Jaguar’s Big, Bold and Beautiful XJ Saloon is More than the Sum of its Parts

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Jaguar started life as the Swallow Sidecar Company, and was known as SS. SS became rather unpopular during the late 30’s for obvious reasons, so the name Jaguar was adopted and soon became synonymous with British motoring luxury. The XJ is the official car of the British royal family, and the British PM so, it is dead posh.

The iconic XJ nameplate was launched in 1968, but Jaguar has used XJ or X as internal project numbering since the beginning. The current Saloon is the X351. The 1968 XJ was the last to have had Sir William Lyons input, and I’m sure the company founder would be very happy with the 2016 version.

The current model was launched in 2009 and has had several updates since. Jaguar keeps models around for about 7 to 8 years so the current XJ is in her twilight years.

Under laudable head designer Ian Callum, 20 designers brought the XJ to life. The exterior “theme” was penned by Adam Hatton. He drew the design using good old-fashioned pen and ink, starting with the wheels to “set the design”. He wanted a “homage to classic jaguar with 21st century appeal”. For too long Jaguar looked like it belonged to a different era, and attractive as that was, failed to get the new buyers in.

So the new era started with the XF sedan, then the XJ.

The X351 is all aluminium. Stamping aluminium is not like working with nasty old steel. Making sharp corners and crisp lines almost impossible, so you’ll notice a gentle edge treatment giving the XJ a hand crafted look. The bends and bumps that give the panel strength also allow a certain amount of spring. Adam Hatton used this to his advantage to design a slippery but strong coupe shape. It allows the air to slide along the surface of the car, then be flicked off at the “separation point” by an inbuilt lip on the boot lid. There is a corresponding lip under the grille at the front to perfectly balance it. Jaguar says keeps the XJ perfectly balanced at cruising speed because it uses the reverse plane-wing principle to keep it glued to the road. The underside of the car is designed to be as smooth as Michael Bublé.

There was much riding on the lithe design of the X351. After a string of owners and decades of decline, Jaguar was in deep financial strife, so it was sold by Ford for a peppercorn  to Indian car giant Tata. Tata, of course, had the debt to deal with, but was not going to cheap-out on the new flagship.

No expense was spared in ensuring each panel is perfectly stamped then hand inspected. They are hand adjusted by  using gauges lined up by eye. It’s the kind of craftsmanship robots alone can’t match. Luckily, XJ has the kind of body you can’t help but caress..

The designers were able to sit inside a virtual car using the Automotive 3D Cave, which was the most advanced in the world at the time, and probably still is. They can touch the switches and look at the dials, then stand outside the car and spin it through all 3 axis then move through any of the mechanical parts.

Such care is taken during manufacture that hard plastic covers are put on the outside panels to prevent scratches, and the 2.7km wiring loom is kept under heat lamps so it is pliable during installation.

The engine blocks come from the best manufacturers available and are assembled onsite at the Castle Bromwich plant. Once mated to the 8 speed auto, the “marriage” takes place where 36 bolts are used to fasten the body and the drivetrain.

Rather amusingly the XJ is considered a “full sized” saloon.

Just for giggles here is the XJ/XJ-L (long wheelbase) compared to Australia’s hefty Holden, the Caprice. Caprice looks big because it is big, but the standard XJ is a mere 30mm shorter with a wheelbase that’s 23mm longer. That means the room is in the cabin where you want it. The XJ-L wheelbase is almost 150mm longer than Caprice, with the overall length 95mm longer. So, even the “short “XJ is Caprice size.

 

XJ

XJ long wheelbase

Holden Caprice

length

5,130

5,255

5160

Width (excl mirros)

1,899

1,899

1898

wheelbase

3,032

3,157

3009

height

1,460

1,460

1470

wieght

1,765

 

1,891

The XJ is almost 130kgs lighter than a Caprice because it is all-aluminium, despite having electric motors throughout, including the door locks and boot lid. Aluminium is much lighter than steel while being much stronger. The body is made using 3,000 rivets and 150 metres of adhesive in a process called rivet bonding. This is the same process used in the aerospace industry. Aluminium has 1/3 of the density of steel with a weight equal to12,000 worth of recycled drink cans in every XJ. At the end of its life, 85% of the car can be recycled.

The last makeover brought stunning new LED headlamps. There is no high beam as such. The switch merely causes the LEDs to drop their focus so as not to blind the oncoming drivers. The rear lights adopted an L shaped swish instead of the 3 claw-like scratches previously seen at night. The evening display is glorious.

The is smart entry and start, which means the audio system can be started by pushing the “on” switch. You don’t need to press the engine-start button. The cleverness continues with the “virtual dash” which is an IT Geek way of saying “an LCD screen instead of traditional dials”. The centre stack has the slick infotainment system with its touch screen display.

Most of it is intuitive and makes navigating the menus fun. The Satnav, while mostly efficient, still wants you to input the address by suburb, then street, then number. This can be a pain if you haven’t got the suburb quite right. You need to google the address to see what other possibilities there are.

The sound from the high end system in our XJ R-sport is sublime. There are a choice of surround modes, and a subwoofer that will make the air in your lungs vibrate.

The cabin feels uber luxurious. The leather is butter-soft and the overhead lining feels like velvet, but not in that tacky 70’s way. The front seats have electric adjustment. Even the headrests go up and down with the touch a button. Front and back seats are heated and cooled and comes complete with 4 zone climate control. You can set the temperature of your very own set of vents. There are storage bins everywhere and the rear armrest has little cubby holes for things you don’t want burglars to find. Of course there are rear controls for the air conditioning with video controls in some models.

Overhead, the touch control cabin lights will keep the little kid in all of us happy for hours.

