For a long time, worrying about Jaguar was the only sensible thing to do. While it was never exactly clear if the marque had (ever) achieved profitability, we enthusiasts were only too happy to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, the English automaker serially gifted us with watershed designs. Sublime mechanical creatures like the E- and D-Type sports cars, as well as the curvacious Mark II and original XJ. How could we not be totally and utterly smitten? Yet somehow, the once proud automaker eventually found itself adrift in mediocrity, turning out maligned and slow-selling products with an unpleasant odor of unreliability as the money began to run dry. When the then Ford-owned brand launched headlong into its "democratization of luxury" strategy that resulted in the lamentable 2001 X-Type and serious talk of an SUV, well, we couldn't help but grow gravely concerned.
After all, how could a company like Jaguar – a firm that prided itself not only on voluptuous design and sporty handling but also sybaritic appointments and a refined, aristocratic manor speak with a straight face about "the democratization of luxury?" The very concept was oxymoronic to the point of absurdity: when a given commodity is within easy reach of the masses, it ceases to be a luxury good. Simple as that. Predictably, it didn't take long for consumers to cotton on to this revelation, and the savior X-Type was broadly lambasted and narrowly purchased.
Thankfully, the lanky Leaping Cat is at last in proud form once again, and under the new leadership of India's Tata Motors, they are building on the success of the massively impressive Jaguar XF of 2008. By our reckoning, that car was the first clear indication from chief designer Ian Callum and Company that not only did Jaguar understand that it had a past – it might have the blueprint for a bright future as well. As it reasserts its claim to the flagship slot in Coventry's lineup, the new XJ finds itself with big shoes to fill. Is it up to the task? Follow the jump to learn more.
The 2006 XK may have been the start of Jaguar's recovery, but we didn't really allow ourselves to find faith again until the XF, as it was a markedly more up-to-date, nearly clean-sheet take what a modern Jag could be – what a modern Jag needed to be in order for the brand to stay relevant. Admittedly, the XF's styling wasn't to everybody's tastes and certain interior details rubbed some the wrong way, but it was a very, very good car right out of the box, with unmistakable yet forward-thinking design, a surprise-and-delight interior, and highly entertaining road manners. Subsequent updates in commendably quick succession gave the XF more modern gasoline and diesel engines, as well as the stupifyingly quick XF-R.
Which brings us neatly to the all-new 2010 XJ seen here. After the XF rolled into showrooms, the outgoing XJ couldn't help but look dated. Nevermind that it was actually quite a good drive – or that its aluminum chassis was state-of-the-art – it didn't matter, because not only did it look the same as the model before it – and the model before that -– it now shared floor space with the XF's Cool Britannia, rendering it as current and desirable as Grandpa's Rockports.
There were early rumors that the next XJ would merely look like a plus-sized XF, and an endless supply of spy shots seemed to confirm the notion, what with camouflaged prototypes all pointing to a four-door coupe greenhouse and rounded rectangular grille. So you can imagine our surprise, then, when we finally clapped our eyes on the production coupe last month at a hush-hush background event near London's Heathrow Airport.
Yes, the two cars are clearly related, but the XJ's wider front graphic, upright grille ("A very deliberate statement," Callum tells us) and crisper, more conventional headlamps closely mimic the front end of 2007 C-XF concept. (The showcar that presaged the XF yet was actually designed after the production car was already signed-off upon). Naturally, customers will be able to specify a chrome "leaper" hood ornament – something that Callum confesses he would never do with an XF, but it's an option he says he would consider on this car.
In profile, the XJ's size becomes apparent but not overwhelming, with a surprisingly thin A-pillar leading the greenhouse with a tapered chrome surround that gets thicker at the rear by the D-pillar, the latter inarguably the design's most controversial detail (it remains finished in piano black to emphasize the greenhouse form regardless of body color). Below the glass area is a tornado line that runs uninterrupted from the headlamps (which have a BMW 3 Series-esque wishbone) to the taillamps, and the XJ eschews the larger vertical fender vent of the XF in favor of a slim horizontal fillet just behind the front wheel well. The rear windowline (again, emphasized by the blacked-out D-post) is incredibly rakish and nicely integrates what might otherwise be an unflatteringly deep overhang. Lest we forget – that panoramic moonroof comes as standard-fit on every model.
