BMW's 7-Series, Merc's S-Class and the Audi A8 are all mighty fine cars, but none of them are quite the event that Jaguar's XJ is. Before we get ahead of ourselves, stepping into any vehicle that's the price of capital city studio will always be an occasion, sort of like having a dinner at El Bulli. The XJ, however, is like having that same dinner, but with Natalie Portman. Men, women, kids with sideways caps, alien life forms; they all crane their necks slightly to catch a glimpse of the big cat as it glides on by.
Some of this may have to do with the car's rarity, but much, we would posit, has to do with its striking looks. Up front, it's aggressive with squinty eyes, a massive chrome mesh nose and long bullish bonnet. At the back, it's rounder and more fluid, with the tail-lights lighting up like vertical claw marks, and from side-on, the car looks like a massive bullet. Our review vehicle came in dark blue, which, while lovely in itself, also masked the car's only serious styling faux pas: the blacked rear windscreen pillar. Even if the car's sense of style isn't exactly to your taste, at least the current XJ does its advanced lightweight aluminium body justice, with styling to match.
In our entry-level diesel model, the standard xenon headlights don't swivel with one's steering inputs, but there are LED lights everywhere, including all the aforementioned tail-lights, as well as the indicators and driving lights. 19-inch alloy wheels are standard, as are electric folding mirrors that dip automatically on reverse. The XJ is also fitted with demisting coils in the front windscreen, which, oddly for such a plutocratic car, finds its best analogy in communism — because while the demisting elements are almost invisible, on some streets, and in various lighting conditions, it's like looking through a thin layer of medical gauze. At night, the situation becomes worse, as all the man-made sources of light have weird wiggly, rainbow-y halos around them.
The XJ is offered in two body sizes, with the regular car measuring over 5.1m long and a long wheelbase model, which is at least AU$8000 more, stretches out to 5.2m. Given the enormous footprint, even in our standard wheelbase car, space efficiency and interior room are poor. This is especially true in the back where, despite this writer's 1.6m frame, taller passengers regularly found themselves wanting more leg room. Head room is also a little squeezy in the rear pews, as the coupe-like roof line cuts down on available space.
An electric boot mechanism saves passengers from having to do any lifting, as well as revealing a 520-litre boot. The rear seats are fixed in place, and under the floor you'll only find a space-saver spare wheel.
Like the exterior, the XJ's interior has an air of occasion about it. Almost every conceivable surface is covered in lovely, high-grade materials, be they leather (dashboard, door trims, steering wheel), suede (ceiling lining) or carpet. All of the buttons around the cabin are rubberised, and the curved wood highlights are executed so well that the cabin manages to avoid seeming like a professor's tweed jacket.
The plush leather seats not only feel comfortable, expensive and luxuriant, but are also shaped to grip should you feel the need to fling the big cat around. Ahead of the driver is a 12.1-inch high-resolution display that, in most circumstances, shows a digital representation of a set of analog gauges. While it lacks the beauty and the depth of a finely crafted set of traditional instruments, it is able, as required, to replace the tachometer or temperature and fuel gauges with navigation, voice command instructions or configuration menus.
At night, this moving lounge suite is subtly bathed in a sea of ice-blue ambient light. Irrespective of the time of day, the sense of theatre is heightened by the circular gear selector that rises out of the centre console on start up. If that's not enough for your passengers, you can wow them with the touch-sensitive glove box opener and front reading lights; oddly, we couldn't find a way of setting the interior lights to automatically switch on when a door is opened. The tilt-and-slide sunroof is complemented by a partial glass roof panel for the rear passengers.
Disturbingly, though, our car's interior panels squeaked and groaned, sometimes quite loudly, when we drove over big bumps, ridges or onto driveways. The only other discordant design notes are struck by the chrome and piano-black plastic on the centre console. Both attract fingerprints and feel cheap; surely, in a car of this class, not to mention this price, genuine metal pieces would be far more suitable. Not only that, but the chromed coin drawer catches and reflects light with such alarming regularity that it's surely a safety hazard. At the nit-picking level, the number of Jaguar badges seems excessive, and the Union Jack marque in the centre of the dashboard is unnecessary.
Despite being the first cat off the rank in the XJ range, the 3-litre diesel is comprehensively equipped. There are the now seemingly mundane features like dusk-sensing headlights, automatic wipers, self-dimming rear view and wing mirrors, cruise control and speed limiter, four-zone climate control air conditioning, keyless entry and start, parking sensors and reversing camera.
Finding a comfortable seating position shouldn't be an issue, as there's an electric steering wheel that automatically slides away on exit, and both front seats feature memory settings and are electrically adjustable in an almost-innumerable number of ways. All passengers are treated to heated and cooled seats, while those up front are also treated to a built-in massager — unlike the Audi A8, which features a mind boggling number of massages and intensities, the Jag has just one massage setting. When Antarctic winds sweep in, it's also good to know that the heated steering wheel can toast your fingers warm in minutes.
Bi-xenon headlights do a wonderful job of turning night into day, but the adaptive lighting system that swivels the lights in accordance with one's steering inputs is an optional extra. Another important feature left on the options sheet is adaptive cruise control that allows you to set a speed, with the car automatically keeping you a safe distance from the car in front, and braking in the event that someone cuts in.
