Jaguar’s top cat is a charming motoring throwback with plenty of punch...
Some stratospherically priced things simply evade explanation. Think of the gold-plated sanitary ware in OPEC tycoons’ bathrooms, or the equivalent of the GDP of a small country paid by football clubs for the services of some unremarkable-looking bloke with a ponytail who happens to excel at kicking a ball into a net. Jaguar’s XJR 575 looks like a similar case in point; common sense would suggest the person laying down R2,7-million for a go-faster version of a car that’s very much a fringe player in its segment isn’t safe to use the streets unaccompanied. Even so, there is a place on the automotive landscape for such a creature; it’s just a rather small one.
Set against the Carpathian Grey adorning our test unit, features such as gloss-black finish for the bonnet louvers, 20-inch alloy wheels and front wing “gills”, along with a subtle rear spoiler, quad exhaust ports and 575 badging here and there, lend the big Jag just the right amount of understated menace.
Things aren’t quite as well resolved in the cabin, though. The sporty, upmarket atmosphere is offset by a wealth of overly shiny black and chrome trim on the centre console that reflects sharply in bright sunlight. It’s a similar story with the 575’s infotainment suite. Most of the niceties, driver aids and additional cameras you’d hope for are there, but their presentation via fuzzy TFT screens and a clunky interface jar with the otherwise ergonomically well-considered layout.
Impressively, this test unit had covered more than 11 000 km before coming to us yet its cabin remained creak-free and felt well screwed together, albeit from materials lacking the ultimate density and robustness of the Germans’ cabins. But it’s the interior packaging that really betrays the 575’s age. For such a vast car, the cabin is small and rear legroom isn’t generous. Similarly, the boot, although deep, is adequate.
While the 575 is somewhat underendowed in the back, it more than compensates up front with an absolute beast of an engine. The SVR-fettled version of the long-serving supercharged 5,0-litre AJ-V8 engine rolls out a formidable 423 kW and 700 N.m of torque. Coupled with a well-resolved eight-speed torque-converter transmission, this setup lends itself just as well to quietly burbling about at sensible speeds as it does foot-flat lunacy. Obviously, our testing didn’t see us approaching the claimed 300 km/h top whack, but the in-gear acceleration is immense and the 575’s ability to dispatch the 0-100 km/h sprint in just 4,55 seconds suggest liberty-endangering speeds aren’t a stretch.
What the figures don’t convey, however, is the tactile sensation this powertrain serves up. Bury the throttle and inertia’s big invisible hand pushes you into the quilted leather and the 575’s tail hunkers down as scenery and slower traffic whip by all while the digital speedometer readout spools up at an eye-widening lick. That said, despite SVR’s hand in its creation, the engine’s soundtrack is more restrained than you’d expect. An upmarket sounding V8 burble accompanies low speeds, while bravely leaning on the throttle unearths that hollow-chested, percussive snarl for which performance Jags are famed.
Things are traditionally fixed when it comes to dynamic prowess in this segment. The S-Class has progressed from Panzer to reasonably poised for its size; the 7 Series edges ahead in the dynamic stakes but still can’t quite temper that with the luxury of its Stuttgart rival; and the absentee A8 is all grip and composure.
The Jaguar, meanwhile, strikes a perfect balance… Despite the vast amount of pavement real estate it occupies, the XJ still possesses the lithe, dare we say cat-like, agility that’s a hallmark of Jaguar’s sedans. Tipping the scales at a light-for-its-size 1,9 tonnes, the 575’s combination of axle-warping power and a supple chassis brilliantly counters the clumsy directional weight transfer often responsible for dulling the driving experience in larger cars. The steering is pleasingly direct and the suspension does a great job of keeping all that mass on a tight leash when tackling twisty roads. The fluidity of the big cat’s handling, along with an interface largely free of fiddly powertrain-tailoring distractions, helps smooth its considerable dimensions around the driver, making it one of the most satisfying drives in its segment.
The automotive oddity that’s the 575 is a peculiar thing. Much as you’d gaze with a sense of awe at the mounted skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, taking in this near-R3-million throwback drives home the fact that the 575, crushingly powerful and predatory as it may be, is probably the last of its kind. Much as the meteorite put an end to the dinosaurs, the impact of engine downsizing, along with the pricing and pollution issues that surround the feeding habits of large-displacement engines, has wiped out much of the V8 XJ species.
Is the current XJ still a good product, though? Empirically speaking, the answer is no. It’s fundamentally flawed, trading heavily on charisma because the so-so finish of its garish interior, impractical packaging, eye-watering price and the fact it feels every bit its 10-year vintage count against any odds of logically recommending it over one of the Germans. Yet, its power, poise and sheer preposterousness still manage to grind against the grain of the CAR team’s logical brains, winning it grudging respect.
Buying the 575 would be a bit like reviving said T-Rex; you’d marvel at its power and presence in the face of more humdrum modern day creatures but, when feeding it costs a herd of cows a day and neighbourhood kids start to go missing, the realisation dawns that you wouldn’t necessarily want one as a pet…