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 2004 Luxury Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Jaguar XJ Long Wheelbase
2004 Jaguar XJ Long Wheelbase

If ever there were a car that defined an automaker, for Jaguar it would have to be their flagship XJ sedan. Lean, striking, with identifiable Jaguar face features shaping the sleek, molded hoodines, it has defined luxury going back nearly four decades.

With the all-new seventh generation launching in about a month, Jag is once again staking a claim in the lofty range of top luxury automobiles, headlined by an extended version of its flagship, and the longest in class according to Jag. But despite the added five inches in length for the XJ Long Wheelbase, this is still a driver's car, retaining what Jaguar refers to as "controlled ride comfort," "composed handling," with "communicative steering." It remains, they say, ideally balanced between ride and handling characteristics -- a main consideration in the redesign.

Luxurious touches and performance enhancements are heaped into this vehicle. It is built largely from an advanced aluminum alloy construction, keeping it agile and punchy without losing the quantum comfort. The lighter weight helps maintain respectable fuel economy, avoiding the gas-guzzler tax penalty.

Power is driven by two 4.2-liter V-8s, a 294-hp version and a supercharged one that bumps horsepower to 390. Both are mated to the same six-speed automatic transmission on all five XJ models including two holdover shorter wheelbase versions.

Amenities, depending on the model -- XJ8, XJ8L, Vanden Plus, XJR and Super V8, include fold-down "business" trays for rear seat passengers, individual rear seat comfort controls, heated steering in conjunction with heated seats, electric rear sunblind and lambs wool foot well rugs. Twin multimedia DVD display monitors are set into the back of the front seat headrests with a system that connects to iPods, MP3 players and other sources. Walnut burled veneers with hand-inlaid Peruvian boxwood highlight the ultimate Vanden Plus. Side curtain airbags and Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) augment safety and performance.

All that posh luxury does come at a price, of course. This Jag runs in the $60K to $70K+ range. But for prime pampering with pure driving pleasure, Jaguar has some very good reasons for claiming its tops.

Acura RL Luxury SedanJaguar XJ Long Wheelbase
BMW 645 CiLexus LS 430
Cadillac STSLincoln Town Car
Chrysler 300CMercedes-Benz S-Class
Infiniti Q45Volkswagen Phaeton