So here it is - the all new Jaguar XJ. Which, as people keep pointing out, looks much like the old Jaguar XJ. Well, as far as XJ buyers go, familiarity breeds content, and with over 800,000 XJs sold since the model was introduced in 1968, accounting for over half of all Jaguars ever made, you can't blame Jaguar for sticking to the familiar - and much admired - look.
Strictly speaking the 'all new XJ' isn't actually all new as both the 3 litre V6 and 4.2 litre V8 engines and gearboxes are well established in other Jaguar models. Still, they are new to the XJ, which also offers the option of a new 3.5 litre version of the AJ-V8, though without doubt the biggest change between the old and new model XJ is the introduction of that aluminium body.
Although companies such as Aston Martin and Audi have used aluminium bodies for years, the XJ's bodyshell is a first, being effectively an aluminium monocoque constructed using aerospace rivet-bonding technology. Pull the door seals away, and where on a conventional steel bodyshell you'd see spot welds, on the XJ you'll see some of the 3000+ rivets that hold its panels together. As you'd expect, the aluminium body is much lighter than the old steel one (by some 40%) helping the new model weigh in at around 200kg less, while more surprisingly, it's also an impressive 60% stiffer.
It's roomier too, helping to overcome that long standing criticism of the XJ's lack of space in the back thanks to the new body being taller than previous ones and the standard car now having a similar wheelbase to that of the old long wheelbase model. Consequently, even with the front seats fully back there's now enough space in the back for an average size adult to sit with knee room to spare and around 3" of headroom. It still might not be the best in class, but at least most people should find a long trip in the back of the new XJ a comfortable experience. It could be an entertaining one too with the optional TV screens built into the front headrests, enabling back seat passengers amuse themselves with DVDs or video games.
But of course us PH'ers are bothered about what things are like in the driver's seat. Well for a start, very comfortable. The supportive seats can be electrically adjusted in virtually every way apart from sideways, and as you'd expect the steering column is also electrically adjustable, as, more unusually, are the pedals. I'm sure Marcos will be very flattered. With a large range of adjustment and over 3" of clear headroom for Mr Average, if you can't get a comfortable driving position in the XJ then you probably never will.
Being an executive saloon, the XJ inevitably offers various other electronic toys for you to play with, ranging from the climate control, adaptive cruise control, stereo and satellite navigation systems to the colour teletext TV. And as the perfect antidote to BMW's infamous baffling knob, the XJ's various electronic systems are controlled by a mixture of actual buttons on the dash and steering wheel and 'virtual' buttons on the touch sensitive screen, leading to a control system that's quite easy and intuitive to use.
The most amusing toy it offers from our point of view though is the supercharged 400bhp 4.2 litre V8 fitted to the XJR. This engine and the 6-speed automatic gearbox backing it are lighter than their predecessors, helping to keep the weight of the new XJR down to 1665kg, making it significantly lighter than any of its German rivals and 70kg less than the similarly equipped XKR coupe.
The result is that, saloon car it may be, but the new XJR is actually the quickest mass production Jaguar ever, making the benchmark 0-60 dash in 5 seconds dead. Acceleration from 60 is impressive too, though even with the latest sophisticated computer control, there's still a slight delay between you planting the throttle and the automatic changing down. Once it has though the XJR surges forward with the sort of acceleration that gets you to three figures very quickly and enables you to pass several cars in one go. And it's so damned refined about it, with no mechanical noise from under the bonnet even under heavy throttle other than the wonderful telltale whine of the supercharger.
Of course light weight doesn't just help you to go quickly in a straight line, and the Jag changes direction with an enthusiasm that belies its size. At 5090mm long and 1799mm wide the XJR is BIG so I wasn't sure how well it would cope with my 30mph tight 90° turn test, but in the event it swept round all my test bends without a hint of tyre scrub or squeal. It was equally adept at tackling those chicanes otherwise known as clear roundabouts, managing the quick left, right, left manoeuvre at challenging speeds with no undue dramas.
Normally in such circumstances you'd have Jaguar's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) automatically dealing with any mild understeer or oversteer by applying the appropriate brake as required, which is a useful safety net for everyday driving, though happily when you want to have a play you can switch DSC off. With DSC off, pushing the XJR through roundabouts hard enough to get the standard 225/40 ZR19 Pirelli P Zeros squealing (you're not on a bank job Graham!) revealed a trace of understeer, though not enough to worry about, while equilibrium was restored with a little more throttle. No doubt a lot more throttle would have resulted in power oversteer, but Coventry's largest cat is a bit big for throwing round on a public road, and frankly old boy, that simply isn't how one drives an XJ, not even an R.
Riding on Air
Let's face it, the average XJ owner is less bothered about how their car manages oversteer than they are with how it manages over bumps. Ride comfort has long been a Jaguar forte, and on the new XJ conventional coil springs have been ditched in favour of a variable rate self levelling air suspension set-up controlled by an updated version of Jaguar's established Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS).
This copes very well at 20mph over ramped speed humps, giving one of the smoothest rides I've had over those irritations, while a run along a rough old track revealed it's also pretty good over potholes at low speed. However, round town at 30mph it did thump noticeably over some surface imperfections, though it rendered others almost imperceptible.
At higher speeds out on rural roads, driving the XJR in 'cruising mode' produces a comfortable and relaxed ride, with no soggy wallowing and the car cornering quite flatly through long sweeping bends, but drive it more aggressively and it does pitch along twisty undulating sections. Overall though it's very confidence inspiring, and despite its initially intimidating size, after a few miles behind the wheel I was happily driving the big Jag along winding country roads at surprisingly high speeds.
Such 'press on' driving is helped by good brakes and steering. The XJR has hefty 365mm vented front and 330mm solid rear discs clamped by aluminium 4-pot calipers and sheds excess speed rapidly with a firm application of the big pedal, while the speed sensitive steering is nicely weighted and reasonably quick at around 2.8 turns lock to lock. What's more, it even transmits feedback from the front wheels up through the leather rim of the steering wheel. If only all power steering systems were so good!
Final point regarding ride and handling is the air suspension's little party piece of lowering the car by 15mm to improve stability and aerodynamic efficiency at high speed. However, this only happens when you hit 100mph and I can honestly say I never felt it happen. No, really - I never. It's imperceptible...
So what would it be like living with the latest big cat? Well, Jaguar's engineers have put a lot of thought into making it an easy and pleasant experience and the new XJ features some nice details. For example, trigger the central locking when it's dark and small lights in the underside of the door mirrors illuminate the area round the door to help prevent you stepping in something nasty, and when the low fuel light comes on a message flashes up on the front screen saying the location of petrol stations will be shown by the sat-nav system. Nifty!
Talking of petrol, at normal motorway cruising speeds the new XJR will do over 30mpg, which is quite impressive for a big 400bhp saloon, though if you make those 400 horses work hard they get a lot thirstier, and overall consumption was just 17.2mpg.
If you can afford that and the £58,500 purchase price then the new XJR has much to recommend it for any executive type PH'er that regularly needs to transport three or four full size people and their luggage. It might be designed more for refinement than for outright driving excitement, but it's fast enough in both a straight line and through the twisty bits to provide some fun when you want to play as well as being reassuringly cosseting when you just want to relax and take it easy.
That old Jaguar slogan of grace, space and pace has probably never been more appropriate.
© Copyright Graham Bell 2003