The 2016 Jaguar XJR is the sporting flagship of the leaping cat brand.
The Jaguar XJ is almost the forgotten contender in Australia’s high-end luxury sedan market, dominated by the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class in terms of sales, and the Tesla Model S in terms of hype.
This is largely because not much has changed with Jaguar XJ since it launched in 2009, while its main rivals have entered new generations. It’s fair to say Jaguar has been rather busy rolling out the brand new XE and F-Pace, and a new-generation XF, in the interim.
But an update to Jaguar’s all-aluminium flagship is here now, albeit arriving at the time when a brand new model would generally be around the corner. Has the leaping cat brand done enough to stay relevant at the top end of town?
We mentioned a pair of German rivals earlier, to which we would add the Audi A8. But really, a fairer comparison would be to align the Jag with sportier offerings such as the Maserati Quattroporte and (soon to enter a new generation) Porsche Panamera.
Like the Maserati and Porsche, the Jaguar XJ is designed to be a limo that you’ll be clawing to throw into corners yourself. Because that’s Jaguar’s brand. If you want the absolute most in plushness or latest in vehicle autonomy, go somewhere else.
Even seven years into its life cycle, the Jaguar XJ remains an arresting car to behold. It’s not as imposing and ‘get out of my way’ as an S-Class, but it’s svelte and well-proportioned like a coupe. The polarising blacked-out D-pillars remain, too.
And before you ask, no, the MY16 Jaguar XJ update doesn’t bring new panels. The cosmetic changes are instead headlined by new full LED headlights with ‘double J-Blade’ daytime running lights, a more upright grille design and new bumpers.
As with most JLR products in Australia, the XJ comes in a bewildering range of specification levels, comprising the Premium Luxury, R-Sport, Portfolio, Autobiography and XJR. There are also short (SWB) and long (LWB) wheelbase bodies and three engine choices — a turbo-diesel and two supercharged petrols — depending on spec.
Pricing varies from $201,900 plus on-road costs for entry petrol and diesel Premium Luxury versions in either wheelbase, to just shy of $230k for the R-Sport SWB and Portfolio LWB, and up to $300,275 for the XJR SWB and Autobiography LWB V8 flagships.
Confused? Us too. Which is why we’re focusing on the most interesting member of the line-up, and the one we spent the most wheel-time in on this week’s Australian media launch — the new Jaguar XJR SWB variant.
This is the performance leader within what is already one of the sharpest-driving limo ranges you can buy, and if you can spare the coin, is the XJ derivative that is most ‘on brand’. Its main rival? Probably the Maserati Quattroporte GTS.
Under the bonnet you’ll find a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 pumping out 404kW at 6500rpm and 680Nm from 3500 to 4000rpm. Torque is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox sourced from ZF. Zero to 100km/h is smoked in 4.6 seconds.
It’s a stonking engine with that lovely supercharger whine you hear so rarely these days, with rapid-fire throttle response (especially in dynamic mode) and tons of rolling response. The gearbox controlled by brand-signature rotary dial is typically slick, though the paddles could feel nicer in the hand. You have to accessorise nicer ones from the back of the brochure.
The quad-piped XJ retains eager turn-in, excellent body control, steering that is sharp on centre and highly effective brakes (the XJR also gets nifty red calipers). The 1875kg kerb weight is light for the class, thanks to all that aluminium. The Jag also has the happy knack of shrinking around you. The wrap-around dashboard design doesn’t hurt this impression. Fun fact: Jag calls this a 'Riva Hoop', in homage to the boat builder.
Performance-focused parts include the active diff control, double-wishbone suspension and JaguarDrive control with sports mode that adds steering resistance. The trade-off to the dynamism is a somewhat stiff ride in any mode that isn’t as plush as some rivals, while the thin rubber on 20-inch dark alloys fails to insulate the cabin from some smaller corrugations.
Not much has changed inside the XJ’s cabin overall, though the new XJR adds some nice black or carbon-fibre trims, R logos, stainless steel kick-plates and beautiful dark suede headlining. The lashings of metallic highlights and the ambient lighting add to the effect.
The soft grain perforated leather seats have 18-way adjustment and temperature control, and come in racy red. Leather (this time in black) carries over to the doors, dash and major touch points, while everything further down is covered in deep-pile carpet instead.
It all feels of good quality, which we can’t say about all elements in the Jaguar XE’s cabin, though the tactility of some switchgear remains a little off, notably those buttons on the steering wheel and immediately below the touchscreen.
Said 8.0-inch screen uses JLR’s latest InControl Pro software and the solid state drive has much greater processing power than before, though some graphics remain old hat, and there isn’t any high-end gadgetry such as Google Maps and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto enabling. And why isn't the 10.2-inch optional screen from the XF and F-Pace available?
One nice feature is the TFT driver instrument display (in lieu of a HUD) that can display various home screens, from minimalist driver information through to a full mirroring of the maps, again with 'meh' graphics for the latter. The 825W Meridian surround-sound system is excellent, giving a concert experience.
Rear seat space has never been a Jaguar XJ strong suit, and this remains the case, with headroom average at best, and outward visibility hurt by the large C-pillars. Naturally, those favouring a chauffeur experience will want a LWB derivative, ruling out the XJR. On the plus side, the 520-litre boot is decent, though the spare wheel is only a temporary space saver.
In an age of partial vehicle autonomy, what’s notably missing from the XJ spec sheet as standard are active safety features — sports-focused offering or no. Radar-guided adaptive cruise costs an extra $2140, a pack with blind-spot monitoring and reverse traffic detection is $1420, and a 360-degree camera with park assist is $2700. Excessive.
There are some other questionable options, notably $600 for DAB+ digital radio, $1020 for four zones of climate control, $275 for LED reading lights in the rear, $2000 for the XJR Black Pack (gloss black on the grille, intakes and vents) and $3700 for a novel carbon-fibre engine cover. Our tester’s grey paint was also $2000 extra.
However, let’s not get bogged down on options. The Jaguar XJR isn’t about that. It’s not a sensible car by any means you care to name. You buy the performance-leading XJ to thumb your nose at convention, and in that respect it’s great.
Naturally, at seven years of age and given what only amounts to a minor update, the Jaguar XJ range doesn’t compete with the Germans and Tesla in terms of technological innovation. And that $300k price is steep. But let’s consider what this car really is, and how little its target buyer might care about such things.
The big cat hammers and sounds great while doing so, looks distinctive and handles as well as you'd expect of Britain's performance luxury brand. Most importantly, there’s nothing dull or wall-flowery about it. It’s very much heart over head, and some will get it more than others.