The XJ's rear graphic is completely unlike any Jaguar we can recall, with a simple, sheer dropoff in the trunklid (under which you'll find a vast 18.4 cubic-foot trunk), a pair of tapering vertical LED taillamps, a sizable metal leaper and nicely integrated exhaust outlets. In person, if anything, the rear end feels a bit Gallic or Italian, reminding alternatively of the Citroen C6 or perhaps the Lancia Thesis. Of minor note for American customers, the car's license cutout was clearly designed with Europe's longer, thinner number plates in mind, and we suspect that their U.S. counterparts will protrude unflatteringly below the bottom edge of the bumper (we suspect our plates are going to look a bit awkward up front, too). Perhaps more than any other view, the XJ's rear aspect is the one that translates least well to photographs, but it fits well in person, even if it will take a bit of time to get used to. Either way, with a .29 cD, officials reckon it's the most aerodynamic Jaguar ever built.
At the background event, we were given the chance to see the XJ in several different shades of paint, and the design has real presence. It looks particularly sensational in black, where it could pass for Bruce Wayne's limo in some Anglicized futurethink Gotham City. Lighter colors bring out the surface detailing more, but in that ebony shade, the darkened rear pillar ceases to become a controversial detail, the panoramic roof blends in, and the whole car looks at once fantastically menacing and impossibly upscale. Democratize this.
Light On Its Feet
Like its predecessor, the XJ's chassis features aluminum construction (augmented with bits of magnesium and composite alloys), which enables this big boy to be tremendously light. Jaguar's managing director Mike O'Driscoll confided to us that the XJ's body-in-white is actually lighter than that of a Mini Cooper. All-in, the company figures this new model will weigh slightly less than the significantly smaller XF – making it at least 300 pounds lighter than its chief competitors (primarily the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8), though the difference can be as much as to 570 pounds. Fully 50% of the aluminum in the XJ is composed of post-recycled stock, and 85% of the total car is recyclable.
Ye Old English Library Gets One Hell of a Renovation... Again.
Inside, the XJ is a festival of technology backlit in a cool phosphor blue. While most of us would have been perfectly happy if Jaguar had set the company Xerox machine on "120% enlarge" and run the XF cabin's schematics through it, Jag has gone a markedly different route – and surprisingly, it's even sportier in execution. Yes, there are similarities, including Jagsense reading lamp and glovebox switches as well as JaguarDrive, the company's by-wire rotary gear selector. But the dashboard panel itself is completely different, set low underneath the windscreen and offset dramatically by wood inlays that hoops the interior's perimeter in a gorgeous uninterrupted band.
The strategy was to deploy wood not as an added-on affectation, but as a more structural element – "Like a Riva boat," Callum confesses. Jaguar has also dramatically increased the number of leather, wood and trim options (including eight veneers, carbon fiber or piano black) affording a degree of personalization more in line with the small volume efforts from England's other hallowed automotive precincts. There's even a Supersport model with semi-anilene leather seats and a matching leather headliner.
Look closely in the photos, and directly above the top-dead-center mounted analog clock (adjacent to the center channel speaker), you'll see a small insert proudly labeled "Jaguar". Customers will be able to specify their own text for this area if they so choose... a personal monogram, perhaps, or a pet name for their new cat?
The rest of the XJ's interior is marked out by a round theme, with circular elements notable everywhere from the steering wheel boss to the speaker grilles, various control knobs, and so on. We expected the XJ to adopt the XF's showy motorized rollover air vents, but instead, Jag has gone with classy spherical metal and piano black pieces that echo the "organ stop" air registers of their countrymen over at Bentley and Rolls-Royce.
Even the analog gauges are surrounded by chromed rings. Only they aren't really chrome – and come to think of it, they aren't really analog at all. The entire gauge cluster is a massive 12.3-inch TFT screen, and in addition to virtual gauges (speedo, rev counter, fuel, temp), the displays can show all manner of information as well as do some neat tricks like unique startup visuals and the ability to 'spotlight' key information like fading out the tachometer in favor of a low fuel warning, say. In another interesting twist, if the car's Dynamic mode is selected, the 'gauges' glow red and the transmission's gear indicator becomes more prominent.
As with the XF, many functions are controlled by a touchscreen setup, and mercifully Jag says this is a new generation that's significantly faster to change through menus and plot routes in the sat-nav system. Regardless of which audio system you choose or what input you are playing, the eight-inch screen will be your guide unless you use the voice controls, which is actually beautifully simple to operate, employing "speak what you see" prompts that display the available choices on the screen in the instrument binnacle.