The supercharged 3.0L V6 puts out 250kw/450Nm and does the sprint to 100 in 5.9 seconds. The supercharged V8 only manages to do it 1.1 seconds faster.

There are various drive modes, and the rotary gear selector has a “sports” setting, but frankly why bother. In fact, you’re not even going to use the steering wheel paddles because the car does a great job of anticipating the needs of the average driver.

The real magic starts when you engage drive and begin to move. Considering the 20” wheels, the ride is incredibly smooth. In fact, the ride is smooth, period. Jaguar came late to the “electric power steering” party, but come they did, so you now have semi-automated parking too. Since the power is only supplied when the driver turns the wheel, the maker claims a 3% power saving because the belt isn’t continually draining the engine. I dare them to try and prove it.

Despite her ample bosom, the XJ is a doddle around town. She really doesn’t feel anywhere near her size. Between the rear cameras and the sensors, you’re never out of your depth, and if you decide to park yourself, the side mirrors dip to make sure you don’t hit the gutter.

In an otherwise perfect car, the wires that heat the windscreen are a trifle annoying especially once the glass is a bit dirty. Also, the centre arm rest can get in the way of really spirited cornering. We gave the city, the highway, and the mountain passes a thorough workout, and there is no part of the experience that isn’t sheer magic.

You’d expect a big car to be a handful in the city, but it isn’t. You waft to Coles, then you waft to dinner, then you waft to the movies. On the highway, again, you waft, but in a super-sporty kind of way. That’s the true marvel of a Jag XJ, it always feels super light. When I say light, I mean small city-car kind of light. I’ve commented many times on how heavy some rides feel. The steering, the body, the suspension all feel a bit cumbersome and ungainly. It’s the combination of light precise steering, fast engine response, extra-rigid body that allow the suspension to do its job far better than something this size has any right to.

I set her an impossible task. I pushed the old girl through the Royal National Park and Macquarie just like I did the F-Type a few months earlier. The response was stunning. It just wouldn’t let go. It did the job with the aplomb of a cheeky convertible. Country roads can be a challenge but the Jag barely blinked at the pot holes and wild undulations. Out the back of Bowral, home of “The Don”, the roads feel like they were made to shake cocktails. The handling begs you go faster, yet she remains unflappable. I’ve driven many XJ’s and loved them all. Even the awful XJ40 had some redeeming features, but the X351 is perfection, even as her time comes to an end.

Conclusion:

Sometimes, a car is just a tool to extend our capacity, and is merely way to get from one place to another. The Jaguar XJ is more than that. It has a sense of arrival, and with it, a sense of occasion and and success. There were many admiring comments, and anyone who rode in it fell in love with it. On one occasion, the rear seat passenger was very put out that I hadn’t got the model with extra legroom. After I pointed out that the long wheelbase version also has personal video screens, and pull out tray tables, the 10-year-old involved got into a right huff. I’ve never seen such pouting! For the record, the big Jag was 100% Ollie-Approved.

Then we turn to the handling. In moves that would make Jeeves want to decapitate you with a cake slice, the XJ excelled. She was thrown into tighter and tighter corners and changed direction without hesitation or protest. One can only imagine what a beast the supercharged V8 powered XJ-R is. Mind you, how much better than perfect can it be?

Each time I tucked her into her cosy car park, I noticed that she only just fits into the average sized spot. Luckily the touch-opener for the boot is on the driver’s side of the rear, so you can go quite close to a wall and still get to your things from the side. The closing button on the boot lid is also on the driver’s side. Very thoughtful indeed. I got into the habit of pressing the button on the dash board so that when I got around to the back, the boot was open to welcome me.

The fuel consumption is where you’ll expect me to deliver the death blow, but not a bit of it. The figures are not too different from the maker’s claims. We averaged at just over 10.5L/100km for our combined city/highway runs which is amazing considering the sporty sections were, shall we say, lively.

Although she tempts you to sink the boot in, you find yourself wanting to tune the DAB to “Buddha” and chill. The XJ is the one and only car ever that has made me feel cool and calm in Sydney traffic. In fact, bumper to bumper was a pleasure.

We had the mid-range short wheelbase model, so there was no Blind Spot, Cross Rear Traffic alert, radar cruise control with queue assist, and lane departure? Forget it. That’s all an option on this model. For near on $250,000 (on-road) I’d have liked those thrown in. You can get them standard in a 40 grand Kia for goodness sake.

You can opt out of the heated windscreen and if you live in Australia, ice is a rare thing. Why pay for something you don’t need? I’d ditch the steering wheel heater too. The button was right behind the phone buttons on the left hand side of the wheel. My hands often got unexpectedly hot and not in a good way. It reminds me of a Peugeot with a poorly placed massage button. You sat on it every time you got into the passenger’s side front seat. After a while your bum started to feel like a pair of overripe avocados.

There are thoughtful touches of design for the sake of beauty and convenience. All doors have soft close, so gently push the door to the first click, and a little motor closes it and secures the lock. The speedo and tacho only show the area directly around the current speed/revs, and there is a digital speedo if you’d prefer it.

Apart from the missing goodies, there is nothing I would change. The XJ is magnificent and impressive as it is luxurious and comfortable.

Would I buy one? Yes, and I’d sell my mother to do it. But, I’d be happy to sell her regardless!

 

ENGINE

MAX POWER (kW)

MAX TORQUE (NM)

MAX SPEED (KPH)

0-100KPH (SECS)

FUEL ECON (L/100KM)

WEIGHT (KGS)

3.0L V6 Supercharged Petrol

250 @ 6500rpm

450 @ 3500-4000rpm

250 (limited)

5.9

9.1

1,775

PRICE AS TESTED

$ 232 895

PLUS ONROADS

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