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LIGHT FANTASTIC

Jaguar's rejuvenation continues with the latest version of its XJ luxury saloon. Jonathan Crouch reacquaints himself with it

Ten Second Review

Jaguar has discarded the old fuddy-duddy image in recent times but there was still little to prepare us for the arrival of the current generation XJ in 2010. It's easy to forget now that at launch, this was as bold as Jaguar had been in 40 years, the startling looks combined with all-aluminium construction, a collection of world-beating engines and a beautifully judged interior. It's been a model that has put its brand back amongst the luxury car elite and it's now been improved with lower emissions, tweaks to the long wheelbase version and the introduction of a flagship XJR flagship version.

Background

There are still plenty of people who get that warm fuzzy feeling when they see an old Jag. The brand is entwined in our national psyche with its raffish wood 'n' leather, pipe smoking, sports jacket wearing, Britishness. Of course, all that means nothing whatsoever to luxury car buyers in the US, Europe and beyond, buyers whose purchase decisions make or break Jaguar as a credible global car maker. The famous marque was hamstrung by its own history for too long but today there's a newfound confidence and a forward-looking agenda. Nothing illustrates this more dramatically than the current generation XJ.

It's been usefully improved in recent times too, with the addition of a 5.0-litre V8 supercharged 550PS petrol unit for the XJR sports saloon model at the top of the line-up. There's also a start stop system to go with the eight-speed auto gearbox, aiming to get emissions down across the range. But the reasons why executives still want this car haven't changed. It exudes dynamic appeal in a way that German rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes struggle to match.

Driving Experience

Like it has for some time, the XJ uses all-aluminium construction which sees it tip the scales substantially lighter than steel rivals like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class. As long as buyers don't go wild on the options list, it should even come in weighing less than the substantially smaller Jaguar XF. This leads to major advantages in the performance, handling and efficiency departments where an important part of the luxury car battle is fought. The engines are borrowed from the XF, so we know that they're largely outstanding. The diesel will inevitably be popular and it's a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that yields 275PS, with a massive 600Nm of torque thanks to its variable geometry turbos. Petrol-wise, there's a choice between a 340PS supercharged 3.0-litre V6, or 510 and 550PS versions of the supercharged 5.0-litre V8.

The fully independent suspension is similar to that in the XF but drivers have the option of choosing standard, Dynamic or Winter settings via the JaguarDrive rotary knob that takes the place of a conventional gear lever. These modes adjust the suspension, throttle response, gearshift speeds, stability control settings and the active differential to produce the desired results. The gearbox itself is an electronically-controlled six-speed auto complete with wheel-mounted paddle shifters which sends drive to the rear wheels on all XJ models. Jaguar is intent on this XJ being seen as a real driver's car.

Design and Build

The sinewy lines of the XJ only serve to emphasise its sporting intent. The front end borrows heavily from the XF, the sharply contoured bonnet and the wire mesh grille that juts forward from the plain of the headlights giving it real presence. The car is available in standard or long wheelbase forms, with the longer car gaining 125mm and somehow managing to look even sleeker in profile. The real drama is at the rear, however, where Jaguar has gone for an elegant but bold treatment. The C-pillars are blacked out to look like an extension of the rear screen and the tail lights arch up around the rear haunches into the line of the boot lid. The fins of light within the clusters are meant to resemble a jaguar's claws.

The cabin is massively impressive, modern but with the tactility and emotion that isn't always forthcoming in the clinical interiors of German cars. The dash is angled away from the driver to produce a roomier feel and the dials, vents and buttons are dipped in chrome. The control interface is geared around an 8" colour touch screen display that gives clear advantages over controller driven systems like BMW's iDrive. The instruments are perhaps the highlight, or should that be the lack of them? Replacing the conventional cluster of dials is a 12" screen of the kind pilots refer to as a 'glass cockpit'. On to this, a variety of displays are projected, including virtual fuel, speed, temperature and rev-counter gauges. These can be configured or supplemented by additional information according to taste.

Market and Model

Prices for most models sit in the £55,000 to £75,000 bracket and there's a premium of around £3,000 in each case if you want the long wheelbase bodystyle. Trim levels run from Luxury to Premium Luxury and Portfolio, with the Supersport and XJR models at the top of the range. Whichever engine you choose, your XJ will come equipped to a level befitting its luxury status. So expect to find leather-trimmed electrically-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, twin glass sunroofs and the touch screen navigation, Bluetooth and voice-controlled entertainment system. Safety-wise, you can expect to find all the latest electronic traction, stability and braking aids, plus airbags springing from every crevice. There's even a spring-loaded bonnet to protect pedestrians at point of impact.

Recent enhancements have mainly centred on the long wheelbase version, which gets suspension tweaks and can be ordered with two individual 'airline-style' reclining seats that all massage their occupants. Plus there's an optional Rear Seat Entertainment package. On that subject, all XJs can now be ordered with an optional 1300W Meridian Reference Audio System with no fewer than 26 super premium speaker drive units. This includes a 'Conversation Assist' function to reinforce passengers' voices over the audio system and aid in-car discussion.

Cost of Ownership

Assuming that you can afford one of these in the first place, you won't necessarily need to be a Captain of Industry to run it. True, the V6 and V8 petrol models are a bit of an indulgence, but the diesel variants that most will want benefit hugely from the lightness of the aluminium construction. To the point of delivering a frankly quite astonishing 46.3mpg combined cycle return that's on a par with something like a 1.6-litre petrol-powered family hatchback.

Emissions of 159g/km will be lower than most will expect too, instantly putting this car on the shortlist of business users needing a car that projects the right image but not wanting the Chancellor to abuse them horribly for the privilege. What's more, up to 50% of the body structure is sourced from recycled materials which saves, on average, three tonnes of CO2 per vehicle built. What else? Well insurance (based on 48 to 50 groupings) will inevitably be pricey but those all-important residual values should offer a pleasant surprise. Independent experts EurotaxGlass's say that after three years of ownership, this XJ will out-strip its Audi, BMW and Mercedes rivals, retaining up to 40% of its original value.

Summary

There's no doubt that this XJ is an outstanding technical achievement. But then the same can be said of many of its rivals. Where this Jaguar is different though, can be summed up in that one simple but very telling word 'character'. Rather than being merely a larger version of an existing model, this is a stand-alone design in its own right. As a result. it feels special in a way that German rivals struggle to match.

More importantly, this car's unique selling points aren't only restricted to the way that it looks. Even if you don't agree with Designer Ian Callum's vision of the future of luxury motoring, you'll have to admit that the cabin is on another level from its rivals, even if it can't quite match them for space. And it offers the kind of involving driving experience you simply wouldn't expect from a car of this size. Bold and ferociously modern, this is a car you can bond with - and a luxury saloon that it's very difficult to ignore.

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