Model tested: 2011 Jaguar XJ 5.0 V8 SWB; six-speed automatic, four door sedan - $251,000
Words: Karl Peskett Photos: Jan Glovac and Karl Peskett
Keen automotive fans should have been glued to the television screen on April 29, 2011. Yes, it was the date of the royal wedding, but who cares about the pomp and ceremony? It's the rare and bespoke coachbuilt cars that we're interested in. There were custom-made Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, but heading the field was the car carrying the Middleton family - the new Jaguar XJ.
The XJ is a big beast, no matter which way you look at it. At 5122mm long, our test XJ only just fits in most garages. And this is the short wheelbase version. Option the long wheelbase and the length grows to a whopping 5247mm - over eight centimetres longer than a Holden Caprice. At 2110mm wide (including mirrors), you won't be taking liberties when parking down narrow laneways; the XJ cuts a seriously imposing figure as it wafts up the road.
It's the bluff front end that gives the car the most presence. Viewed from the side, the nose is stubby, almost looking like it's been lopped off, but as you move around the front, the thin headlamps and massive chrome grille dominate proceedings. While a written description makes it sound somewhat repulsive, in the metal it is anything but.
It features headlamps whose design will be used on the 2012 XF, and come from the C-XF concept car. The long, wide bonnet is delicately creased along its length, tapering toward the front. The side of the car features some of the smoothest and shapeliest sheet metal around, as well as a beautiful arched side glass frame, finished in chrome. The black paint on our test car hid the dark C-pillars which can look a little odd on light-coloured cars.
Inside, you'll find leather on the seats and across the dashtop with beautiful stitching, smooth texture and nice padding. The seats are bolstered enough to hold you in place, yet give enough lateral space for you to not feel locked in. They’re electrically adjustable (as you’d expect) and the squab can be moved forward independently of the seatback for those with long legs.
The dash features its own fascia near the windscreen which is clad in wood or carbon-fibre as we had on our test car. The fascia flows around the front of the car in an arc and then onto the door trims in a unique enveloping design. It’s slightly odd in that you know there’s heaps of room and in photos it looks massive, but when sitting inside, it feels cozy and just right.
The rear seats have excellent leg and shoulder room and three across would never feel uncomfortable. Despite the sloping rear roof, and the fact that there’s a sunroof front and back, headroom is not an issue at all. Who said you need an SUV to have space? The boot is 520 litres, and the boot opening is extremely wide, meaning two suitcases can fit side by side, still laying down. Clearly, this car was built for chewing up the kilometres.
There's plenty of technology wrapped up in the new XJ as well. The (optional) dual-view touch-screen makes its transition from Range Rover to Jaguar, and it works a treat, giving passengers the option to watch a movie while the driver remains undistracted because they can only see the sat-nav from the same screen. It’s one of the cleverest pieces of passive safety technology invented in the past few years, although the bi-directional pixel alignment does make it look lower resolution compared to the massive, crisp screen in a BMW 7 Series.
Of course, there’s the obligatory heated seats, but if you’re living in the colder areas of Australia, you can avail yourself of the heated steering wheel.
The instruments are not traditional dials, rather a TFT screen takes their place and virtual dials are displayed. When you access the display and trip menu, the tachometer disappears and is replaced by the menu, which is controlled by steering wheel-mounted buttons.
The screen is very high resolution and is quick to respond, too. If you choose Dynamic mode, the “dials” become backlit in red, showing it’s ready for more focused driving. And if you do turn the wick up, you’ll be surprised at how agile the XJ can be.
The car handles like it's a lot smaller than it really is. Its reduced weight from its all-aluminium construction (body and chassis) helps to reduce inertia in hard direction changes like through a roundabout. For example, the XJ only weighs 1755kg; compare that with the smaller Jaguar XF, which weighs 25kg more, at 1780kg.
The XJ turns in like its wheelbase is 300mm shorter, and because it's so light for its size, the suspension doesn't wallow and buck under the weight. That's one of the reasons why it handles so well. Because you never feel like you're fighting such a large car, twists and bends are simply swallowed up and spat out the back with utter disdain. If you think a Bentley is the only British car that can carry five people in opulence and still handle ribbon-like blacktop, think again.
The steering is very direct yet it’s light enough to not upset the established Jaguar customer base, and despite its feather-weighting, it still gives you feedback so you’re never overcorrecting your inputs.
Under the bonnet is a naturally aspirated direct injection 5.0-litre V8, making 283kW and 515Nm at a rather high 3500rpm. That said, there’s plenty of torque down low giving you effortless acceleration in light-throttle overtaking manoeuvres. The power builds gradually through the rev range and peaks at 6500rpm, meaning if you really want to get somewhere quickly, you’ll be exploiting the V8’s upper reaches.
Windows down is the best way to experience it. You see, bystanders get the best aural perspective of this engine, with a fairly muted in-cabin noise. While that’s great for travelling in quietness, as befits a luxury flagship model, sometimes you’d like to hear the engine a bit more.
Imagine a classic V8 soundtrack and then turning down the midrange, leaving only the bass and treble up, and that’s sort of what the XJ’s V8 sounds like inside. Under light throttle, you can hardly hear it at all.
While the diesel XJ has fuel economy as its trump card, and the supercharged V8 has miles of grunt, the 5.0 V8 seems to be in no-man’s land as far as appeal goes. But ask yourself this: Which V8 can make close to 300kW and still return city fuel economy of just 8.5-litres/100km? If it’s used in spirited driving, then fuel use jumps to around 13-14L/100km, but for such a large car, getting it under the nines is amazing.
Then there’s the ZF six-speed automatic which features the best calibration of just about any auto on the market today. Gears are selected using a rotary dial which rises from the centre console, just like the XF. The paddle shifters, mounted to the back of the steering wheel, respond with such alacrity you’d swear it was a dual-clutch transmission.
Downshifts occur on demand, with no hesitation or second guessing. In Sports mode (by rotating the dial to the right) the shifts are sharper and harder, while in Drive, the shifts are more fluid and relaxed.
It may not be an eight speed, so in terms of up-to-date tech it seems to be lagging behind, however when it works this well it’s like the old saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
One thing that does come as a surprise is the ride. It’s a lot firmer than you’d expect from a luxo-limo. That said, the adaptive damping does a great job of ironing out large hits from expansion joints or potholes, and despite its rear air-suspension, it never crashes or thumps.
If there was a complaint, it’s what happens when you slowly go over a kerb while entering or exiting a driveway on an angle. There is some body flex evident and more often than not, a slight popping sound would come from the joints around the sunroof. Aluminium is softer than steel, so it may be the car twisting slightly. And that about wraps up the negatives, because the XJ does everything else so brilliantly.
It’s comfortable, spacious, quick, agile, smooth and looks stunning. It will drift while telegraphing its movements through the sensitive steering, or it can lope along country roads, eating up the miles, all while keeping its passengers cool, calm and collected.
The XJ is not only a beautiful machine to look at, it also backs it up with an impressive drive and superlative luxury. The fact that you can choose a diesel or a supercharged version, plus the option of long or short wheelbases, means Jaguar customers are spoiled for choice.
The XJ is back, and it’s better than ever.