One Happening Cat

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2004

This is difficult for native Floridians to admit but .it gets cold periodically in Florida. As luck would have it, a 2004 Jaguar XJR-nearly the epitome of luxury cars-arrived during a particularly cold-rare, you understand-Florida week.

On its birds-eye maple dash made from perfectly matching sections of the fine and highly polished wood is a button. It displays a little seat icon, with squiggly lines moving upward.

I pressed it.

Ahh, the driver's seat in the Jaguar XJR began to quickly warm. That was followed by a warming of the steering wheel. Yes, the steering wheel. In minutes, the Jaguar XJR was ready to transport its pampered driver to the destination of choice, in solid comfort.

Heated seats and steering wheel are only the tip of the iceberg. This Jaguar, with an optioned sticker price of $79,845, pampers in ways few other vehicles can. During test week, every day turned up a new discovery.

Take adaptive cruise control. Cruise control is a wonderful thing when the highways are lightly traveled and a constant speed can be maintained easily. Cruise control allows a driver to move his or her legs around, to relax for a time. A car is just .steered.

But heavy traffic is more often a fact of life, particularly on interstates. Using cruise control means disengaging it frequently, then resuming speed, then disengaging, etc. Not pleasant.

What if the cruise control could sense when traffic in your lane was slowing, and adjust vehicle speed without your intervention? It would require an intelligent computer and some way to "see" traffic in front of your car.

Jaguar and a very few other vehicle manufacturers have such a system. It's called adaptive cruise control and it maintains a distance from the vehicles ahead, slowing and accelerating the Jaguar as needed. It does this by shooting a radar beam from a projector located below the driver's side front bumper. The beam goes out, bounces back from the vehicle in front of you, and a computer calculates distance and speed. It then controls your throttle and your brakes.

Scary? Some people think so. I don't. During an 80-mile trip on a busy interstate, I set the Jaguar XJR's adaptive cruise control to 75 miles an hour, joined traffic on Interstate 75 and never touched the accelerator or brakes for more than an hour!

When a car swung abruptly in front of me, the cruise control hit the brakes and slowed the Jaguar appropriately. Those behind me saw brake lights so they could react. When a slower vehicle was in front of me, I moved to the passing lane and the Jaguar sped up to its preset upper speed. I could at any time override it by using the accelerator or brakes.

And, oh, my, what that accelerator does!

Under the bonnet (which, somewhat sadly, lifts from the front now instead of the rear as has been a Jaguar trademark dating back to its racing years), is a smallish 4.2-liter V8 with a powerful supercharger atop it. Drag racing technology meets comfort.

With the pressure boost from the supercharger, this V8 pumps out a huge 390 horsepower. This is sufficient to rocket the Jaguar XJR from 0 to 60 in 5.1 seconds. That is supercar territory!

More good news: handling and braking match acceleration. Monster Brembo brakes, the best, haul down the speeding cat with certainty. Tires so wide they seem to almost touch each other are coupled with a computer-controlled air suspension system. This means you can drive the Jaguar through turns at insane speeds, if your heart desires. It won't lose traction or spin out.

All that horsepower flows through a six-speed automatic transmission that yields 24 miles per gallon on the highway.

Not only is there radar coming from the front of this car, but ultrasonic waves are emitted front and rear to assist in parking. A beep increases in frequency as the Jaguar backs closer to any object. Of all vehicles, this one needs it least, since visibility in both directions is outstanding and the front of the car is readily determined by the leaping Jaguar hood ornament.

Enough about performance and handling, although that's the reason a buyer would prefer the top-of-the-line XJR over lesser models. This supercar is loaded with luxury features.

Look at the head restraints atop the two front bucket seats. They contain TV screens! Now fold down the rear bench seat armrest and flip it open. Inside, you'll find a DVD player. Pop in "Finding Nemo" and your grandchildren or children will be entertained for hours. Earphones can keep the soundtrack from intruding on your conversation.

That feature adds $2,650 to the XJR's base price.

A navigation system with our tested model added another $2,200. It was the most accurate tested to date, choosing a route that most local drivers would know and use.A voice recognition system can command the navigation or optional telephone system.

At night, brilliant Xenon headlights pop on and you can watch them move up and down as they adjust in self-leveling fashion. The headlights and windshield wipers come on automatically, as we expect at this luxury level, and the wipers adjust speed nicely as rain increases or decreases.

The driver's seat adjusts 16 ways, the steering wheel can be moved up/down/in/out and the pedals can move forward or backward.

Rest assured that every safety feature known to the industry is standard on the XJR. There are more air bags and head curtains here than were wrapped around the Mars rover Spirit when it bounced off the Martian surface in January.

The Jaguar XJR is as good as it gets, a performance sedan that coddles. It's a car that oozes elegance and elevates those lucky enough to be inside.. Men become debonair. Women become sophisticated. And all of the children are above average.

Maybe that's the real magic of the 2004 Jaguar XJR.

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