The Great Leap Forward
There were raised eyebrows in the motor industry when Indian industrial giant Tata Group bought the iconic British Jaguar brand. Tata makes cars under its own brand - but what did it know about luxury cars?
Any initial fears have proved unfounded: Tata has turnedout to be an excellent parent for both Jaguar and its sister-brand Land- Rover, backing the company’s talented designers to create the sort of modern luxury cars that Jaguar had previously been reluctant to build. Indeed, Jaguar has taken a bold route with the design of its flagship model: the new XJ luxury saloon.
Gone is the retro-styling of the old XJ. Instead, Jaguar has designed a car that breaks with tradition, yet remains obviously a Jaguar. The XJ is long and low, with a swooping coupe-like roofline. The front of the car takes the look of the successful smaller Jaguar XF as a starting point, but with more exaggerated head lamps and an even bolder Jaguar grille.
The rear of the car is even more radical - and it’s already controversial. For a start, there’s no ‘Jaguar’ on the back – just the leaping cat, and XJ or XJL badging. A bulbous boot is flanked by sweeping vertical LED rear lights that run up, and over the rear quarters of the car.
Jaguar understands that a lot of XJs will be used as chauffeur cars, and long-wheelbase versions are also available alongside the more esoteric “driver’s cars” such as the Supersport (a short-wheelbase model powered by a 500bhp, 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol engine).
On the road, the wide, low, purposeful stance of the car is really highlighted. It looks big and imposing – albeit sleek and sporty. Without a doubt, the XJ turns heads. It’s not a car for a discreet arrival. The XJ screams – “I’m here. Where’s the red carpet?”
Of course, the image must be matched by the car’s performance and - crucially - its interior. The Jaguar doesn’t disappoint.
The driver’s part of the interior is a masterpiece of styling a world away from the bolt-upright dash and windscreen of the old XJ. The dashboard sweeps round from the doors via a strip of trim that runs behind the main instrument panel, beneath the front windscreen.
There’s a vast choice of trim combinations – nine different woods alone, as well as carbon fiber and piano black, plus a vast array of leather colors. There’s scope for individuality and customization. It says a lot about a design when it looks good in just about every combination we’ve seen, from traditional walnut and cream leather to modern black and carbon-fiber.
A large central console houses the satnav screen, stereo and climate controls, and below these is the nowfamiliar Jaguar Drive Selector, already used on the XF - a chunky rotary dial that replaces the gear lever, and rises electrically from the console when you press the start button.
The satnav does more than manage many of the XJ’s functions (including climate control, audio, communications and navigation). It has a trick up its sleeve: dual-view technology that allows the driver and front passenger to look at completely different content on the same screen. The passenger can watch a DVD, while the driver views the satnav.
Everything about the interior is bold and aeronautical – from the chromed metal air vents to the main instrument cluster – another of the XJ’s radical innovations, as it has no physical instruments. Instead, virtual dials are projected on to a flat LCD screen. It’s a clever effect. A standard three-dial layout has traditionallooking dials, deigned to look like analogue gauges with circular, chrome surrounds. But using the steering wheel controls allows different information to be brought up on to the dash screen – including a sat-nav detail.
There’s also a ‘spotlight’ effect that highlights the area on the dial where the needle is operating, as if it were shining a light on the relevant part of the dial. And when you switch the XJ into Dynamic mode, the dials glow red, and a bold gearshift indicator is displayed. The system is upgradeable, and you sense that Jaguar is going to have some fun with the concept.
Accommodations are comfortable in the front and in the back too – although rear headroom might be a concern for taller passengers. There’s plenty of legroom in the back, however, even on the short-wheelbase model, so you can stretch and relax...
Interior ambiance is also helped by a panoramic glass roof that enabled the car’s designers to create a lower, more streamlined roofline. The opening mechanism slides the glass upwards and outwards, so headroom is never compromised. A dark tint and reflective coating prevent the interior from overheating under strong sunlight, while twin electric blinds provide another level of privacy and sun screening.
On the road, the car strikes a good balance between sportiness and luxury. In standard mode, the XJ is smooth and unhurried; but switch to dynamic mode and the automatic gearshifts become shorter. Or you can use the steering column paddles to maximize acceleration. And if you really want sporty, buy the Supersport with its wonderful race-tuned engine note and startling acceleration.
For such a big car, the XJ is beautifully balanced. Cornering is unfussed and stable, and overtaking is a joy, even with the 3.0-litre diesel, which is the biggest-selling engine option in Europe. This new V6 diesel engine uses a “parallel sequential” twin-turbocharger system to deliver high torque throughout the rev range, as well as improved throttle response and low CO2 emissions. Acceleration to 60mph is accomplished in just 6.0 seconds via a six-speed auto box, and electronically governed top speed is 155mph.
Jaguar has completed its makeover for the 21st century with this car. It’s a genuinely excellent vehicle, with considerably more emotional punch (at least in this observer’s estimation) than the ‘efficient’ German rivals.