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The Jaguar XJ is a thoroughly modern luxury saloon, and a brilliantly capable one

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There has been a Jaguar XJ since 1968, or at least a Jaguar featuring XJ in the name. The XJ has represented the pinnacle of Jaguar’s saloon car line-up and, with a few notable exceptions, one XJ has, broadly speaking, looked quite a lot like the next.

That was until 2010, when the Ian Callum-designed model was launched. It was only the fourth time an all-new XJ had been created, and it was by some distance the most radical. Yet for all those who criticised the ultra-modern looks, the XJ, alongside the XF, marked the rebirth of the brand.

That the XJ is confident and forward-looking in appearance is in absolutely no doubt

Indeed, Callum would challenge those detractors to describe what a typical Jaguar looks like. And for the record, true Jaguar-ness wasn’t reflected in the faux-retro styling of the previous XJ, a model produced in an era where Jaguar had lost confidence.

When we road tested the previous generation XJ, we concluded that it was “a great shame this cutting-edge car is wrapped up in a body and interior that hark back to a different age”. Despite its landmark diesel engine, advanced aluminium structure and air suspension that allowed it to “beat its rivals for refinement and luxuriousness”, there was no doubt that the XJ TDVi should have been “more confident and more forward-looking”.

Fast forward to today and the latest XJ couldn’t be more different. That it’s ‘more confident and forward-looking’ in appearance is in absolutely no doubt. It’s part of an outwardly and inwardly revived Jaguar marque that seems more comfortable within itself, having found its place as a maker of, as Jaguar says, “fast, beautiful cars”. But to keep up with the fast-moving large saloon segment, Jaguar has updated the XJ twice with minor facelifts in 2014 and 2015 to keep pace with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the new BMW 7 Series and the growing threat from the Tesla Model S.

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The mainstay of the range is the V6-powered 3.0-litre diesel, which takes the vast majority of sales. The petrol range starts with a supercharged 3.0-litre V6, which replaced the old 5.0-litre V8, and ends with Jaguar the hot XJR, which is powered by a supercharged 5.0-litre V8. Unsurprisingly, both are fringe sellers in the UK.

The sleek lines of the big Jag suggest a sportiness that its excellent chassis and steering set-up reinforce. For driving enthusiasts, there are few better luxury saloon cars, even if the price to pay for all that body control is a ride that’s ever so slightly over-firm.

There are numerous trim levels to choose from, in both short and long-wheelbase models with Luxury, Premium Luxury and Portfolio to choose from, while R-Sport and the R trims are only available in the SWB and Autobiography in the LWB.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Jaguar XJ rear

Even though it’s still a saloon, the latest Jaguar XJ looks like no other XJ before it. Gone is the low-slung three-box look, replaced by design director Ian Callum’s vision for a 21st-century luxury car.

Where the latest XJ does follow its predecessor is in the use of aluminium for its body panels and chassis. It’s an expensive process but one that, in the luxury class, only Audi’s Audi A8 shares. Unsullied by the A8’s four-wheel drive system, however, the rear-wheel-drive XJ is one of the lightest cars in this class – barely 40kg heavier than the smaller (though steel-built) XF saloon even in long-wheelbase form.

Despite the modern looks, there are subtle hints of the original XJ

Even though it’s still a saloon, this Jaguar XJ looks like no other XJ before it. Certainly the XJ is forward-looking and, as with most advanced designs, it doesn’t entirely avoid courting controversy. We know it’s subjective but, for the record, we like the XJ’s overall design stance, even if we’re not entirely convinced about its rear. Arguably the XJ’s most controversial feature – the black-clad C-pillars – are designed to blend seamlessly with the rear screen to give the impression that it wraps around, although it’s an idea that works best on dark-coloured cars. 

To accentuate the XJ’s length and give it a ‘waisted’ look, the swage line that starts from the top of the front wheel arch fades away through the middle of the car, before reappearing over the rear arch.

Finally the headlight design first seen on Jaguar’s C-XF concept makes it to series production. Automatic LED headlights and revised daylight running lights are standard on all models. The rear lights are all LED. Jaguar says the three distinct red strips are reminiscent of a cat’s claw marks. 

Regardless of our reservations, it is perhaps telling that Jaguar has chosen not to alter the XJ's styling during mid-life revisions. The bold move taken by Jaguar initially has clearly proved popular with buyers.

The XJ L gets a wheelbase extended by 125mm over the standard-length car. Jaguar says the long-wheelbase model was actually developed to have dynamics to match those of the regular car. Back-to-back testing suggests that to be the case; a minimal weight penalty of between 25 and 50kg certainly helps.

