Can Jaguar's flagship saloon repeat the triumph of the magnificent XF? Find out here...
We've been writing about Jaguar's all-new XJ for months, so when we boarded the 'plane for Paris and our first chance to drive the car earlier this week it was with a sense of heightened anticipation. We know you've been itching to find whether Jaguar's new luxury executive saloon cuts the mustard too, so to put you out of your misery here's the 'executive summary' - it's terrific!
Well, hopefully that early verdict will give some ammo to the keyboard warriors battling for Britain out there in forum land, and the rest of us can get down to the nitty-gritty which is perhaps a shade more nuanced. But first, does anybody still want to talk about the design?
'It's a grower'. At least that's what it still seems fashionable to say, but were it not for the legacy of the original XJ the commentary would be much kinder, don't you think? After all, I can't remember the last time I looked at a 7-series or S-class and thought 'now there's a thing of beauty', but I do find myself eyeing up the XJ's lines and thinking it might be. Anyway, if we're brutally honest, the recently-deceased 'last of its kind' old XJ was looking uncomfortably bloated, and most seem to agree the design had nowhere else to go.
In contrast the new XJ's side profile is modern, rakish and elegant, the stance is muscular, and the car has an undeniably distinctive presence on the road. In glossy black and dark grey tones the cars managed to look both chic and menacing in a rain-drenched Paris, and I'm sure the lighter shades will be equally effective in sunnier climes - so personally I'm giving it a thumbs up for style. But will the new XJ define 'Jaguar-ness' for future generations in the way the old car did? Time will tell. (If you can't wait, our very own P.H. O'Meter may provide an early clue, so cast your vote at the bottom of this page and see what everyone else thinks.)
For my part, having now spent most of a day sitting in it, I reckon the new XJ interior deserves a double thumbs-up because it knocks spots off the German competition for the 'bespoke' sense of luxury it confers on its occupants. It's not so much the quantity of luxury that sets the car apart from its rivals, but the manner in which that luxury is presented. It's a bit like comparing a stylish boutique hotel in Soho with a decent business hotel at the airport - you'll get a proper night's sleep at both, but one is that little bit more seductive.
In the XJ, driver and 'shotgun' sit facing a low, leather-trimmed fascia, with a curved band of lacquered wood forming a single arc leading from the two front door panels to a point beneath the windscreen. There's a broad, leather upholstered centre console with a polished wood panel that contains the rotary transmission control, a couple of dials for cabin temperature, and a big touch screen panel that does everything else - including showing DVDs to the passenger while you're fiddling with the satnav. Above the screen a couple of retro-style eyeball vents bookend the clock, and the driver sits with a deeply-dished three-spoke wheel between him and the instrument pack - a classic three dial set-up, which isn't really there because the instruments are presented 'virtually' on another hi-definition screen under the cowl.
My first experience of the XJ on the road was a ride in the back of a long-wheelbase version from the airport around the Paris Peripherique and into town. The rear seats are terrifically comfy, and I found the ride excellent too, although Jaguar's engineers are happy to admit the low speed damping has been compromised ever-so-slightly in the quest for a more dynamic drive. If you want to know exactly how the Jag's ride compares to the S-class (which is the benchmark for comfort), then I'm sure one of the nation's more esteemed publications is planning a group test as we speak. Alternatively, take my word for it that anyone who rides in the back of your XJ is likely to think it jolly swishy - unless they're the types to complain about a frozen pea under the mattress, in which case make the blighters take a bus.
The whole premise of the XJ is that it combines luxury and refinement with true dynamic engagement, and to appreciate that you need to be in command. Having spent much time recently in the PH fleet XFR, sliding into the XJ's driving seat is a familiar experience, with a similar level of adjustment available to deliver a driving position that is all but identical. The first thing you notice after settling-in is that the new XJ, in spite of its size, feels compact and wieldy around the driver. The only time you're really aware of the vehicle's size is when you check the rear view mirror and remember how far the cabin stretches out behind you, while the Jag's low fascia and sculpted bonnet mean there's very little of the 'barge' effect that typifies some of the competition.
You have to reach around the wheel for the starter button, which has been moved from its centre console position on the XF and, assuming you've chosen a petrol V8 model, it will burble unassumingly into life and idle almost imperceptibly. In fact, although the V8 does become audible again when it's under load, in normally aspirated guise at least it remains very much a background noise until you really stomp on the pedal. Do that, and suddenly its bark becomes quite vocal which is slightly incongruous in a luxury limo, but if you're not a driver who likes that sort of sound-effect the chances are you'll never bury the pedal that far into the carpet anyway. We've not tried the supercharged version yet, but it will be interesting to see whether the Jaguar loses points to the V12 crowd right at the top end of the sector - people spending close to £100k are likely to want silky smoothness as much as the high output numbers, perhaps.
We spent most of our day in the 3.0 twin-turbodiesel and, sacrilegious though it may sound, it was probably the engine that impressed most of the two 'mainstream' offerings. While the normally aspirated 5.0-litre petrol (380bhp) is a game of two halves - delivering easy 'waftability' or bellowing punch on demand, the diesel installation seems somehow more cohesive. It's stonkingly powerful at 271bhp, but it's the 442lb ft of torque that gives it such terrifically punchy performance, with 0-60mph coming up in six seconds against the 5.0 V8's 5.4secs. With a six-speed auto transmission (shared by all engine variants) the result is truly leggy cross-country ability for the diesel - which even manages to sound sporty in a restrained sort of way, thanks to excellent damping of injectors allowing some of the V6 soundtrack to make itself heard. Think muted 'gravely growl' in contrast to the V8's 'edgy snarl' and you'll be on the right track. Oh, and you get 40mpg on a 'combined' run, versus 24.9mpg from the V8.
Out on the open road, the new XJ delivers much of what makes the smaller XF such an engaging drive - which shouldn't come as much as surprise, because in spite of its extra size its aluminium-intensive build makes it close to the same weight as its smaller sibling (sub 1900kgs, and circa 2300-2390kgs Gross Vehicle Weights), and thus able to share many of its key components. The turbodiesel and V8 weigh roughly the same, and with identical chassis set-ups there's little to choose between the two dynamically
So you get superb XFR-style steering (in fact you get the XFR's complete steering mechanism), with a little of the weight dialled out, but you can dial it back in again by selecting Dynamic mode. You also get the XF's progressive and well-weighted brakes, but most importantly you get the XFR's active damping. Its initial set-up is softer than the XFR, naturally, but a noticeable amount of additional stiffness is re-introduced in dynamic mode, along with more aggressive anti-roll stabilisation, and the result is a car that corners with athletic ease. That combination of exemplary body control, deft, accurate and beautifully-weighted steering make this a 'limousine' you really can enjoy as much on the B-roads as the motorway.
So all in all, Jaguar has delivered the car we dared to hope for, and the only surprise (perhaps) is that we'd probably pick the diesel over the normally aspirated V8. Will we feel the same about the supercharged Supersport? Possibly, but all I can say for sure is that we're looking forward to finding out.
Jaguar XJ range overview:
3.0D SWB from £53,775 to £64,275 OTR
3.0D LWB from £56,685 to £67,185 OTR
5.0V8 SWB from £64,355 to £87,455 (Supersport) OTR
5.0V8 LWB from £67,355 to £90,455 (Supersport) OTR
Official launch event video:
Click 'play' above to watch.
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