The Jaguar XJ is one of the most storied of all British nameplates. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first XJ6, a gorgeous yet temperamental luxury saloon that became an icon.
Yet as Jaguar Land Rover (JLR from here on in) has flourished under the hands-off stewardship of India's Tata Group, today's XJ limousine flagship has taken a back seat as other models were developed.
Over this time there have been tweaks and changes, the major of which was a MY16 update launched here about a year ago. We'd scarcely touched the car since then, and thought a revisit worthwhile.
In the big cat's way are the much-newer Mercedes-Benz S Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi S8 and Maserati Quattroporte, and most contextually the second-generation Porsche Panamera that launched a few months ago.
One must ask quite how the ageing and battle-weary all-aluminium Jag can stand up to these rivals from the European continent as it passes the eight-year mark of its life cycle.
The key is brand. At this echelon buyers look at which defines and represents them best: high-tech BMW, plush and historic Mercedes, dynamic and teutonic Porsche, cutting-edge Tesla and romantic Maserati.
Jaguar offers a blend of dynamic nous, old world charm, underdog status and defiantly British origins that set it apart. It's a brand on the rise, and an ageing link in the chain like the XJ can ride such a wave.
Then there's design. The coupe-like exterior was polarising at launch, but as a contrast to conservatism it's aged rather well. The big cat is an arresting shape with the right dose of presence on the road, especially with that bold grille and new full LED headlights and tail-lights.
Here we're looking at the co-flagship of the range, and the second-most expensive Jaguar you can buy here in Australia: the XJ Autobiography Long Wheelbase, priced at $299,995 before on-road costs.
An Audi S8 costs $282,616, the BMW 750Li $319,000, the Maserati Quattroporte GTS GranLusso $349,990, the Mercedes-Benz S500 LWB $319,715 and the Porsche Panamera 4S AWD $310,800.
It sits alongside the XJR, which is the demonically fast Hyde to the Autobiography's plush and soft Jekyll, and which like its rivals, costs as much as a studio apartment somewhere on the up-and-up.
Under the bonnet is a familiar lump, a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol producing 375kW of power at 6000rpm and 625Nm of torque from only 2500rpm.
Despite measuring a vast 5255mm nose-to-tail (124mm longer than the SWB XJ and 9mm longer than a LWB Mercedes-Benz S-Class), the Jag dashes from 0-100km/h in a sharpish 4.9 seconds, only three-tenths slower than the 404kW/680Nm XJR.
This is thanks in large part to the riveted all-aluminium (half recycled) monocoque body structure – completely free of welds – that keeps the weight of the car to a modest 1885kg. Signature JLR stuff.
More impressive is the way speed unfurls in an unruffled manner. The engine is smooth in its delivery though slightly gruff in note, with a characteristic whine when pedalled in anger that'll see fuel use soar into the 15L/100km range – not that you'd care if you owned it.
As the power and torque graphs show, it'll produce the most horses high in the revolution band, while the sheer torque output means even at 1500rpm, there's plenty of pulling power.
As with all Jaguar saloons the XJ is rear-wheel drive, and here it uses an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission operated via a pop-up rotary dial rather than a stick. It's familiar, generally smooth and intuitive.
The car comes with Dynamic and Winter modes, the former of which adjusts the throttle calibration and gearbox shift points to improve drivetrain response, the latter to dial back acceleration and make it more progressive in slippery conditions. There are a lot of horses going to those rear wheels...
Befitting Jaguar's brand, the rear-wheel drive XJ Autobiography uses its relatively light weight to perform like a smaller car, exhibiting more nimble dynamics than a car this big has any right to.
The electric-assisted steering is well weighted and the car has onboard sensors to monitor the car's angle and grip at a claimed 500 times a second, and which varies the damping to suit conditions.
Of course, this is largely meaningless to the average driver (yours truly included), but it translates to a car that exhibits sharp turn-in, good body control against lateral inputs, alacrity in tight turns that bely its dimensions and a degree of poise over sharp hits despite the low-profile tyres on 20-inch wheels.
Is it as cosseting or quiet as a top-of-the-tree S-Class? No, given there a very distant hint of road roar and a minute terseness not found on the German. But for a 'sporty' limo, it's a fine drive.
The interior is an interesting contrast to most rivals. The slim steering wheel rim with prominent centre, the propped-up circular vents and instrument binnacle atop the dash, and the way the dash and doors bleed into each add some retro style.
Every surface you look at or touch is plush-pile carpet, soft leather, solid steel, tasteful wood or glossy black contrast plastic, applied in a tasteful and balanced way that avoids being garish. Even the headlining is leather – we wonder what Jaguar's Indian parent company thinks of that?
Where the Jag's cabin falls down is the tactility of its buttons and switches, particularly the cheap and clicky numbers on the wheel and doors, and under the touchscreen – itself fitted with InControl software, and fairly average graphics on the home menu and the sat-nav.
The fact the XJ doesn't get the company's biggest 10-plus-inch touchscreen as seen on the F-Pace, XE and XF, nor a particularly advanced set of TFT digital instrument menus, is a reflection of its advanced age.
Standard equipment includes highlights such as a solar-attenuating panoramic glass sunroof, gorgeous quilted semi-aniline leather front seats with 18-way adjustment, heating/cooling and a massage function, 825W Meridian sound system, 360-degree camera, soft-closing doors and blind-spot monitoring.
The fact adaptive cruise control costs $2200 and DAB+ $620 is so funny it actually passes the point of being insulting. There are fewer pilot assist-style, semi-autonomous driver aids than newer rivals, though the Jag isn't really about that. Still worth calling out.
While most Australian buyers drive themselves, the XJ Portfolio belies its great dynamics by being pitched at people who prefer the back seat – a particularly common buyer preference in markets such as China, where having money buys you the privilege of having a driver.
Legroom maxes out at about 1.1 metres if the front seat is pushed all the way forward, while rear occupants get ambient and LED lighting, perforated leather seats with tonnes of electric adjustment and a massage function, sun blinds, deep-pile carpets, tray tables on quality small hinges and a pair of 10.2-inch folding screens with digital TV reception and various inputs.
The seats are stunning in much the same way as a business class airline seat is, though the rear headroom is compromised by the roof shape. If you sit in the back of your limo and aren't obliged to buy British like a resident of 10 Downing Street, then perhaps another offering should call to you more...
Or, for that matter, the LWB Range Rover offering from Jaguar's sister brand reviewed here, which gives you the added benefit of domineering ride height to sneer at plebs.
On reflection, the Jaguar XJ really makes more sense when it embodies its core tenets, which it does in SWB XJR guise, where performance and character are key. The Autobiography, for all its effortless style, panache and charm, cannot match newer rivals in the areas of tech or rear seat space.
As much as we can overlook some gremlins, it's this core fit-for-purpose shortfall against its enemies that degrades the big cat from 'great' to merely 'good'.
A gorgeous throwback with personality to burn it may well be, but there's nothing overly logical about it, ergo its rating. Of course, if you want one and have the means, you're not going to care...
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