a well-to-do owner, not the "gee-whiz" attitude of a journalist who could never afford one. Besides, how do you find fault with a vehicle that is in most respects flawless?

There have to be reasons for choosing a Jaguar over the several competing luxury sedans, in themselves almost flawless. In the long run I think it comes down to integrity of design and personal taste. This car is not for the show-off. It is for one who appreciates the elegance of curvaceous lines along with an interior that speaks of tradition yet disguises the most contemporary of technological features. For the owner who prefers to be chauffeured, or at least to chauffeur his guests in sublime comfort, it has a spacious back seat area that is even more desireable then the front, if that's possible. But if that same owner is one who enjoys performance, particularly on long, high speed journeys, the Vanden Plas delivers massive acceleration, powerful brakes, and secure roadholding.

Perhaps I'm finally mature enough to appreciate this Jaguar as it should be for I, too, prefer Pace, Space, and Grace. And being wealthy and living in Monaco.

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