In an age of downsizing and economising it’s always a thrill to discover a car that’s able to engender the sensation of an event – the feeling that stepping inside is not purely taking a seat in some transport to the office but removing yourself from the world around you, no matter how briefly, to a better environment.
The Jaguar XJ is one of those cars. Slipping into the leather armchair of a seat, closing the door with an expected yet still reassuring ‘thunk’ and then closing the double-glazed windows leave you feeling protected, separated from the plethora of lookalike Audi, BMW and Mercedes machinery.
The confident and forward-looking styling couldn’t be further removed from its sober suited and on-brand German rivals. The XJ looks fast, beautiful and only a little ostentatious. Its stance is strongest at the front, with the rear of the car being a smidgen less convincing. A shoulder line that appears over the front wheels before fading away through the middle of the car returns at the rear end to accentuate the car’s length.
That length can be increased by 125mm by ticking the long-wheelbase option, with all that extra space benefitting the rear passengers.
Most XJ’s will be sold with a smooth 3.0-litre diesel engine, capable of pulling this behemoth from zero to 60mph in six seconds dead. That spectacular figure masks how effortless the 600 nm of torque available makes driving the XJ. The eight-speed automatic gearbox changes ratios almost imperceptibly to keep the power available at all times, relying on its torquey nature to return quite impressive fuel economy. Official figures suggest 46.3mpg is possible, although in the 900 miles I covered it returned a still-pleasing 40.1mpg.
A 3.0-litre supercharged petrol engine is available for those with deeper pockets. You’ll get slightly brisker performance and a sublimely smooth character that really does suit the XJ. However, with BIK rates of 35 per cent compared to 26 per cent on the diesel and an increase in fuel consumption of nearly 60 per cent, those pockets may be emptied rather more quickly than you would like.
Putting that performance to the test – and putting money to one side for a moment – reveals the biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses in the big Jag.
A Jaguar should, and always has been, something that is engaging to drive, supremely compliant and comfortable. As far as the ride quality, large undulations are dealt with aplomb, the aluminium bodywork riding smoothly across the peaks and never feeling unsettled. However, the smaller ridges and imperfections in the road surface make themselves evident through the wheel and pedals, and sometimes even throughout the cabin.
The Mercedes S-Class undeniably looks after removing those sensations better than the XJ, but the British-built Jaguar fights back when it comes to driver engagement.
Put aside thoughts of the long-wheelbase model and give up on the idea of getting some work done in the back seat while you’re driven to your next meeting. Instead, get in the front and drive, as you’ll be rewarded with an engaging and surprisingly agile experience that shows the German trio just how to do it.
The long-wheelbase means the car remains stable during high-speed lane changes and along choppy country roads, with even a bout of back-end out hooliganism refusing to upset the balance and poise. If you want to enjoy a drive then the XJ is way ahead of the usual suspects, maybe even being worthy of comparison with the likes of the Maserati Quattroporte; I have one on test in the next couple of months to find out.
Sitting in the front seat also gets you a view of the glorious cabin. A swooping gunwale-like wooden band wraps around the dashboard ahead of you, blending into the doors and leaving you ensconced in a gem of a cockpit.
Up front there’s a TFT screen instead of the usual analogue dials, with three digital replicas able to be swapped out at times when other information is needed; the rev counter, for example, is replaced by sat-nav instructions as you approach a junction. Elsewhere there are curvy bits of leather and chrome combined with an audiophile-pleasing Meridian sound system and a central touch-screen control panel that’s perhaps not quite as easy to use as it should be.
The XJ is available in just three specifications, with the starting point being Luxury and rising through Premium Luxury to the tested Portfolio spec (complete with TV screens, four-zone climate control, heated and ventilated seats, and pretty much everything else you could ever imagine), as well as the fire-breathing 5.0-litre V8-powered, 543bhp XJR. Prices range from £56,865 through to £95,870, placing it squarely in a four-way head to head with the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class.
That’s tough competition, but Jaguar has added more drama and class than its rivals can manage, even if the quality ultimately falls ever so slightly short of the very best in class.
With its blend of pace, poise and precision, the XJ is literally in a class of its own.
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