We have to look back to the early Bangle BMWs, or to Tom Ford’s extravagant efforts at Gucci, to see a similar shake-up of a company’s design DNA. Out goes the carriage-clock Jag; in comes the brave XF of 2008 and, even more, this bold new XJ, Maserati Quattroporte emotion meets Bentley grandeur, rakish coupe lines meets four-door luxury saloon practicality. The styling result is (almost) as controversial as Bangle’s first 7-series. But let us leave that to one side for the moment and ask the bigger question:
What is the new 2010 Jaguar XJ like to drive?
It’s extremely impressive. Jaguar is furrowing the ‘beautiful fast cars’ route with Churchillian determination, and that means cars that are sporty, eye-catching yet refined and relaxing. Those first and last qualities are not always easy to square – sports driving rarely equals comfort. Plus add big 20-inch diameter wheels and low profile rubber – both are fitted to our 3.0-litre diesel test car – and you won’t do the ride too many favours.
Jaguar, of course, has historically swerved rather inconsistently on the comfort-versus-sport scale. The old XJs saloons of fond and distant memory were comfort biased, floating over the road surface like the QE2 sailed over the ocean floor, steady as she goes. Apart from the marvellous and incomparable Rolls-Royce Phantom, no new luxury car does this: certainly not any BMWs or Audis, though the Mercedes S-class gets close.
Modern Jags, though, are very much sports-biased. The XF gets positively thumpy and – dare I say it of a Jag? – sometimes uncomfortable when fitted with big diameter-low profile rubber options. The R cars can be positively bone jarring on roads less than mirror smooth.
The new XJ has a much better ride/handling balance, the best in the luxury saloon market.
So is the new XJ both comfortable – and sporty?
Yes. The chassis is excellent. Helped by the commendable lightweight of that beautifully crafted aluminium body – nobody does aluminium more skilfully than Jaguar – the new XJ is a deceptively agile car. Select ‘dynamic’ setting – which firms up dampers, makes the throttle response more eager, and boosts the keenness of the six-speed paddle shift auto to downshift – and you can almost feel the big XJ hunker down to the tarmac and boost driving thrills. The steering is sweet and sharp, body roll is well checked, and on the winding undulating roads to the west of Paris, the XJ felt almost sports car sprightly. It’s 150 kg lighter than any rival – the gap over the real class porkers is much greater – and this blessed lightness really translates into enhanced nimbleness.
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OK, and the comfort…
Very impressive, too. On the cobblestones of Paris, and on some of the broken roads that line the approach roads to the City of Light, there is tyre thump and patter – what do you expect when you’re riding on tyres that are so vast and have so little cushioning? An S-class would have been as relaxed, an A8 or a 7-series far noisier and more agitated. (An XJ6 Series III would be far better, but then its suspension would have resembled a blancmange on the twisting secondaries we encountered that morning.)
On more normal road surfaces, comfort is superb. The car even rides well on ‘dynamic’ mode, and the markedly superior throttle response makes this the setting of choice. (It comes compete with the ‘virtual’ instruments being bathed in red, as opposed to the normal black when in comfort mode. Engage winter mode and the instrument colour changes to blue.)
So what’s the new Jag's cabin like?
Those strange ‘virtual’ instruments look a bit too game console for my taste, though there’s no denying their usefulness (you can change the instrumentation, as you please, and when there’s a warning or an upcoming navigation instruction, they momentarily take the place of the joint fuel/engine temperature gauge or the tachometer). Equally, the big ‘Dual View’ centre console touchscreen can both inform the driver and entertain the passenger: it can, for instance, give both nav instructions and play DVDs simultaneously (you see a different image depending on which angle you look at the screen).
In other respects, the cabin is beautifully finished and well detailed. The alloy rotary drive selector, as first seen on the XF, looks techy and works well. Leather swathed the whole dash of our Portfolio-spec test car, and the wood finishing was superb. The big chrome eyeball vents also look great, although the clock looks cheap Argos rather than classy chronograph.
The standard glass moonroof is a clever feature, never mind that it adds 20 kg or so. Otherwise the cabin would be a dark place: those side windows are surprisingly shallow, an upshot of the low roof and raked windscreen and backscreen.
What’s the Jaguar XJ diesel performance like?
This was quite a revelation. The new XJ is a big car – longer than any German rival – and I wasn’t expecting much excitement from our 3.0-litre turbodiesel test car. Wrong. 0-60 in six seconds is fast, and there is a great eagerness and a pleasing growl about the way the big Jag lifts its skirt and runs. Play with the paddles in the ‘sport’ transmission setting, and let that engine rev, and you can play Schumacher-at-Spa. You can’t have this much fun in an S-class or an A8 or a Lexus. And, while the 7’s diesel engine is probably even better (nobody does powertrains better than BMW), the 7 is a disappointingly firm rider compared with the silken cat.
A brilliant achievement. Great to drive and to sit in, here is a luxury saloon that mixes comfort and sportiness more successfully than ever before. And after living with one for a full day and night, I also think it looks fabulous.