We were given the chance to demo the top-rung 1200-watt, 20-speaker, Wrath of God Bowers & Wilkens 7.1 channel surround system in a static car, and it may be the best factory automotive setup we've ever experienced – even better than the B&O system available in the Audi A8 or the Naim setup in the Bentley Continental. Even if you go with the least expensive audio system, you'll still get CD/DVD functionality, USB connectivity, Sirius, HD Radio and hard drive space for in-car media storage.
Plump for the headrest-mounted rear-seat screens, and the XJ's "theater on the move" system can route four different signals at the same time, so the rear seat occupants, driver, and front-seat passenger can all be listening to different things simultaneously. If that sounds confusing, the rear seaters are treated to infrared wireless headphones, and up front, for foreign market XJs, the aforementioned eight-inch touchscreen will actually be a "dual view" monitor, meaning that the driver's angle can see the high-definition navigation screen while the passenger can be watching a movie simultaneously on the same display. We understand that this technology is not yet legal in the U.S. for front seat use (presumably Washingtonians fears we'll all lean way over to watch a movie from the passenger side while driving), but where there's a hacker's will, there's a way...
Heart of the Cat
All of this mamby-pamby talk of high design, timbers and hides, and silicon chippery is all well and good, but what's under the hood? One of three variants on the company's new 5.0-liter direct-injected AJ-III V8, two of them with forced induction. The base engine is a naturally aspirated mill that delivers a 385 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm and 380 pound-feet @ 3,500 rpm – representing a 28% increase in power over the base engine on the 2009 car. The midlevel engine is supercharged to produce 470 horsepower @ 6,000-6,500 rpm and 424 lb-ft (between 2,500-5,000 rpm) – 18% more than the outgoing supercharged model.
The top cat model's motor (seen previously in the XKR and XFR) is the 510 horsepower SuperSport that delivers the full beans at 6,000-6,500 rpm and all 461 lb-ft of torque from 2,500-5,500. Given that this car figures to weigh as much as the XFR, we expect similar performance, especially considering it gets the same electronically governed rear differential, Jag's Adaptive Dynamics system and the three-mode JaguarDrive Control with Normal, Dynamic and Winter detents. The latter governs everything from throttle mapping and shift points to the aforementioned differential, stability control thresholds, suspension firmness (coil springs up front, air out back) and even seatbelt tightness. Official estimates say that the full-house supercharged model will hit 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds, essentially obviating the need for a dedicated XJR model – which the company says it doesn't plan to offer.
Predictably, European markets will receive a version of the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that's already available in the XF, but we probably won't see that option stateside. A more likely future product offering is a parallel-hybrid, but Jag isn't talking timetables.
All XJs are matched to six-speed paddleshift automatic gearboxes, with power arriving exclusively through the rear wheels. Jag tells us that an all-wheel-drive version isn't in the cards, but an armored version very much is.
Incidentally, the XJ will be available from launch in both standard and extended-wheelbase (XJL) forms, with the latter receiving a further five inches of legroom (the stretch is well-disguised in the rear doors – the rear fender and quarterlight remain the same, but the door glass is longer).
On the safety front, expect more airbags than a hot air balloon festival, along with options like pre-charged braking, a blind-spot monitoring system, adaptive cornering headlamps (Xenons are standard), and so on.
Top cat comes good
With all of this extra technology, content and power, you might think that the XJ ought to command a significant premium over the last model – and you'd be right. While Jaguar is not yet releasing pricing (*UPDATE: Pricing has been added here), officials admit that the new XJ will occupy a rather loftier station than the exit model, with MSRPs to match. The car can actually be ordered now, with the first batch of U.S. orders slated to come off the boat early next year.
While we'll have to wait to get behind the wheel to assure that the driving experience and everyday usability of the technology is there, our first impressions left us mightily impressed. Far from representing "the democratization of luxury," not only does this XJ appear to be the measure of its German competitors, it may well play as a strong foil for higher-end offerings like the Maserati Quattroporte and perhaps even more overtly sporting propositions like the Porsche Panamera. And while we haven't entirely stopped worrying about our friends in Coventry, there's more reason than ever to think that the Leaping Cat's claws are sharp once again.