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First drive: Jaguar’s big cat changes its spots

Purring: The Jaguar XJ will bring a new look and higher prices when it lands in Australia in August.

New XJ sheds retro styling to take Jaguar into a bold new design era

9 Mar 2010


JAGUAR has deliberately left the old world behind with its adventurous all-new XJ saloon.

The design of the new flagship is bold and controversial, in stark contrast with the previous model which replicated the design of past XJs.

Jaguar now admits such a retro design was a mistake, limiting the car to older buyers as well as hiding much of its cutting-edge technology.

The new XJ, which will touch down in Australia this August, is the third and final model in the rejuvenation of Jaguar, following the 2006 introduction of the XK sportscar and the 2008 introduction of the medium XF sedan.

It will take on the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and Mercedes-Benz S-class with a price list that runs through from $193,800 for the diesel model to $349,800 for the supercharged V8 long wheelbase.

That represents a significant increase over the out-going XJ which ran from $160,600 for the entry level diesel through to $219,900 for a supercharged V8.

The new XJ shares some design cues with the smaller XF sedan, including the signature large grille and sloping roofline, but goes further with slit headlights, bulging bonnet, more aggressive lines and a rear end that is beautiful or strange, depending on your taste.

6 center image The vertical tail lights that continue on to the top of the bootlid and the rounded boot design have been panned by some critics.

Jaguar design chief Ian Callum concedes the design is not loved by all, but is not concerned because he believes the profile is correct and people will get used to it.

“I think we have to be slightly controversial,” he said.

Mr Callum said it was time to move the XJ design along rather than producing another imitation and added that the new car was true to Jaguar’s heritage of creating modern and exciting cars. When discussing the design of the new car he brought up the word heritage: “It is not about copying it, it is about understanding it.” Jaguar says it has also moved the XJ along in terms of handling and performance.

“The last car was more like its predecessor and if anything it got slightly softer than its own predecessor,” said Jaguar product development director, Phil Hodgkinson.

He said Jaguar had sharpened the XJ to give it a driving experience matching the bold exterior.

He adds that the car is now sportier than both the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-class.

“We thought there was an opportunity in the marketplace to deliver a car that is somewhat different than our competition,” he said.

The XJ has a light aluminium chassis using new forms of super strong alloy and fewer rivets, but is significantly stronger.

The extensive use of aluminium, magnesium and high tensile steel helps to keep the weight pegged to just 1755kg for the lightest model, which is quite something considering the XJ’s size.

It measures 5122mm from nose to tail, is 1894mm wide and 1448mm tall, while a 125 mm longer version is also available. All the additional length is in the rear doors to create more legroom for the rear passengers.

Interestingly, Jaguar Australia expects about 40 per cent of XJ customers to go for the long-wheelbase version.

The XJ runs one turbo diesel and three petrol V8s, two of which are supercharged.

All the engines are available with a conventional torque converter type six-speed automatic transmission with drive-by-wire control and steering wheel paddles.

The entry level V6D model runs a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel which produces 292kW at 4000rpm and a healthy 600Nm of torque at 2000rpm.

That allows the base XJ to run from 0-100km in just 6.4 seconds. Combined fuel economy comes in at 7 litres per 100km.

Next up in the model range is the naturally aspirated quad-cam 5.0-litre V8 with direct injection.

It generates 285kW at 6500rpm and 515Nm at 3500rpm. The V8 XJ can run from 0-100km/h in only 5.7 seconds. The combined fuel economy for this model is 11.4 litres per 100km.

The first of the two supercharged engines takes the 5.0-litre V8 and adds runs a supercharger which ramps up the power to 346kW at 6000-6500rpm and increases torque to 575Nm at 2500rpm to 5500rpm.

The increased performance enables this XJ to charge from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds.

Fuel economy is rated at 12.1 litres per 100km.

Topping the range is a higher output version of the same engine which is exclusive to the XJ Supersport.

The supercharged Supersport V8 is able to punch out all of 375kW at 6000-6500rpm and 625Nm at 2500-5500rpm.

All of that power and torque means the XJ is able to break the five-second barrier on its 0-100km/h run, for a time of 4.9 seconds.

Despite the superior performance, the Supersports has the same fuel economy rating as its less powerful supercharged V8 sibling.

All XJs sit on air suspension with adaptive dampers. Changed springs and roll bars as well as wider front and rear tracks mean the new model has 20 per cent less body roll.

