Top Gears Paul Horrell Reviews The All New XJ
We already said this is the interior of the year. What joy to sit here, gazing at the magically animated virtual instruments, or at the vents and clock sitting on the dash like a little bowl of fruit, the soft hides with their neatly plash stitching, the structural-looking wood, the dreamy blue illumination. The sense of occasion and even of humour. Which is all very well, but cars are for driving. How about if it was as good moving as it is standing still?
Snap judgment says that idea is pure fantasy. I just got picked up in one. Here in central Paris the traffics bad and there are three of us so 1 flop into in the back. Within 50 yards I get irked. This is another of those big saloons where they've firmed up the ride because its supposed to be sporty. Idiotic, I'm thinking. If you want a sporting car, dont buy a big saloon.
Still, while I'm back here, might as well make myself at home. Theres loads of room to stretch (its a LWB) and I've just jumped in from a journey on particularly chilly public transport. I set the bum-warmer to stun, wind up the temperature of the rear vents and jet them in my direction. The B&W stereo is beyond extraordinary. The rear seats caress my weary form, even though they arent actually very softly padded as they're hollowed out to give plenty of headroom in this swoopy car. And boy, its swoopy. Parisians are staring gobsmaked at it, and peering in at me having made the understandable but incorrect deduction that I must really be someone.
As speed builds, I decide the ride isnt such an issue. It never goes smooth, no, but neither does it get worse. More important, theres no shake or shudder, barely any impact noise, no sharpness as it hits bumps or aftershocks when they're passed.
And lets cut to the chase here. The reward for this controlled tautness is that this Jag, big though it is, behaves remarkably like a not-big car. Out of the city I've taken to the wheel. And its now spearing down a decidedly difficult stretch of road. The camber is uneven and the surface has been patched-up more often than a footballers marriage.
The Jag doesnt care. It stays level, and theres no fight from the steering. As the road starts to curve and then twist and then corkscrew and then hairpin, the car just stays with it. When big cars try to be sporty, usually this is where it all goes to pieces. Some of them might have all sorts of fancy active suspensions that do keep them on the road ail right, but things just go into lockdown: harsh damping and shuddering bodywork and a burgeoning sense of the absurdity of it all. The XJ on the other hand stays fluent and agile. It feels all perfectly natural, like its not pulling any special tricks -though it definitely must be.
Of course, if a car doesnt weigh like a lardy limo, its less likely to drive like one. And, sure enough, the XJ is about 150kg lighter than the mainstream German opposition. Not to mention lighter than the smaller XF. Couple this pie-avoiding bodyweight with a rather magnificent set of engines and the good news keeps on coming.
This is the naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8, the one that came to the XJ and XF last year, with 385bhp and cam-profile switching and direct injection and all sorts of techno goodness. Its an imperial thing. The torque is marvellous, delivered good and early to the tune of a lovely pillowy V8 exhaust. Squeeze higher up the revs and it doesnt flinch.
It does 0-62 in 5.7 seconds, and overtaking is mighty. Still not enough? Well theres a 510bhp supercharged one over and above that – the most excellent engine out of the XFR and XJR
Then the 275bhpV6D. Its staggeringly quiet for a diesel. As smooth as that wonderful V8 petrol? Course not, dont be daft. But given the fact it has torque to spare, hits 62 in 6.4 sees, 155mph and makes 40mpg in the official tests, you can see why this'll be the one everyone buys.
We end this trip with a motorway haul and a return to the city centre, because with a car in this class these are lines one and two of the job description – nooning about in the countryside will, sadly, never be more than a delightful side project. At big, straight-line speed the XJ is at least as quiet as it needs to be, and has a lovely effortless subtlety to its steering that makes it easy to guide it almost subconsciously within its lane. In town you sure notice its bigness, but the swish progression of the throttle and brakes both help lubricate your way through the traffic.
