Elsewhere on this site you might spot me hooning about on Anglesey race circuit with Jaguar vehicle development boss Mike Cross and a pair of XFRs (click here to see that video). But while I was there I also got a steer in one of the final development XJs – a long-wheelbase, non-turbo V8.
The XJ's intellectually oddball styling and unrushed loungey ambience reminds me of a more premium take on our old Citroen C6; Cross looks slightly miffed and says they were trying to capture the emotionality of the Maserati Quattroporte with the rationality of the Germans. I think we’re both right; I like it. The bold, controversial styling grows on you, and I love the way the interior and digital representations of analogue dials feel like a space-age reimagining of a genteel sitting room. It really feels like Jaguar has figured out how to balance between history and modernity.
More than anything, though, I was impressed by the way the XJ drove, and, dynamically, it is poles apart from the C6. The steering – the very same rack that you’ll find in the sprightly XFR – is quick and light but its messages are crystal clear; the ride has that trademark Jag breathing space as it flows over crests and dips into compressions where a BMW would feel abruptly coiled; and it’s a genuinely nimble car, one that feels far smaller that its XL tag suggests. And, with 385bhp, it’s ably quick without being heroically so. Cross says this is his favourite spec, the naturally aspirated V8 having a little less weight over the nose to the benefit of poise.
It really is a different kind of proposition in this market. I love the Mercedes S-class, but – in non AMG guises – it’s so comfort focussed and waterbed rolly that it can actually feel disconcerting when you start pushing just a little bit harder. And I’ve never quite fallen for the BMW 7-series, much as I like it – the ride could be better and the point of Sport Plus transmission settings in a limo eludes me. The Jag XJ falls somewhere in-between – sporty like the BMW, comfortable like the Merc.
To demonstrate its sporting character more clearly, Cross can’t resist taking three of us out on track for a few sideways demo laps before our XFR antics begin. It was entirely spontaneous, but quick thinking from videographer Al Clark meant we captured this short video clip…