The Supersport is the cream on top of Jaguar’s new XJ range for 2010. The supercharged V8-powered limousine is the flagship, a full-fat experience in which only 5% of XJ customers will indulge. How does the £87,455, ultimate version of Britain’s S-class drive?
That’s not a Jag XJ, that’s a Citroen concept car! Whatever happened to drawing rooms on wheels?
Unless you’ve been taking a shower of Bobby Ewing proportions, you’ll have spotted the design transformation of Jaguar’s saloons. The 2010 XJ takes the boldness of the 2008 XF and twists, gambling on a radical-looking limo in a conservative market segment. It’s an imposing mash-up of limousine stature and sporty details, such as the diving roofline, colossal grille, 911-style flared hips and 19-inch wheels as standard (the Supersport rolls on 20s). The brutish XJ looks like nothing else in its class, whereas its predecessor looked identical to its forebear. That’s progress, with bells on.
The cabin trumps its avantgarde exterior. Every dashboard is wrapped in luxurious leather, and glinting round vents and a big, concave steering wheel evoke ‘50s Americana. Genuine wood inserts flow from the doors around the dash-top to form a prow like a boat’s, meeting in an understated Jaguar plaque below the centre of the windscreen.
Jaguar chauffeured journalists in long wheelbase XJs (around £3000 for the extra legroom) through dark Parisienne streets. The Eiffel Tower glowed yellow overhead, visible through the standard double-section glass roof, complementing the gentle blue haze of the interior lighting. A wonderfully atmospheric experience, enhanced by a cabin that positively reeks of luxury and character: eliminate the badges and customers could mistake it for a Bentley’s. It makes the German interiors look cheap and dowdy.
Okay, okay, so it’s an intriguing thing to behold, and beguiling to sit in. How does it drive?
It’s telling that Jaguar compares itself with Porsche; the XJ is undoubtedly biased towards sportiness. Potholes traversed at 25mph send a thump through the cabin: the low speed ride is defiantly taut. Businessmen whose lair is the back seats will find the suspension too firm; Jaguar should seriously consider softening the long-wheelbase cars. Or businessmen should climb into the driver’s seat, because they’re missing out on a treat otherwise.
Officials say modifying the suspension would compromise the steering, which is the XJ’s trump card. Jaguar racks have a lightness, a deftness, typically missing from the Germans’ self-consciously meaty helms. Don’t mistake that lightness for insousiance: a flick of the wrists and the XJ responds pointedly. And you can firm it up by entering ‘dynamic’ mode.
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The steering is an allegory for the XJ’s lightweight construction. The chassis is an aluminium monocoque, clothed in aluminium panels, making the 1955kg XJ Supersport fractionally lighter than the class’s other whippet, the Porsche Panamera Turbo. Of the flabby old guard, the Supersport is a whopping two-thirds of a Caterham lighter than Merc’s S63 AMG.
Does that light weight translate into class-leading performance and dynamics?
It’s a cliché, but the XJ’s lightness and agility makes it feel no bigger than the (steel) XF. On tightening bends, the chassis stays neutral long after you’d expect a 5.1m-long barge to start understeering. In comparison, an S-class rolls more in corners, but it offers a more relaxed ride, with the body floating back into position while the Jag settles more abruptly. The XJ is more compliant at motorway speeds than around town, and wind noise is nicely suppressed: Jaguar has not forsaken the XJ’s talents as a refined, long distance express.
The Supersport runs a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine, yielding 503bhp at 6000 revs and 461lb ft at 2500. The previous XJR’s supercharger whine is history, and although the creamy V8 whips up a raspy snarl, it’s kept in the background. The Supersport is quick –4.9sec from 0-62mph is hardly the work of a slouch – but the Panamera Turbo feels ballistic in comparison. The XJ feels balletic, though. Fuel economy is a claimed 24.9mpg with 264g/km of CO2, edging out the Panamera Turbo’s 23.2mpg and 286g/km.
A supersmooth, six-speed ZF transmission feeds power to the rear wheels. Press the dynamic button by the cylindrical transmission selector and the computer-rendered dials glow red, and the seatbelt pretensioner flexes as the safety features are primed. The XJ is subconsciously saying: ‘strap yourself in, it’s going to be a wild ride’.
Pootling through a village with the transmission in S, the software maintains second gear, rather than switching up to fourth to save fuel unlike many transmission programmes. It’s as if the chips are encouraging you to nail it as soon as the speed restriction lifts. This is a limousine with a sports car’s rakishness, remember.
The new XJ is a limousine to make Britain proud. Its design is the most stylish and modern in its class, and the cabin is peerless. Throw in a lightweight, high-tech chassis, brilliant dynamics and notable efficiency, and you have a limousine which is a genuine match for some of Germany’s finest vehicles. Whisper it, but it’s the coolest and most efficient car in its class. Who’d have thought that from Jaguar?