So its easy to drive, slowly or ruddy quickly. But it doesnt drive itself. This might be an advanced car – especially its engines, body construction and those cabin screens – but it faces opposition that fields lots of stuff it does without: active four-wheel steering and sec-in-the-dark and steer-between-dotted-lines and brake-when-you-dont-have-the-gumption-to. The Jags technology is there to serve you, not to replace you. Good grief it serves you well.
My snap judgment was wrong. The XJ is as brilliant going as it is stopped.
Jaguar XJ – from the rear seat
- We have XJ passenger ride
- Driven by chief development driver
- Has Jag struck gold?
They're currently crossing the Ts and dotting the Is on the new Jaguar XJ, ready for the start of production in November.
The car is 99.9% finished, but there are still bits and pieces that need improving, and theres fine-tuning to be done on the shock absorbing and steering.
Cars might be designed and engineered ‘virtually’ on computer these days – every facet of their crashworthiness and dynamic behaviour is accessible at the click of a mouse – but the human touch still counts when it comes to finalising some things.
Mike Cross, Jaguars chief development driver, leads the team thats responsible for how Jags drive – and they've been doing a pretty sound job this past five years or so.
Now they're trying to keep the winning run going with the new XJ – and we've been out in it with Cross to observe, from the seat that would normally be occupied by a cabinet minister or captain of industry, how its shaping up.
One of the first requirements with any new car is to define its character. “The XK has to be our most extrovert car, the XJ the most refined and the XF somewhere in the middle,” says Cross.
The roads that cars are developed on influence their character. We're very fortunate in the UK in having such a wide variety.
We do our initial tuning in Warwickshire and then use the German autobahns for high-speed work and Wales for agility and precision.
Jaguars aim with the XJ was to create something that blends the efficiency of the German opposition with the individuality of the Maserati Quattroporte.
“We're looking for duality,” says Cross. “We want comfort and control; a car that is smooth and responsive all the time, but that allows the driver different ways to access that.”
Like its predecessor, the new XJ is made entirely of aluminium and other alloys to save weight, and is available in standard- and long-wheelbase (+125mm) formats.
However, the new car has air springs only at the rear rather than at all four corners, and it has a new form of continuously variable shock absorbing that gives the driver three set-up options.
“We've deliberately ensured the differences are subtle,” says Cross, “and anyway, when you're tramping on the dampers react really quickly, regardless.”
Tramping on is certainly an apt description of the pace of our ride in Snowdonia, yet from the back of the long-wheelbase 5.0-litre supercharged V8 Cross brought along, it was all so quiet; so unruffled.
Autocar Reviews The All New XJ
Eight o'clock on a Sunday evening. Softly, comfortably and yet with a distinctly Teutonic sense of purpose, a Mercedes S-class wafts its way along Frances A16 autoroute towards Versailles. When it arrives, it will answer a question we've been pondering since Jaguar took the wraps off its daring new XJ saloon last year: is this new British luxury saloon about to outclass its rivals as comprehensively as its forerunner, the XF, did back in 2008?
Sitting next to me in the back of the aforementioned Merc, editor in chief Steve Cropley is absorbed in the business section of a heavyweight Sunday newspaper. With my electrically adjustable seat set just so and its heaters and massagers cranked right up to force 10, I'm reading too. Have been for the last half an hour. That may seem pretty unremarkable, but I cant usually read in cars; motion sickness sees to that. And yet, so cosseting is this S-class that its fooling my senses.
I switch places with the driver, just to find out if the big Benz feels so immaculately mannered up front. As the miles roar by, the S-class feels unflappably stable; it consumes long distances with breathtaking calm. Its steering is weighty, a little inert but perfect for performing unhurried, sweeping lane changes. And its throttle and brake pedal allow you to mete out just enough acceleration or stopping power to deal with light traffic without disturbing the stillness on board. A giddy 17-year-old on a provisional licence could drive this car smoothly. Almost everything about it is configured for the benefit of those who arent sitting behind the wheel.
"Makes you feel important, travelling in this car, doesnt it?" comes the question from the unusually distant back seat. Cropley has finished the Sunday supplements and is in talkative mode.
