The proportions of the new Jaguar XJ are near perfect, in stark contrast to the banana appearance of the car it succeeds. The interior is bigger and more luxurious, with better attention to detail, but familiar looks. Has Jaguar been too clever for its own good? After all, the super luxury class has been revolutionised. Mercedes-Benz seems to be on a never-ending quest for artificial intelligence and rocket power. BMW, on the other hand, is building cars aimed at software boffins and devotees of Salvador Dali. And Audi? Well, Audi has something on the way for well-heeled South Africans. But back to the Jag…
Its appearance is deceptive. Made of aluminium (see sidebar) and not restricted by any existing Ford platform, Jaguar’s designers were handed a clean sheet of paper. Some members of our test team (especially those with British blood) loved the Jag’s styling to bits. Others were not that impressed. It was generally felt that, although it doesn’t move the game on in any way, it is instantly recognisable as a Jaguar, and also as an XJ. Which, in terms of product identity, means that Jaguar has hit the target.
Get inside and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this car is a generation old. No full-colour navigation screen. In fact, no navigation screen whatsoever. In Europe, the XJ can be had with a nifty touch-screen satnav. But Jaguar has not yet bought into the South African navigation technology. That apart, the Super V8 comes with all the luxury features you could reasonably wish for. All seats have electrical adjustment (including lumbar) and all are heated. The steering wheel is, obviously, electrically adjustable, and – less obviously – so are the pedals. Only very oddly shaped people would struggle to find a comfortable driving position.
The hangdown section has an impressive button-count, and the Jaguar XJ has no iDrive-rivalling control system – thank goodness, perhaps – because once familiarised, the ergonomics work fine. Super V8 specification includes a Jaguar Premium sound system with 12 speakers, 320-watt output, power amplifier, subwoofers and a single-slot CD loader. A six-disc CD autochanger is located in the boot.
There’s also a rear electric sunblind, park sensors, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, climate control, electric sunroof, cruise control, and built-in telephone system. An entertainment “switch pack” is located in the rear fold-out armrest – a control panel with ear-phone plug-ins, giving rear passengers access to independent sound sources and even, where equipped, front headrest mounted TV screens, to watch DVDs or TV.
A Valet button locks the boot and cubby for when the car is handed to a parking attendant or to someone for a wash. Crash protection is courtesy of Jaguar’s ARTS (advanced restraint technology system), which senses the severity of an accident via four ultrasonic sensors and a weight sensor in the driver’s seat, and uses the information to provide “tailored” protection. Dual front and side, as well as curtain, airbags are fitted.
Build quality was impressive on our test car, except for one or two obviously Ford-sourced plastic bits – column stalks, terrible key etc. But the cabin is certainly a stylish place to spend time in. In real olde-worlde style, trim is rich, cream leather, chrome detailing and burr walnut. And just in case you forget about the powerful engine under the bonnet, the reminder “supercharged” is printed on all three of the instrument dials…
Jaguar says the new XJ is about 40 per cent bigger inside than its predecessor. We wouldn’t argue with that, but the cabin still feels a fair bit smaller than that of the competition, even if the measuring tape says the differences are not great. Speaking of space, the 336 dm3 boot is hardly huge, but that’s not the sole problem. The boot’s floor is not entirely flat, impinging on luggage space already compromised by the fact that the compartment is very shallow.
Besides all the luxury features cossetting occupants, the biggest contributor to the interior comfort is actually the suppleness of the aluminium-intensive underpinnings. The XJ’s very rigid body rides on a combination of double wishbone front and rear suspension and self-levelling air springs. The system operates on both ends of the car, keeping the ride height constant and improving the car’s aerodynamics by lowering the body when travelling at speed. The XJ also get the latest version of Jaguar’s CATS (computer active technology suspension), which is a two-stage adaptive ride control set-up that automatically adjusts damper settings in response to driving style and changing road conditions. Jaguar claims more precise turn-in, improved stability and lower noise.
Braking is a four-pot Brembo system, backed by the usual ABS and emergency brake assist. The 1,8-ton Jag performed superbly in our simulated 100 km/h to rest emergency braking test, posting an average time of 2,93 seconds, and a best of 2,89 seconds. The Jaguar XJ Super V8 has the proven 4,2-litre supercharged V8 engine that is also found in the fire-breathing XJR. Power is 298 kW at 6 100 r/min and 553 N.m of torque comes on stream at 3 500. A six-speed “J-gate” ZF automatic gearbox (with manual shift function) transmits power to the rear wheels.
Switching traction control on or off makes little difference on pull-away, the Jaguar having no problem with grip. In fact, judging by the 0-100 km/h sprint time of 6,43 seconds (about a second off the claimed time) the XJ possibly had too much grip for our test strip. It also failed to reach a true 250 km/h, although, at 245 km/h, the next 5 km/h is really academic. Of some concern was the car’s considerable thirst – the fuel index working out at 14,08 litres per 100 km.
The Jaguar XJ is a big car, but because of its lighter underpinnings, very rigid construction and well-sorted suspension and steering, it seems to wrap around the driver better than other super luxury cars. This most certainly is still a driver’s car. The steering is accurate, if a little too light, but provides good feedback, making precise placement relatively easy in luxo-barge terms. Even more impressive is the handling/ride balance. It may not give quite as supple a ride as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it comes close. And when it comes to the twisty bits, it displays surprisingly good body control. The Jaguar does roll a bit around corners, as expected from a large luxury car, but it never feels loose, CATS and the air-suspension quickly pinning down any unwanted movements.
One rear passenger complained about being thrown around a bit too much, but that’s probably due to slightly flat rear seats. A Jaguar insider recently attempted to define “Jaguarness” by saying that a Jag should ride as well as a Mercedes, and handle as brilliantly as a BMW. With the new XJ, they have come very, very close. The engine’s linear delivery is a delight, as is the typically Jaguar supercharger whine (apparently acoustically tuned to sound this good). And the gearbox is quick and smooth, even in manual shift mode (shifts are controlled electronically). To sum it up then, the Jaguar is perhaps the nicest super luxury car to drive, but not quite the best to be chauffeured in.