Jaguar XJ TDVi Premium Sport
The big Jag's been with me as an idea all my life. I remember seeing the sleek shapes in the streets as a kid and enjoying the shape, the quietness of the 4.2-litre engines and luxuriousness of them. I've managed to drive a few since then too and, while not a driver's car by any means, these luxury saloons -- the last Jaguar in whose design founder Sir William Lyons had a hand -- do evoke a certain sense of English pomp and circumstance, heritage and continuity.
And it's all about smoothness, quietness and isolation from the world. So when Jaguar released a diesel version of its aluminium-bodied flagship saloon, it seemed to fly in the face of everything that Jaguar once stood for. I just had to try it.
Let's get the carping out of the way first. One criticism of Jaguar, which in its financial woes has thrashed about with faintly odd model selections, does hold water. It's simply the fact that key cars haven't changed. While Jaguar has aimed to maintain a sense of heritage -- the S-Type being the perfect example -- the big yin, the XJ, has also barely altered.
And that's a bit of a problem since the opposition, in the form of the Mercedes S Class and the BMW 7-Series, certainly have. Even in this most conservative of market segments, they've bowed to the winds of change and incorporated shapes and curves that would have seemed anathema only 10 or 15 years ago. Beside them, many reckon that the Jaguar XJ is starting to look a little tired.
Look: it's a diesel
You can hardly distinguish it from its predecessors. And that's often a problem at this image-driven end of the market, since you want the opposition to know how well you and your company are doing. What better than to ride around in the latest version of a big executive saloon? Except that it's likely only die-hard Jag-spotters would know that it is the latest version, especially since you're likely to have your own plate on it. But if they got closer to it, they'd certainly know it's a diesel: it says so on the badge.
The twin-turbocharged diesel car was first unveiled to an unsuspecting public about a year ago, some 38 years after the first XJ was launched, but only now have we been able to get hold of one -- it was a long queue.
The 204bhp 2.7-litre Jaguar XJ TDVi that I drove is a bit of a technological tour de force. The attribute that most marks out an oilburner before you step into it is the clatter the engine makes. When you're outside the car, yes, you can tell it's a diesel -- just about. Once you're in it, though, you'd be hard pushed to identify it as such. Yes, the rev counter only runs up to 4,500rpm and, if you don't blink as you twist the key, you'll notice a quick flicker of a glow-plug light on the dash. That aside, you won't know it.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
At the heart of this car is Ford's Dagenham-produced Duratorq compacted graphite iron engine block. Land Rover uses a higher capacity version of this motor, tuned for more torque for towing and off-road work, so it has to be tough. According to Jaguar, the stuff it's made of better withstands the stronger pulses generated by the high compression diesel cycle than cast-iron. You need less material to build the block, making it lighter.
And lightness is good, as any fule kno, as it makes for better fuel economy -- and in the case of diesels including this one, this improves handling. With less bulk in the nose of the car, understeer is less pronounced -- although understeer remains the XJ's natural response to a corner.
But then, you don't buy an XJ to fling it around, even though it can handle itself fairly well in that department. No, what's important for this beast is that it should be as silent as possible, and not intrude on your mood when cruising. This the TDVi does very well. At an even cruise, you'd never know that there was a longitudinally-mounted 320lb-ft oilburner under that lengthy bonnet.
Put your foot down, though, and a bit of unseemly grumbling from somewhere below stairs intrudes, as the small-geometry turbos quickly spool up to call on the high pressure common rail for some more of the smelly stuff and squirt it into the cylinders. Yes, it's a diesel.
Performance isn’t huge. It's the slowest of the XJ range, helped by the fact that, at 1,659kg, the aluminium-bodied saloon still weighs 120kg more than the closest petrol equivalent, the 3.0-litre V6. You'll get to 60mph in 7.8 seconds and on to a Vmax of 141mph. But that level of performance is about on a par with the similarly-priced BMW 730d, a natural competitor -- and I reckon the Jag's a better looking machine too.
But there's still no clattering, and certainly no vibration, thanks to the vast amounts of soundproofing, which uses high acoustic absorption on the underside of the bonnet, airtight seals between the bonnet and engine compartment and a new double-skin bulkhead structure. Allied to the active engine mounting system, dubbed Vibramount, which Jaguar reckons kills 90 per cent of engine vibrations, and acoustic laminated glass, it all works to keep the nasty outside world at bay.
And the automatic gearbox's six ratios and shift system have been superbly chosen in that you don't notice gearshifts unless you look for them.
Options and toys include a Bluetooth phone, electric everything, satnav, powered headrest and very comfy, 16-way electrically adjustable seats, plus acres of wood and chrome. Given the luxury and level of quality that buyers of executive saloons demand, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better car -- or even a more economical motorway cruiser -- at this price level.
There's only one fly in the ointment however. Just how important is economy when you're spending £51,020 on a car? Yes, it sips at the hard stuff from its 85-litre tank -- Jaguar claims 35mpg, while the petrol version gets 27mpg -- but if economy's that big an issue, you might be better off with a cheaper car to start with.
That said, there are precious few compromises with the TDVi -- apart from the possible embarrassment of pulling up to the pump with the black handle, and either donning gloves or having to wash afterwards.
Is it a PHer's car though? If your driving takes you cruising for mile after mile, the technology embedded in this car will keep you abstracted from hoi polloi, and make you feel good about yourself and what you're driving -- so yes.
Just don't expect it to thank you for flinging it around the twisties....
Pictures by Manek Dubash