Hes not wrong.
Face To Face
Monday morning. A spotless, grey, five-metre-long saloon car waits for us on the gravel driveway of our hotel. If you didnt know this was the new XJ, you certainly wouldnt guess, so different is it from those that have gone before.
Having seen it several times, I've got over the shock value bound up within this cars avant-garde shape. It takes a few meetings, but before too long the new XJ successfully explodes your expectations of what a big Jag saloon should look like. And once it has, all you see is a fresh and attractive take on a luxury four-door thats as graceful as it is athletic-looking. Some may not like the narrow headlights or the controversial hidden C-pillars, but few would dispute that the cars styling creates an impression thats both handsome and harmonious.
As flawless as it seemed last night, our S-class suddenly looks more than a little bit gauche parked next to the Jag. Mercedes has seen fit to equip it with white paintwork, AMG wheels and an AMG sports body-kit, which combine to make it look out of place without ribbons and a ‘just married’ sign dangling from the bootlid. Aesthetically, then, the XJs got this contest sewn up tight. But we knew that much already.
Climbing inside the new XJ is, just like beholding it for the first time, an expectation-challenging exercise. If you're used to XJs of old, you'll be used to a not-so-generous provision of passenger space, acres of walnut burr and dated componentry. In the new one you'll find one of the most special cabins of any British saloon of the past 20 years – Bentleys and Rolls-Royces included.
Its design is as clever as it is contemporary, dominated by a swathe of veneer that runs around the entire cabin and across the dashboard, making occupants feel cocooned and interconnected. Soft leathers and solid textured plastics dominate your tactile sensations, while chrome highlights and glossy trims add the finishing touches. This is a cabin you just dont want to get out of. So, for now, we'll stay inside it.
View From The Back
Before too long we're heading north, on our way to find some mixed test routes for our rival limousines, and I take the opportunity to ride in the back of the XJ. Having spent so much of last night in the same position in the S-class, it seems like the right place to gather some early impressions of our British challenger.
Truth be told, I've been dreading sitting here. Ever since Jaguar revised the XK in 2009 I've worried that its in the process of designing out its unique selling point – refinement – in the pursuit of its sporting ambitions. After a drive in the 5.0-litre XKR last year, I remember bemoaning the fact that it didnt have the same superbly judged handling and ride compromise as the 4.2. Tuning the rolling refinement out of the XJ would be an even bigger crime.
Riding in the back of the Jag, you feel very slightly more confined than you do in the back of the S-class. Thats because your hip point is lower, the cars windowline rises faster front to rear (trimming your view of the outside world) and the curving roofline brings the headlining slightly closer to your bonce.
All of that accepted, though, there is still generous space in which to stretch out, especially thanks to our test cars long wheelbase. The rear bench is fixed, so your seating position isnt as adjustable as it is in the Merc, and although you have seat heaters and coolers, there are no massagers.
But, thank heavens, this big Jaguar rides. Not with the unperturbable glide of XJs of old, admittedly – and thats something traditional XJ buyers will undoubtedly miss – but with excellent ‘rumble and thump’ noise isolation and pleasingly controlled high-speed compliance.
At low speeds you're not as well insulated from cobblestones and sharp ridges as you are in the S-class, its true, but you never feel so closely connected to the road surface that your comfort is in question. Excellent isolation from the movements of its engine, and from the wind, make even the diesel version of the new XJ a very agreeable car in which to travel. And thats before you've even turned on that 1200-watt, 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio masterpieceâ€¦
Behind The Wheel
I've waited long enough; time to play chauffeur. After we peel off the autoroute at Mantes-la-Ville, I claim a stint at the XJs wheel and we head off in search of more challenging roads.
You settle into a familiar low and long-legged driving position in the XJ, which instantly promises more entertainment than that of the S-class. Foot on the brake pedal, thumb the ‘engine start’ button, whirl that rotary gear selector clockwise into ‘D’, and the stage is set.