INTERIOR

Jaguar XJ interior

If there was a criticism of the previous Jaguar XJ, its yesteryear-aping appearance aside, it’s that its cabin was short on space. Not any more. At least, certainly not in long-wheelbase form, which has ample rear legroom and respectable headroom, and whose front cabin also has sufficient room for the tallest of drivers.

Nevertheless, despite the adequate interior volume, Jaguar has retained the XJ’s cockpit-like feel with a high transmission tunnel which, like those of the XF and current XK, features a rotating gearknob as part of the ‘welcome’ when one starts the car.

The XJ's cabin is stunning, but some detailing lacks solidity

The XJ’s driving position is fine and features a particularly well shaped and sized steering wheel, with gearshift paddles to its rear. Ergonomically, this is a fine cabin.

It’s also one that looks the part both at a distance and in detail. Leather and well finished wood adorn most surfaces, and there is a new-to-Jaguar digital dashboard display, in place of conventional analogue dials. Its resolution is fabulously high and there are some neat graphics: speeds closest to the car’s current velocity are highlighted, manual gearchange selection is shown beautifully and the left dial is replaced by a small sat-nav map prompt at times.

However, it serves to make the central touchscreen display poorer than its mediocre resolution and design would otherwise appear, while in a few other places the cabin doesn’t quite come up to scratch; the materials of the air vents and centre console facia, for example, can’t match their appearance. In 2015, the infotainment was upgraded to the far superior InControl Pro unit and features a 360-degree camera.

Unfortunately, despite revisions throughout the car’s lifecycle to date, our grievances with some of the interior trim still stand: they lack the tactility of some German rivals. 

The XJ’s extended brightwork package also creates some harsh reflections, especially when the shades for the panoramic roof are folded away.

A taller profile at the rear of the XJ has given it one major advantage over its predecessors: boot volume has increased to 520 litres, a volume that’s now class average and betters that of a BMW 7 Series.

The entry-level Luxury models come with features including 14-way adjustable electric front seats, four-zone climate control, all-round heated seats and a panoramic sunroof. Upgrading through the specs see other luxuries such as cooled seats, massaging front seats, Meridian sound system, digital television and driving assistance systems added. Jaguar The range-topping XJR models gets an aggressive bodykit, quad-exhaust system and active differential control. Jaguar The Autobiography trim, available only on LWB XJ comes with rear business tables and entertainment system, including 10.2in displays, 360-degree camera and reversing control and 1300W Meridian sound system. 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Jaguar XJ side profile

It took a long time for Jaguar finally to wake up to what each of its German rivals had known for years: it’s all well and good having a high-output, big-capacity petrol flagship in your executive saloon range, but it’s diesels that sell. And when we tested the first diesel Jaguar XJ back in 2005, we wondered why Jaguar hadn’t done it sooner: the torquey 2.7-litre V6 delivered both the smoothness and response required of a big Jag.

The latest XJ gets a revised version of that original 2.7, now enlarged to displace 3.0 litres. While the same engine is available in the Jaguar XF in two states of tune, the XJ gets only the high-output version with 271bhp and 442lb ft. Which, unless you’re doing really high-speed autobahn work, will be plenty. 

The outstanding diesel engine offers huge punch and refinement. It's our pick of the range

And even there the XJ needs just 12.4sec to accelerate from 110-130mph. If anything, our recorded 0-60mph time of 6.3sec somewhat undersells quite how effortlessly the XJ diesel adds speed in real-world use.

The naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 has been replaced by a more efficient supercharged V6, which is also the core engine in the Jaguar F-Type range. The Jaguar XJ V6 SC offers 30mpg and 224g/km. As well as this, with 335bhp and 332lb ft, the XJ can still run to 60mph in less than 6.0sec and go on to 155mph. Despite being a great engine, offering both flexibility and character, the diesel remains our pick.

Topping the engine range in the standard XJ (there’s a Jaguar separate review on the hotter XJR) is a 503bhp supercharged V8 which develops 460lb ft between 2500 and 5500rpm. It’ll hurl the long-wheelbase XJ to 62mph in 4.7sec – quicker, indeed, than an entry-level Porsche 911. We've not timed it using our GPS equipment, but it feels every bit that fast. Top speed is still limited at the usual 155mph unless you opt for the go-faster Speed pack, which raises it to 174mph.

A ZF eight-speed torque converter is the only transmission option and it performs a well judged balancing act between selecting the right gear and keeping the engine's revs low for consumption and refinement. In Sport mode the gearbox hold gears for longer and the shifts are quicker (and a little less smooth). Flicking the steering wheel-mounted paddles activates the gearbox’s manual mode which, if the car is set to Dynamic, will hold ratios to the limiter. It will still kick down, though.

