Futuristic 2068 look for Jaguar’s sublime XJ
Jaguar XJ Portfolio Supercharged
What exactly is it? Jaguar’s flagship luxury sedan in one of its most powerful and well-equipped forms. All-aluminium construction makes it one of the lightest luxury sedans available.
Powertrain: 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol producing 346kW/575Nm. Six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive. Combined fuel consumption 12.1 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 5.2 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? Portfolio specification is not the pinnacle of the XJ range but this car still features the Dualview screen with television tuner, a bespoke Bowers & Wilkins audio system, soft-grain leather upholstery with suede headlining, four-zone climate control air conditioning and heated/cooled front and rear seats.
The Jaguar XJ is an excellent way to end the year because it’s from a company that is always talking about new beginnings.
For as long as I can remember in this job, Jaguar has been launching models and promising that they represent a renewal of the marque, that it’s back to being as thoroughly cutting-edge and modern as it was in its heyday – which might be the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s, depending on your view of these things. But probably not the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.
The 1997 XK8 heralded a brave new future for Jaguar at the time, although it didn’t really because it was still an XJS under that svelte sheet metal. The 1999 S-Type was going to shake things up by reminding us of those great models from the past but slipped into self-parody by immediately seeming old-fashioned and a bit embarrassing.
The 2001 X-Type tried to be trendy by taking on the BMW 3 Series and introduced all-wheel drive to the marque, but only did so because it was actually a Ford Mondeo underneath and that was the easiest escape from the front-wheel-drive configuration of the base car. Nobody was fooled; the Mondeo was a better car anyway.
The great leap forward
Actually, what was always promised has now happened with Jaguar’s cars. Exactly when it happened I cannot say as I was distracted by all the clutter, and such wisdom really only comes with hindsight.
Some might say it happened with the XF in 2008, which was a properly modern machine and very competitive with the German competition.
I would argue the company turned the corner with the all-new XJ in 2009. It proved that the XF was not a fluke but it also finally made Jaguar’s definitive model series relevant to the modern world.
The previous XJ was actually a superb car and quite high-tech, with great petrol and diesel engines and all-aluminium construction. Its downfall was cynical retro styling. If you weren’t in the know, you might have thought Jaguar hadn’t moved on at all since 1968.
The new XJ not only keeps the marque at the forefront of construction technology and engineering, it also looks a bit 2068. You don’t have to like it, because it is self-consciously weird from some angles – mostly the ones that include that strip of black trim on the C-pillar.
But I challenge you to experience this car, visually or otherwise, and not be deeply impressed. It looks amazing and, more importantly, it rejects the assumption of BMW and Mercedes-Benz that a car in this class must simply look like a scaled-up version of something smaller in the range.
Being rather progressive, the XJ has just been made available with a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 (to replace the naturally aspirated V8) and even a 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost engine (as fitted to the Ford Falcon) in Europe. There is also a 3.0-litre diesel, which many argue is the perfect powerplant for this new-school XJ.
Our test car was powered by the 5.0-litre V8 supercharged engine, the only part of the car that might be considered a little old school. I’m prepared to look past that because it roars and whirrs in a magnificent way.
While the XJ plays luxury car well, it does feel very much like a rear-drive car when hustled along, unlike some top-line sedans that seem above even acknowledging that there are mechanical processes happening underneath.
Again, I think this is a good thing because that handling character is not at the expense of the XJ’s more genteel qualities. Remember, the aluminium XJ is only slightly heavier than the equivalent XF; it’s a surprisingly nimble car for its size.
Going hell for leather
The XJ’s interior is absolutely fantastic: exquisitely trimmed and designed on a cockpit theme. Ergonomically superb, although I still do not care for the rotary gearknob that rises up to meet you when the car starts.
It’s a tedious gimmick introduced on the smaller XF. At least the XJ does not have the XF’s equally silly rotating dashboard vents.
You do need toys at this level, but good ones. The XJ’s equipment USP is what’s called a Dualview screen, which allows the same display to show different content to driver and front passenger.
So the passenger can watch television or a DVD for example, a function which is normally blocked when a car is on the move. That’s very clever.
The XJ’s main instrumentation is virtual. What look like dials are actually computer graphics, which gives the advantage of the same dashboard space supplying different information when required.
I thought this was a fantastic idea at the time and still do but, having just driven the latest Range Rover (which uses a similar setup), I can see that the technology is advancing quickly on clarity and smoothness.
Another new beginning
The XJ Portfolio does lack a few things. I would expect adaptive cruise control on a car of this class, for example. The XJ sold in New Zealand also still soldiers on with a six-speed automatic transmission, which is not acceptable when its rivals have seven and eight-speed gearboxes.
The latest XJ is in fact available with an eight-speeder in Europe but it has not so far been made available to Jaguar New Zealand.
That’s irksome for the importer when it is already under pressure from parallel importers dealing in its product, but the situation will apparently be rectified for model year-2013.
An unfortunate situation for an otherwise sublime car, but 2013 will be here before you know it.