The new XJ fulfils the Lyons ethos of a luxury saloon, but he might question the industry’s progress
By Andrew Frankel
It is self-evident that cars get better. I become mildly exercised when I read proclamations that any new car is the best its manufacturer has yet produced because to me the only thing worth reading in this regard would be if it were not. That’s progress.
Sometimes, however, manufacturers slip back. Historically Ferrari has proven rather good at this, replacing the lovely 328 with the awful 348, or the wondrous F355 with the overrated F360. F40 to F50 wasn’t exactly a step in the right direction either.
But it is Jaguar that has shown the most concerning mastery of this art over the years. Look what happened with the E-type over its lifetime, or the original XKs from the svelte 120 to the bloated 150. But it is the XJ I’m going to dwell on here.
Just before driving this all-new XJ, I was able to spend a couple of hours in an original, 1968 Mk1 XJ6 – Sir William Lyons’ daily transport no less and a pleasure that had hitherto eluded me. I was only meant to be gone for 30 minutes or so but it is remarkable how easy it is to get lost in France when in a car you don’t want to give back. I thought the old girl’s performance was quite good, its handling less woolly than expected and its interior charm personified. But it was its ride quality that left me gasping: if today you wanted to drive a new car with a comparable ability to soak up and smooth away small, everyday bumps and ripples, I think you’d have to fork out for a Phantom. I’m not joking. In this regard if no other over the past 42 years the industry has taken a massive leap. Backwards.
But it was only when I eased from the oldest XJ to the newest that I mourned most the passing of this art. The blunt truth is that even by modern standards the new XJ’s ride is entirely unremarkable, and by those set by Jaguar over four decades ago, it is lamentable.
Of course it’s like that for a reason. Jaguar could soften up the springs, ease off the dampers and use tyres equipped with old-fashioned things called sidewalls and I am sure this XJ could be made to ride beautifully. But the marketing people, gimlet eyes firmly fixed on the thrusting types they hope will buy the XJ and help Jaguar shed its superannuated image, would not wear it. These days it seems that all cars, even long-wheelbase Jaguar limousines, have to feel sporting.
It’s a shame because this is the one truly bum note the new XJ sounds. When it first started to appear at motor shows it looked strange and a little awkward, but just like the XK coupé, it’s a car whose style only becomes apparent when seen in its natural environment: on the move on the open road. There, and from the front and side at least, its looks are captivating.
Yet the interior is better still. There is a sense of occasion inside the XJ you’ll not find in any Audi, Mercedes or BMW. Theirs is a functional, almost industrial approach with luxury trappings used as appliqués: you know it’s a luxury car because all that wood, chrome and leather says it is. But Jaguar has created an ambience whose luxury seems designed into its very shapes, not tacked onto its surfaces, and therefore brings an authenticity that would require you to go shopping in the Rolls/Bentley end of the market to match.
Nor is there anything retro about its design. Car manufacturers often struggle to find the correct balance between their past and future, allowing the former merely to inform the latter, and it’s a task Jaguar has failed at more than most. Not only has it been shackled to its past, but as cars like the disastrous S-type and previous XJ showed, it wasn’t even any good at doing what it had done before. Now the XJ looks in the only direction any truly worthy Jag has ever looked, and that is exclusively forward.
There are three different engine tunes available for the putative XJ buyer: a 5-litre petrol model with and without supercharging and a 3-litre diesel with sequential turbocharging. What it lacks is a small-capacity petrol model which you and I aren’t going to miss much but whose absence is going to decimate the XJ’s potential in critical markets like China. Apparently Jaguar is working on it.
Of those engines you can buy, only the diesel makes real sense. The V8s are quick, the blown one flashingly so, thanks as much to the aluminium XJ’s low weight as its power, but when even the diesel will hit 60mph from rest in 5.9sec you really are heading deep into the world of diminishing marginal returns if for some reason you need more shove than that. Consider this: the diesel motor will return over 40mpg, the petrol less than 25mpg, even in normally aspirated form. That’s a huge price to pay for knocking around a second off your 0-60mph time and almost 300 miles from the car’s potential range on a single tank of fuel. You might want to consider also that a tax disc for the diesel costs £200, compared to a rather more bracing £435 for either petrol model.
I drove the XJ hard and fast, covering 200 miles across France in little more than three hours without resorting to autoroutes and, ride issues aside, it felt to me as I had always hoped a modern luxury Jaguar saloon would. This is a truly effortless car, entirely at ease both cruising down a dual carriageway and sprinting through the lanes between villages, and it will become better still when sometime in the next year Jaguar replaces its extant six-speed automatic transmission with an eight-speed gearbox they’d rather you didn’t know about just yet.
Yet still its mediocre ride irks. Jaguars in general and XJs in particular should breathe and not bludgeon their way down the road. There’s no doubt that the iron will of its firm dampers brings a level of primary ride control no former XJ would recognise and that’s a good thing when you’re door-handling it across France with no one sitting next to you. Where I fear this approach will fall down is the perhaps more representative environment of the British motorway network with either clients, colleagues or family on board who may fail to appreciate its incisive turn-in and impressive grip as much as you.
Happily there is more than enough that is good about the XJ for this not to be its undoing. How good is it? For as many years as I can remember the S-class Mercedes has ruled this class and I’d say the Jag was just a fraction less capable – but, if subjectivity were allowed a say in such judgements, even more desirable. As good now as Sir William’s visionary masterpiece was back in 1968? Probably not. But as a credible and capable Jaguar saloon with not just the ability but also the charm to help support the company’s recovery over many years to come, it should do just fine.
Engine: supercharged V8 5000cc
Power/Torque: 510bhp @ 6500rpm; 461lb ft at 2500-5500rpm
Gearbox: six-speed automatic
Tyres (20ins): f: 245/40 R20, and r: 275/35 R20
Fuel/CO2: 23.4 mpg, 12.1 per km (petrol)
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 4.7sec (petrol)
Suspension: air suspension with active damper system, f: unequal wishbones; r: lightweight cast aluminium multi-links
Brakes: ventilated discs all round, f: 355mm; r: 326mm, electric parking brake
Top Speed: 155mph
Price: SWB £88,000; LWB £91,000