The XJ's well modulated brakes are as impressive on the motorway as they are in stop-start traffic, and also deliver impressively short stopping distances.

RIDE & HANDLING

Jaguar XJ cornering

Is the ride of the Jaguar XJ good enough? That’s the question we kept coming back to in our time with the car. Initial impressions were that it felt a little too jittery. The complaint was not with big bump absorption, but that small ridges occasionally cause a cross-cabin vibration. However, with time this initial complaint seemed to fade. 

That is not to forgive the XJ a fault, because the fact is that over some surfaces it simply isn’t as isolated as a Mercedes Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Moreover, despite a slight reappraisal of the chassis’ spring and damper rate as part of the model’s first facelift, the secondary ride still isn't what it should be for a large saloon.

The XJ can hold its head up against the Maserati Quattroporte as much as the Audi A8

But – and it’s a big but – in other areas the XJ has the S-Class licked. This is especially so in terms of body control, where the XJ impresses not only with its ability to handle direction changes, but also over choppy roads and with its composure at motorways speeds. At the end of a long journey the XJ delivers its passengers refreshed and relaxed.

But it is what the XJ does for its driver that we are most interested in, because for driving enjoyment the Jag eclipses conventional large saloons from Mercedes, BMW and Audi. It is instead worthy of comparison with the likes of the Maserati Quattroporte and Porsche Panamera, and good enough to come away with its pride intact.

The XJ is a car of nearly two tonnes, but from the driver’s seat it never feels so portly. The steering is light and quick but accurate, and for such a long car the balance is impressively neutral. And even in the long-wheelbase model there’s the very real sense that the car is being pushed through a corner by its rear wheels.

But it’s the fact that the XJ combines the involvement of this ‘old-fashioned’ approach to dynamics with all the control you’d expect of a modern saloon and the serenity of a luxury product that makes it so compelling.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Jaguar XJ

Depreciation is not a traditional Jaguar XJ strong point due to the fact that, previously they have not been spacious enough to earn demand from the private-hire market. Given the increase in boot and rear cabin space, that is no longer an issue; residual values are about the same as its similarly priced rivals.

The XJ also scores highly on its standard equipment count, while recent successes in customer satisfaction surveys bode well for it as an ownership proposition – Jaguar dealers were once credited with keeping the company, such was their ability to over-deliver when the product did anything but. And today’s Jaguar dealers, for all their old-world charm and plush green leather sofas, provide bang up-to-date levels of service.

A big boot means appeal for professional drivers, which helps used values

With most sales in this sector going to diesels, the big Jag’s economy figures of 46.3mpg for the standard car and 44.8mpg for the long wheelbase is on par with an equivalent Audi A8, but slightly below those of the Mercedes S350 CDI. The petrols are thirsty despite the vast improvement in efficiency proffered by the supercharged V6 over the old V8, but even so probably not the domain of anyone worrying about fuel bills.

That would normally mean a slight disadvantage when it comes to company car tax, but the Jag’s lower list price and more comprehensive kit list make up for that. An Audi, BMW or Mercedes specced to the same level as an XJ would be considerably more expensive. That’s not saying the Jag can’t be had with some pretty lavish options.

However, where Audi these days manages to create its very own wireless internet network in the car, Jaguar’s tech list looks a little behind the times. As is the touchscreen multimedia system – it’s a real chore to try and programme on bumpier roads.

 

VERDICT

4.5 star Jaguar XJ

Another Jaguar, another hit. The latest Jaguar XJ now exudes the same confidence through its appearance that it has long possessed within in its mechanical ability. That the design contrives to offer, for the first time, interior space sufficient for the luxury car class, means that reasons not to recommend one are falling away as quickly as retro themes have vanished from the company’s styling.

Jaguar has produced another fine cabin that offers a real sense of class and drama to every journey that its German rivals can’t muster. The Jaguar can’t compete in terms of sheer quality – the Audi A8 has the win there – but the Jaguar has a charm that its rivals can’t match.

The depth of talent the XJ offers is impressive

The latest Jaguar XJ is a thoroughly modern Jaguar and a brilliantly capable one. Unfortunately, when it comes to some of the tech, the Jag still feels a little old school. But for the excellent option of a top-grade stereo, the Jaguar is bettered when it comes to multimedia controls. There are a few foibles in the cabin, too, but these are minor drawbacks.

Defining the XJ, though, is the way it drives. Jaguar has aimed for a point between the outright sportiness of a Maserati Quattroporte and the aloofness of a Mercedes Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The result is a car with a hugely successful concoction of abilities: refinement with a rare poise, decent performance without too many compromises.

It’s a car that is almost in a class of its own, but one that feels every inch the modern Jaguar.

 

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Jaguar XJ 2010-2019 First drives