The alloy wheel sizes start at 18-inch and run through to 20-inches.

Jaguar has taken the faster steering rack from the smaller XF model for the XJ.

The driver can select dynamic mode, which instantly sharpens the throttle response, increases the weight of the steering system and firms up the damping.

The driver can override the automatic transmission at any point or flick the transmission controller in S mode for Sport which allows for manual shifting and will not change up before the driver is ready.

The XJ runs LED daytime running lights, but they can be switched off during the day.

It also uses LED tail-lights and says that, all up, the car’s exterior has 152 LEDs.

Jaguar paid a lot of attention to the XJ’s interior. One of the most striking features is the low-set dashboard and a strip that runs from the top of the doors, above the dash and below the windscreen. This is lined with leather and features a narrow trim section which can be selected in various grades of wood or carbon-fibre.

The XJ also features the new chrome rotary transmission selector, which pops up from the centre console, as well as other prominent bright-work including the heating and cooling vents.

Unlike its predecessor, the new XJ doesn’t have a traditional instrument cluster, but a fully digital high definition set-up that can present various types of information within three rings.

The centre ring always displays the speed, while the right hand side tacho can also display vehicle warnings. The left hand cluster shows fuel and trip computer information, but can also show satellite navigation instructions or selected gear.

An eight-inch centre screen can display heater and sound system settings as well as the satellite navigation map. There is no iDrive-style controller, unlike its three main rivals, with Jaguar determined to stick with its less complicated touch screen system.

Jaguar has fitted all XJ models with a top-of-the-range 1200W Bowers & Wilkins audio system linked to a music hard-drive and no fewer than 20 speakers.

Jaguar offers nine different types of interior woodgrain and carbon-fibre or piano black trim.

The company will offer the V6 diesel with the Premium Luxury grade as both a short and long wheelbase. The naturally aspirated V8 is available with Premium Luxury grade as both a short and long wheelbase, and the more up-market Portfolio grade comes as a short wheelbase.

The standard supercharged V8 is available in Portfolio grade as a short wheelbase only, while the Supersport, which has its own Supersport trim level, is available as either a short wheelbase or long wheelbase.

In terms of practicality, the XJ has 520 litres of bootspace, which might not be class leading, but Jaguar says it is able to store two large suitcases side by side.

Jaguar Australia will not disclose a sales target for the new XJ, but says it should sell far more than the one or two a month rate of the last model.

Diesels are expected to represent 40 per cent of the demand, with the naturally aspirated V8 tipped to represent 40 per cent. The two supercharged versions are expected to evenly share the remaining 20 per cent of sales.

Drive impressions: THE Jaguar XJ is now a serious alternative to the German luxury sedans from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

For several years it took a decent chunk of nostalgia or steadfast brand loyalty for someone to rate an XJ as a better choice than an S-class, 7 Series or A8.

The previous XJ seemed to have come from brand that had either run out of ideas or confidence and had reverted to the safety of old design.

This latest generation car represents a brave tack that gives Jaguar its best chance of pinching some of those German luxury buyers because the new car has bold, stand-out design and is an engaging drive.

Its stylish and sumptuous interior is also a breath of fresh air compared with the ordered and sometimes clinical German interiors.

Many people will not like the new exterior design, and I can imagine some of the older owners of the XJs choking on their pipes and refusing to buy another, but far more people will be won over by the audacious new shape.

This writer was shocked by the rear end of this car at first sight last year, but time with the car has changed my mind and I feel it looks fresh and stylish.

The only thing I can’t get used to is the black C-pillar sections on all models. They are not so noticeable on the dark cars, but make lighter cars look terribly disjointed.

A day driving in Paris, after a day in the country, revealed a high level of interest in the car.

The XJ was a constant source of attention and I lost count of how many times people took a photo or came over to look.

Those who asked about the car almost all described it as beautiful.

It is hard to imagine the previous XJ generating so much attention when it was released.

The new car has a real presence and elegance. It is more like a Maserati than any other car, and that is a compliment.

The XJ’s dramatic exterior design makes a promise about the driving experience on which, thankfully, it delivers.

We travelled some exciting country roads and plowed through heavy traffic in Paris, and the XJ proved both comfortable and athletic.

It wasn’t perfect, though, and the diesel model we drove on the country roads (which had 20-inch rims) was sensitive to different road surfaces.

Veering off the official route (hopelessly lost), the XJ felt overly firm on a few roads with corrugations. These surfaces seemed to trip up the damping, with harsh jiggles making their way through to the cabin.