The XJ debuts the company's iTech entertainment and nav system. At the heart of this system is an 8-inch touchscreen that, at first glance, isn't particularly impressive. Resolution is lower than in screens found on other luxury vehicles, and the interface is plain to behold, but this Dual View display has two sets of RGB pixels interleaved, with one set angled towards the driver and the other towards the front passenger. If the passenger dons a pair of wireless headphones, they can watch a movie in complete isolation to the driver. Meanwhile, the driver can listen to their own music and operate the screen independently.
Input sources are plentiful, with a CD/DVD drive, analog radio receiver, auxiliary jack and two USB ports (one's especially earmarked for iPods, but will accept also regular thumb drives). There's 10GB of spare hard disk space that can be used to store 10 uncompressed audio CDs — ripping takes about 15 minutes and, handily, if the rip is interrupted, can be resumed. A CD track name database is included and seems pretty comprehensive. DVD video discs can be played back, and the system can also handle DivX files.
The standard 600W sound system is an immersive delight for the ears. Turn the volume up, and the bass remains clear and crisp, as are the other layers of sound. Just as importantly, the sound is still good at lower volumes. So good was the sound that we almost forgot that the higher spec Portfolio and Supersport models are equipped with a 1200W B&W sound system. A rear seat entertainment package is optional.
Bluetooth for both hands-free and music streaming is present, as is voice command. In the Jaguar's hushed cabin, both systems work well and, helpfully, the tachometer is replaced by a list of available commands when voice-recognition is engaged. Like other systems shared with Ford, it will allow you to change music inputs, tracks and the like, as well as recognise names out of your phonebook without any training or tagging. Unfortunately, it won't let you enter new destinations via voice, although you can create voice tags for your favourite places.
Entering destinations via the touchscreen is hampered somewhat by the small on-screen keys of the QWERTY keyboard. The navigation system isn't equipped with text-to-speech, traffic information, lane guidance or speed limit data. It does have 3D view, and is supposedly able to learn one's preferred routes, although during our solitary week with the Jag, we weren't able to notice any change in its routing proficiency, which is, suffice to say, average.
For more information, check out our in-depth review of the iTech system, which will be up online shortly.
On the road
One can always seemingly do with more speed, power and torque, but the sheer brilliance of the 3-litre turbo-diesel V6 that's fitted to this base XJ almost puts paid to all of that. The engine's 202kW of power and 600Nm of torque are channelled to the rear wheels and, in concert with the standard six-speed automatic, deliver smooth, effortless performance. It can take you from stationary to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds, but there's no sudden intoxicating rush of speed, just an unflustered build up of momentum until you realise that you're wandering into licence-zapping territory. To put it another way, the 5-litre V8 is 0.7-seconds faster, but it's also an order of magnitude thirstier and AU$52,200 more expensive. If you're willing to shell out an extra AU$112,200 there's a supercharged V8 with 346kW of power, while a 375kW version of that engine will set you back a further AU$43,800.
Thanks to layers of insulation, it's almost impossible to tell that you're driving a diesel-powered XJ. Overall, we saw fuel economy of 11.3L/100km, with the best figures being achieved on the highway, where we averaged 7L/100km. In the inner city and CBD, consumption hovered around the 16.3L/100km mark, but improved substantially to 10.8L/100km in the suburbs. Part of the car's relative parsimony has to do with its diesel motor, but there's also the all-aluminium body that keeps weight down to a few kilograms shy of 1.8 tonnes.
The steering wheel feels a bit on the light side, although this does endow the XJ with a sense of nimbleness and chuckability that's invigorating for such a large sedan. And when you do find an exhilarating piece of back road, the car has a Dynamic setting that makes subtle adjustments to the steering, throttle and the active suspension. In Dynamic mode, there's a touch less body roll and float, especially early on in a steering manoeuvre; the ride's a little bit firmer, the gas pedal is a little quicker to react, gears are held for longer and the steering has a smidge less power assistance. In day-to-day driving in the city and suburbs, the differences are almost imperceptible — indeed, when we tried measuring fuel economy variances, any differences were within the margin of error.
For those with grand designs of emulating Fangio or Schumacher, the stability control system has three modes (on, off and TracDSC), with the latter allowing for a little bit of slip and slide before gently intervening. There are also paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel that allow you to override the automatic transmission's wishes, even in Drive. Unlike the previous XJ, Jaguar has only fitted air suspension to the rear this time around. In Dynamic mode, the instrument panel is lit a sporty shade of red, but Snow mode has the opposite effect, sending it into an ice-cool shade of blue. It also starts the car in second gear, and curbs the cat's eagerness in order to make slippery conditions a little more manageable.
Whichever switches you toggle on the XJ, it's a fantastic drive, with the car constantly whispering in your ear to give that road another go. When you tip the XJ into a corner, there's a bit of initial body roll, but from there it stays pretty flat. Once you've hit the apex, just floor the throttle for a clean getaway. For the driver, the suspension communicates all of the necessary information from the road, but never strays into the territory marked firm and hard. For the passenger, the ride is comfortable, without the feeling of being transported on a bed of marshmallows. Combine these virtues with the aforementioned nimble steering, and the XJ is a quietly intoxicating car to drive.
Somehow, the XJ manages to coalesce many seemingly disparate values together in one automobile — sporty yet comfortable, elegant yet eye-catching and high-tech yet wonderfully familiar. There are plenty of exceptionally engineered luxury sedans out there, but few that manage to make every ride or drive an event; the XJ is one of them.