one giant leap forward
Published 21/08/2010 | 05:00
Most people are not prepared for this. They hear 'Jaguar XJ' and think of a large, conventional saloon with lots of 'old-money' chrome and characteristics aimed at the greying, wealthy male.
This is so far from even looking like a conventional large luxury saloon inside or outside I think it might be helpful to take a quick look at where it is coming from.
For Jaguar to have made another conventional XJ would have invited even more trouble for a marque that had been beleaguered by difficulties.
So they really decided to 'go for it'.
And by golly they certainly did.
For a start, this is so different from what went before it represents one of the most dramatic departures since Roy Keane left Saipan.
It is now one of the most striking cars on the road, with a front grille that simply comes at you. There are no in-betweens here: you love it or hate it. I've decided, after not liking it initially, that they needed to go the extra mile so now I like it. I could hardly imagine an XJ without that grille announcement now.
Inside is less of an immediate departure because you notice the leather and wood veneer combination that has marked XJ cabins forever.
But then you notice the shape of the cabin, especially the way the dash top swings around in a snub-nose arc like a river barge.
Technically, too, they've packed a lot of stuff in. And it interfaces with the driver and passengers in several ways. From my point of view, the best bits come with the parts of everyday driving -- selecting drive, radio stations, lights, indicators and sat nav. A simple knob lets you select drive/reverse etc and a first-class touch-screen display gives you easy control.
This is also the scene of an extraordinary piece of techno-work. You can have what they call 'dual view'. That is, I could drive with my normal information on the screen while you, if you were my passenger, could watch a DVD. Yes, on the same screen and without any overlap or interference.
Now I am a little proud of myself. So far, I haven't mentioned the core technical stuff with which I am normally besotted: the engine, suspension etc. But when I pushed that start button and the three-litre diesel engine kicked to life, old priorities sprang to life.
Like the car itself, this is a giant leap ahead of the old 2.7-litre diesel that powered the former XJ.
It managed to keep extremely quiet but was not behind the door in sweeping up through the revs and speeds.
And so to a few cribs. Sure what would a review, even of a super Jag, be without them?
I had the suspension settings in dynamic mode most of the time but even at that I'd have liked a bit more sport and feedback.
Similarly with the steering. It was just a bit woolly betimes and lacked that engaging characteristic I think would have really energised the driving. That's a pity but by no means a disaster and no doubt many drivers will be delighted with how easy it twirls around even in tight spots.
By the way, I parked it in a couple of really narrow parking slots over the week, thanks especially to an excellent rear-parking assist system. I ask again: how did we manage before they arrived?
On the road, I lapped up the XJ as it lapped up the kilometres. This is really a small country now with excellent main arteries, so the midlands' old 'home' is not much more than an hour from south Dublin.
Sweeping down through bits of Meath, Kildare, Westmeath and Offaly, I remembered old XJs with gas-guzzling petrol engines, their low-slung presence a testament to a lasting loyalty among the better-off or the wannabe enthusiasts.
And here I was driving in something so utterly removed from that era and mindset.
The new XJ is bold in what it has done. It will not appeal to everyone but it can no longer be viewed as a gentrified luxury saloon.
Even allowing for my criticisms on suspension and steering, it has enough cutting-edge technology to keep the pace with its dramatic looks and cabin.
Maybe it lags the BMW 740 in the sporty-drive department and maybe the new Audi A8 brings its technology more vibrantly to life. But none, and that includes the Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS, can come near the looks or cabin of this. And its entry price is certainly a plus.
Of course, I am talking about big-money cars here and buyers are far and few between.
But in the overall context of a luxury saloon, the new XJ certainly leaps out at you. There is no way you can ignore it. That's called the wow factor.