Instantly this XJ feels unexpectedly responsive and agile, right from your first squeeze of accelerator pedal and quarter turn of steering. While Mercedes has engineered in a softness to the S-classs major controls, the XJs are sports car sharp. Around town it moves away from a standstill the split second you tell it to, steers lightly but with consistency and precision and, despite the long wheelbase, changes direction really willingly. Despite all that responsiveness, though, this isnt a car thats difficult to drive smoothly; quite the opposite. With the Drive Control left in Normal mode, the XJ responds in immediate and direct proportion to your inputs. Keep those inputs gentle and modest and you'll make life as pleasurable for your passengers as you like.
And yet ‘comfy and laid back’ isnt the XJs only mode. Heading beyond the boundary of the town, onto narrower, more serpentine back roads, theres a chance to probe deeper into its dynamic locker, so I venture one more clockwise click into ‘s’ mode in the gearbox, select Dynamic mode via the Drive Control and take manual responsibility for gearshifts by clicking the left-hand paddle.
The XJs ride is a little more firm now, its steering heavier and even more feelsome as we extend the cars 3.0-litre V6 diesel powerplant. Theres urgent pace on offer from that engine – enough to keep up with a BMW 740d, probably – and enough flexibility to make trips beyond 3500rpm both worthwhile and rewarding.
The corners and crests are coming thick and fast, but by the time a handful are dealt with, its obvious just how much dynamic composure this car has been holding in reserve. At first you cant quite believe how tenaciously this big saloon holds the road, how brilliantly it controls its body movements, how keenly it dives towards an apex, and how sweetly it maintains its cornering balance through to the exit.
But before too long the truth hits home and your confidence in the car swells. And thats when you realise you're driving a 5.2-metre limousine almost as quickly as a 500bhp sports saloon. And having an unbelievable amount of fun doing so.
Getting back into the S-class and driving down the same piece of road feels like stepping back in time, but its a necessary exercise. Where the XJ felt poised, eager to please the driver and always willing to go faster, the S-class is unwieldy and unwilling. It, too, has wheel-mounted gearshift paddles and a Sport mode for its air suspension, but neither has the transformative effect on the car that we saw in the Jag.
Through the same corners where the XJ felt neat and nimble, the S-classs steering begins to run out of consistency and its body starts to shudder and quake with mid-corner bumps. Threading it along at pace is a much more approximate and unsatisfactory task, so much so that you're unlikely to even try to take any sporting pleasure out of the car.
Which is why, before too long, we turn around and head back to our hotel for further deliberation. On the return leg the big Merc reminds us where it does exceed your expectations: with all of its toys and its impeccable material construction, its unerring motorway manners and that more pillowy low-speed ride. But after the Jags sporting heroics, you wonder whether that can possibly be enough.
Weighing Up The Options
Monday evening and time for a decision. A couple of hours have been spent poring over price lists and specification sheets, in the main trying to find some more redeeming features of a Mercedes that once ruled its class by a distance. They've been wasted.
Looking at their list prices, our S350L CDI would seem to be the cheaper option in this test, but equip it with a power upgrade, reversing camera, memory front seats, keyless go, an upgraded music system and all of the other kit that Jaguar throws in with the £67,185 XJ 3.0D Portfolio LWB, and the Merc comes out at £69,084. No joy there either.
For that price, our S-class needs to shine at least as brightly the new XJ. And while it performs well enough to be perfectly fit for the purposes that limo-like saloons are normally put to, thats all it does.
The Mercedes S-class is a very refined, luxurious and entirely effective example of a conventional large executive option.
But the new XJ is a paradigm-shifter. With its incredible duality – its ability to be plush and soothing one moment, and composed, precise and entertaining the next – it leads you to expect so much more for your princely sixty-seven grand.
A back-to-back test against Audis new A8 will be required before we can proclaim that Britain has an out-and-out class leader on its hands here, but this game-changing Jaguar certainly has the makings of one. Its even got the potential, dare we suggest, to take the sheen off the purchase of a £140,000 Aston Martin Rapide.