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Friday 19th August 2005


JAGUAR XJR SUPERCHARGED

Is there a better luxury saloon on the road? Los Angeles reckons this car lords it over lesser machines

Jaguar XJR
Jaguar XJR

It is hard to find fault with it. In such circumstances car journalists are apt to talk about poor rear seat or limited boot space, or the complicated satellite navigation system.

Well, I can't say any of those things. I can only state a preference; the colour combination I was given, Jaguar Racing Green exterior with an interior in, "champagne" and "mocha," is not a colour combination I'd choose for a car of this quality, even if those hues are a traditional mixture. The green has a terrific intensity, but the interior is a dowdy hue. The "champagne" attracts dirt easily and doesn't show off the interior to perfection.

This is the twilight of its life in its present form, a new breed of Jaguar around the corner. Next to fly-by-wire technology, and a hybrid engine, it's difficult to image how they can improve the next that constitutes a great leap forward. It is lightweight - aluminium to a fault - very fast, packed with all the right gizmos and safety features, effortless to drive, ultra-comfortable, and at the zenith of JD Power reliability.

Design is all

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What else could a discerning driver want? Well, according to my colleagues it is too like the last iteration. What is wanted is a modern design. Let me tell you this, a buzzard in flight is often mistaken for an eagle, but an eagle is never, ever mistaken for anything but an eagle. And so it is with the recognisable shape of a Jaguar.

If you wish, you could buy a BMW, a marque now in the throws of junking all its elegant proportions acquired over years of evolution for a set of novelty headlights, something called "flare edge," bizarre derrières, and over-designed dash. Or you could buy a Mercedes and discover if it were not for the three-pointed dash on the bonnet or grille no one can distinguish it from a Japanese car. And that's before you discover the pitiful build quality. Or you could buy a Lexus for anonymity and be dismissed for choosing the ersatz over the authentic.

Spending the XJR's £62,000 price tag and expecting to be invisible, on the other hand, is a waste of time. Hardly had I driven it down the road than it attracted waves and nods of affirmation from pedestrians and drivers alike. Those who know their automotive acronyms spotted the significant R on the trunk lid.

Some folk tell us they only want a car to get them from A to B. Anything will do. This is what I call inverted conceit: "Nay, I am humbler than thee!" Of course, this philosophy does not stretch to the house they own. I have never heard anyone say, "All I need is a roof over my head," and then buy a tent. Like living in a house with character, old or modern, it's important to drive a car of character and heritage, particularly if you do a lot of driving. The Jaguar XJR has that extra something. I once heard it described as "aloof." There is nothing detached or cold about the XJR. It's a stately galleon of the sort that won the Battle of Trafalgar, only they were made of oak not aluminium.

Driving it

And being bang-up-to-date, this car can glide in city traffic, or fly on motorway journeys. Zero to 60 in 5 seconds. I have to mention the satellite navigation system, one of the most logical, easiest to use I have ever encountered. Anyone complaining that touching the screen to access functions leaves grease marks ought to wash their hands. Compare it to the ludicrously complicated BMW iDrive system? You have to take your eyes off the road, look down to twiddle a knob then check the screen on the dash, all to find the right function. If this is advanced German technology they can keep it.

The Jaguar's sound system is terrific too, but it should be, this is a luxury car. Press Sport Mode and there's a little understeer on corners. I chuckled with delight every time the steering wheel moved up to allow me exit from the car, and back again when I entered. It may as well have been a butler bringing me a tray of sherry on returning home after a hard day at the stock exchange for it felt the same caring courtesy.

The future for XJ

The future of this magnificent beast, the future of Jaguar in its entirety, lies in the hands of its chief of design, Ian Callum, and his talented team. I would love to spend a day in their design workshop. I'm sure it will be a revelation and an education. In tidying detail on this model, McCallum has recognised it as handsome, but not beautiful.

Achieving eye-catching harmony in the next shape is his biggest challenge. He has to find ways of using the traditional Jaguar elements of wood and leather in new ways while still retaining the Jaguar-ness of the finished work, including ways of keeping the shape of the rear window, the twin headlights, and the muscularity of the car intact.

It's not an easy job. In fact, I'm the first to admit designing cars is an almost impossible task. Look how many mediocre and disastrous cars there are littering our streets. Every two-bit jumped up car stylist in a black polo-necked sweater proclaims themselves an artist, their latest creation a work of art, whereas it is merely a fashionable object.

Timeless grace

But the XJR is timeless. It is true to the company founder's ethos: grace, space and genuine pace.

By now it will be obvious I am enormously impressed by this feline time capsule. UK roads are too narrow and crowded for XJR to show off to best advantage, but in Europe it will shine, and it's perfect for American freeways and the wide boulevards of its cities. It is refined, agile, a great cruiser.

Please don't bother to wrap it. I'll take it as it is.

Copyright © Los Angeles