Admitting “not all the (past) XJ's were beautiful,” Jaguar Cars' director of design Ian Callum previews for the media in Novi, MI, the company's all-new '04 XJ8, the longstanding flagship that Callum nonetheless calls, “the mainstay of Jaguar design heritage.”

The '04 XJ sedan, known internally at Jaguar as X350, was unveiled at the Paris auto show and goes on sale in the U.S. sometime in the second quarter next year. Jaguar officials say pricing and volume targets will be discussed closer to launch. The '02 XJ8 starts at around $57,000. In 2001, sales of all XJ models totaled 10,082 units.

The new XJ8 — the U.S. gets only the V-8 powered XJ8 and its supercharged XJR offshoot, while 6-cyl. XJs will be sold in the rest of the world — is the seventh generation of Jaguar's distinctive-but-often-imperfect XJ series that began in 1968. But the new car strives to leave behind the foibles of the past.

To manufacture a car that retained vestiges of its slim, elegant styling while simultaneously evolving into something larger, Jaguar looked to aluminum. To date, there is perhaps no better example of the alloy's weight-saving attributes for production cars.

The all-new XJ, with its all-aluminum structure and bodywork, is larger in every dimension than the current-generation lineup, yet weighs a startling 440 lbs. (200 kg) less than the equivalent car from the steel-bodied current generation. The body-in-white is a full 40% lighter, yet it's 60% stiffer.

The weight loss is patently unique for a car with a wheelbase increased by more than six inches, not to mention similar ballooning of height and width. Although the current XJ is sold in regular- and long-wheelbase formats, the new car, at least initially, will come only with the single wheelbase — which still is longer than the current extended-wheelbase XJ.

The new XJ's revised V-8 engines also are aluminum-intensive. The XJ8 enjoys the same 4.2L DOHC unit now standard for the S-Type; it develops 294 hp at 6,000 rpm and 303 lb.-ft. (411 Nm) of torque at 4,100 rpm. For the XJR, the Roots-type supercharger puffs those figures to 390 hp at 6,100 rpm and 399 lb.-ft. (541 Nm) at 3,500 rpm. Either engine is backed by the highly touted ZF Friedrich-shafen AG-made 6-speed automatic transmission, which has emerged as the gear-shifter of choice for large-engine, premium-segment flagships.