On all other road surfaces, including the unforgiving cobblestones of Paris, the suspension proved to a lovely balance of comfort and sportiness. But, time on Australian roads will tell all.

When left in the standard setting, the big XJ handles like a far smaller car, thanks in part to its low 17755kg weight, but it all gets a bit more exciting in ‘dynamic mode’ as it tightens the suspension, steering and throttle.

The steering feels a little light in regular mode, but with reasonable feedback. Dynamic but the increased weight of dynamic mode increases the sporty feel.

When it comes to engines, it really is a case of personal preference.

We tested the diesel, the naturally aspirated V8 and the ballistic supercharged Supersport models, and all had their strengths.

That said, Jaguar could do with a six-cylinder petrol engine of some kind for those customers who want an XJ, cannot stomach a diesel and cannot quite afford to step up to a V8.

The diesel is quiet and refined, with astounding torque.

Thanks to the twin turbos, the creamy torque wave propels the big Jaguar around with little discernable effort, suiting those who are after luxurious, comfortable transport rather than a thrilling drive.

The naturally-aspirated V8, for me, is the pick of the bunch.

It is a delightful engine with considerable torque, but is great fun to wind out, pushing the XJ along fast indeed with an ear-pleasing V8 note that caps off the experience.

Jaguar engineers spent a long time perfecting the rich, slightly nuggety note, and it was worth it.

Then there is the boosted Supersport. We drove this in and around Paris and it proved to be extremely smooth and docile at low speeds. It is so well behaved in these conditions that you could take Granny to church on Sunday and she would have no idea of the power than lies beneath the bonnet.

Call on those horses and the Supersport unleashes tremendous force that slings you forward at a simply remarkable pace.

It is, of course, a case of overkill for countries such as Australia, but there will be customers who just have to have it.

The sound of the supercharger spinning up is all but absent, and this refined V8 engine sound is an aural delight – although without the burble of the naturally aspirated V8.

The six-speed automatic transmission works extremely well in all three models and the smooth shifts, especially at lower speeds, compliment the overall refinement of the package.

Of course, you expect great luxury when handing over this kind of money, and the XJ delivers with a generally well designed in interior that mixes old and new.

The strip that runs along the top of the low dashboard, up against the bottom of the windscreen, is fresh, making a feature of the leather and whichever trim you have selected (woodgrain, carbon fibre of piano black).

The thick woodgrain panels on the doors are more modern than the old-style Jaguar wood-covered interiors, and the chrome on the heating/cooling vents, the doors, dash and centre transmission selector dial caps off the modern and luxurious look.

The dashboard and centre console look less cluttered than most, and there is no iDrive-style controller, which is both good and bad.

Instead, the XJ uses the touch-screen system which seems sensible most of the time, but can be a bit confusing and fiddly for large fingers.

The satellite navigation system was particularly difficult to use, requiring a certain level of technical knowledge to set a destination.

Other disappointing parts of the interior include the cheap looking clock on the dashboard and the yellow backing of the main speakers which stand out and clash with any brown woodgrain.

Of course, you forgive this as soon as you turn on the awesome Bowers and Wilkins sound system.

Some customers could also have issue with the digital instrument cluster, even though the main competitors have them too.

This system has definite advantages, such as the ability to change the display and show different information, but it looks a little weak during the day. The design doesn’t seem to match the rest of the interior and is quite obviously digital. Its main German rivals all have digital displays that all but match the analogue needles and dials they replace.

The parking sensor system was also overly sensitive, tempting the driver to turn it off.

Legroom is ample in the short wheelbase and cavernous in the long wheelbase. The boot is competitive, but not class leading.

The new XJ is more expensive than the previous car, but so much of an improvement that a price rise seems fair.

A first impression indicates that this really is a rival for the leaders in the large luxury sedan class, competitive in driving pleasure and with a bold contemporary design reflecting Jaguar’s well-placed confidence in its new flagship.

2010 Jaguar XJ range pricing:
3.0 V6 Diesel Premium Luxury SWB (a) $193,800
3.0 V6 Diesel Premium Luxury LWB (a) $201,800
5.0 V8 Premium Luxury SWB (a) $246,000
5.0 V8 Premium Luxury LWB (a) $254,000
5.0 V8 S/C Portfolio SWB (a) $306,000
5.0 V8 S/C Supersport SWB (a) $349,800
5.0 V8 S/C Supersport LWB (a) $362,800

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