I'm seated with one of Jaguar's top brass. A mere 14 seconds later he wants to throw me out a window. I notice a pair of SAS types in the shadows politely looking this way. I'm certain these men are going to beat the stuffing out of me, politely of course. The English and their lovely manners.
It's a gift really, the ability to make an immediate impression, good or otherwise. I simply asked what kind of cars brought us to dinner. I had no idea as I was literally pushed into a car while messaging the office. It was dark and those two glasses of wine had just kicked in. It could have been an abduction for all I knew.
I do recall the perfect contours of the rear seats, the gorgeous leather stitching and the rear fold-down trays, surroundings typical of a private jet. I was aware of the subtle accent lighting in the footwells and around the doors, an ethereal blue glow that made sitting back there quite wonderful. Leaving the hotel was punctuated with a distinct V8 soundtrack. Maybe this was a new breed of executive transport, a sexed-up and stretched sports car.
My last interaction with a Jaguar XJ was 24 years ago on the day of my wedding. My soon-to-be father-in-law had a pair of them. The XJ was the car to be seen in. We looked so damn cool.
A lot has changed in the last two decades. Dad's Jags are long gone, replaced by antiseptic Mercedes products. But the image of the XJ as an icon of coolness has remained.
"In a way we're terrified of our past," says Ian Callum, Jag's lead designer. "We have the E-Type's legacy hanging over us. For some, that was the defining moment for Jaguar. Could we ever do anything that cool again?"
And for a time, it seemed Jag did everything it could to distance itself from the vaunted E-Type. Its cars became insanely luxurious, more lifestyle statements than serious driving machines.
"We want to get back to building sporty luxury cars," says managing director Mike Driscoll.
Unlike Mercedes, BMW, or Audi, the XJ comes off as a handcrafted piece, something special you'll want to hand down to your kids. Or maybe not. Despite a high level of poshness, the XJ behaves like a proper sport sedan, a fact revealed on the perversely twisted tarmac in the Malibu hills. These roads were birthed for lightweights like Volkswagen's Mk I GTI or older 911s. I thought driving the two-ton XJ in these hills seemed like using a jackhammer to fix a wristwatch.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
My driving buddy (a former limo driver) had ferried more than a few high rollers though these hills. Charging the first series of 40-degree corners, I was certain he was suicidal. After 30 minutes of near death, I suggested he might want to be alone. He promptly threw me the key.
"You try to unstick it then," was all he said.
I would never pick an XJ as a canyon carver. There are much sharper tools available. However, the XJ doesn't believe in the laws of physics. No matter how insane the maneuver, this big Jag refused to budge. In truth, it was a bit unnerving, as things this big don't typically react well to such treatment. You'd think the XJ had been ripping through mountains since its conception (which I can assure you, it has not). That whole thing about building sporty cars, Jag can check that off the to-do list.
Jaguar engineers have augmented the XJ's underpinnings (unequal A-arms in front, multi-link rear) with forged aluminum bits and manages everything with its marvelous Adaptive Dynamics active damping system. It provides a range of damping between a firmer sport setting and a softer setting for ride comfort. The car changes demeanor instantly, transitioning from hyper-comfy to rumble-ready. Coupled with an enhanced variable ratio power-assisted steering system, the XJ has an athletic on-center feel, perhaps a bit light, but nicely balanced at speed. Rolling on handsome 20-inch alloy wheels with staggered tires (245/40 in front and 275/35 in back), the ride is surprising firm.
There are three flavors of XJ: the 385-hp naturally aspirated version, the 470-hp XJ Supercharged and the 510-hp XJ Supersport. All are based on solid V8 architecture, Jaguar's 5.0-liter AJ-V8 Gen III, and feature direct fuel injection and a six-speed automatic transmission controlled by the JaguarDrive rotary Selector or steering wheel-mounted paddles. All three are available in short- or long-wheelbase form, the latter of which lends five inches of additional legroom.
It's obvious the engineers had a lot of fun tuning the XJ as its performance is matched with an equally impressive sound. You wouldn't expect a car as stately as the XJ to sing like this.
While the 385-hp model has plenty of chutzpah, the force-fed versions are flat-out riotous. It doesn't matter how buttoned-down a man is-roasting the rear tires of an XJ will transform him into a juvenile delinquent. The superchargers are based on twin-rotor Roots-type blowers and virtually silent. But as the revs approach 2200 rpm, the additional thrust shrink-wraps drivers into their seats. It appears the vaunted Mercedes V12 finally has some serious competition. Actually, I'd give the edge to Jaguar. I forgot to mention all the XJ's goodness is wrapped in what Jag calls its "Platinum Coverage." Jaguar takes care of scheduled maintenance for five full years, including brakes, wipers, and other consumables. Show me another luxury carmaker that does that. Oh wait... there are none.
It is difficult to describe the cabin without words like "gorgeous," "sexy," "classic," and "gorgeous." Yes, I used "gorgeous" twice but it's still the best way to describe the XJ's cockpit. Jaguar has managed to blend old-school craftsmanship and elegant design with cutting-edge tech. There's a lot of restraint in the design, a lot of thought. It's destined to be remembered as one of the best luxury cabins in its class, a genuine classic.
The interior bit that doesn't mesh so well is its centrally mounted touchscreen display. The eight-inch display manages many of the XJ's functions including climate control, audio communications, and navigation. Both the animation and interface seems a bit clunky and I found it difficult to access its functions while the car was moving, especially over less-than-perfect surfaces.
A few minutes listening to the 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system, (standard on supercharged models and optional on the naturally aspirated XJ and XJL) made me forget this deficiency. This audio system combines 20 Bowers & Wilkins speakers powered through 15 channels and state-of-the-art sound processing technology. With the optional rear-seat entertainment package specified, passengers have access to dual 8-inch LCD screens in the rear of the front headrests and wireless digital headphones. A specially designed portable touchscreen controller allows passengers to select their preferred source of entertainment, with the two rear screens and all headphones controlled independently. If an XJ is in your future, you want this option. It'll leave people fighting over the rear seats.
No, at first I had no idea the car we drove to dinner was the new XJ. But that's a good thing. This car has reinvented itself into an entirely new animal, one that will place Jaguar firmly in the ranks of the best of the executive sedan crowd. I'd vote it for the CEO.
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
5.0-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, supercharged
Six-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift control
Unequal length wishbones, subframe-mounted coil springs, multi-link rear suspension, air springs
Two-piston aluminum calipers, ventilated 380mm rotors (f) and 376mm rotors (r)
Wheelbase: 124.3 in.
Curb Weight: 4,323 lb
Peak Power: 510 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 461 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
0-62 mph: 4.7 sec.
Top Speed: 150 mph (limited)