Jaguar XJ
Click image to enlarge

by Jim Kenzie

Sanlucar la Mayor, Spain – Given how clever Jaguar’s Public Relations staff is, I’m sure it was no co-incidence that our first experience in their all-new XJ sedan was a chauffeur-driven ride from the Seville airport to the hotel – in the back seat. Because for all of its predecessor’s charms, it was almost ludicrously cramped inside for such a large car.

That the new one is much better was immediately evident, as are the bigger doors which also swing open wider. It’s still no SkyDome on Wheels, but even large (if not NBA-star) adults can get comfortable, front or back, thanks to tens-of-millimetres increases in almost every interior dimension. And this is only the short-wheelbase version – the stretched model arrives
next year.

Both the stylists and the body engineers share credit for the new XJ’s roominess. The ink-throwers sacrificed a bit of the low, sleek, Jaguar profile with a much higher roofline and steeper windshield and rear glass. It’s still unmistakably a Jaguar, as chief designer Ian Callum and his team have had to tread a fine line – maintaining the tradition without getting
trapped in it. For example, the bars in the grille are a deliberate throw-back to the original XJ of 1968, but they seem to work here.

The car is longer (by 34 mm), wider (by 9 mm) and, most critically, taller (by a substantial 134 mm). Once the passengers can sit more upright, everything else benefits, including under-dash space for legs and knees, and cargo space in the trunk.

The wheels are also pulled more to the corners; the increased wheelbase (by 64 mm) is another major contributor to inner space. The fuel tank is now buried deep inside the car, instead of behind the rear seat, to the advantage of both trunk and rear seat room. It also enables a
ski-sack pass-through in the rear seat back.

Jaguar XJ

Jaguar XJ

Jaguar XJ
Click image to enlarge

The new XJ’s body is constructed almost entirely of aluminum, a first for Jaguar (in mass-produced cars anyway; the “Swallow” motorcycle sidecar of 1922, the C- and D-Type racers of the late-’50s and the XJ-220 supercar don’t really count).

It’s also a first for Jag’s parent, the Ford Motor Company, building on the company’s experience over the past decade with such cars as the aluminum Taurus concept car. Alcan is the supplier of the aluminum, and was a key partner in the development of the manufacturing processes that go into the car. Most of the sheet aluminum bits are produced at a new pressing facility located next to the Castle Bromwich (England) plant where the car is built. A unique rivetting process can attach up to four thicknesses at once, and each of the 3,180 rivets is said to be three times stronger than the 5,000-odd spot welds required for a comparable steel-bodied car. Extrusions and castings are utilized where extra strength and durability are required. Space-age epoxy adhesives supply further robustness to critical junctions.

The cross-car dash support which underpins the instrument panel, air-con and air bags is magnesium – 30 percent lighter again than aluminum, stronger, and more rattle-resistant than an assemblage of welded steel bits. It’s no less a good idea here just because General Motors pioneered the concept several years ago on their mid-size and large cars.

The new body is 40 percent lighter than the old, yet is 60 percent stiffer. “Overall, the new XJ is around 180 kg lighter than its predecessor, at least 100 kg lighter than any of its large luxury competitors, and even about 170 kg lighter than its own “little” brother, the S-Type, with some variations possible depending on model variant. The aluminum also enables some of the space utilization gains – because it’s stiffer, the car can “contain” a larger volume of air, hence people and cargo.

If Jaguar exteriors are traditional, their interiors are legendary. Once again, you get real tree wood and soft leather, but now with fully modern electronics in the form of a central touch-screen (standard on all models in Canada) which controls navigation, climate and sound system functions in a rational, easy-to-understand manner. JaguarVoice, the company’s pioneering voice command system, is also offered across the board.

Mechanically, the XJ gains standard four-wheel air suspension, using German technology shared with Mercedes-Benz: Krupp air springs and Bilstein dampers. One of the prime motivators here was again the aluminum body – since it’s lighter, the payload (people and stuff) is a bigger proportion of the overall vehicle weight; maintaining a constant ride height on steel springs
would have been a challenge.

New double wishbone geometry front and rear provides excellent wheel control. Some Jaguar mechanics may rue the outboard rear brakes – no more two-grand Jaguar brake jobs…

All the modern chassis electronic aids are present – ABS brakes with emergency brake assist; traction control; directional stability control; even adaptive cruise control.

Four engines are offered in the new XJ at launch, but we’ll only see two of them – the 294 horsepower, 303 lb.-ft. of torque (at 4,100 r.p.m.), 4.2 litre four-cam V8 (XJ8), and the 390 horsepower, 399 lb.-ft. (at 3,500 r.p.m.) supercharged version thereof (XJR), both introduced last year in the revamped S-Type. Other markets also get the 3.0 litre V6 from the S-Type, and a new de-stroked 3.5 litre V8. A range of diesels is coming too, but again, probably not for us.

All engines are mated to the rapidly-becoming-ubiquitous ZF six-speed automatic transmission, fitted here with the Jag-traditional “J-Gate” manual shifter, nicknamed the “Randle Handle” after Jim Randle, chief engineer on the last all-new XJ, which debuted in 1986.

The factory claims the normal engine can crack off 0 – 100 km/h sprints in 6.3 or 6.6 seconds, depending on which line you’re reading in the press kit. That’s seven- (or nine-) tenths faster than the old XJ 4.0. The XJR now runs a very impressive 5.3 seconds (or an even more impressive 5.1, again depending…) – three- (or five-) tenths quicker than the old XJR, or the new S-Type R with essentially the same powertrain, the difference between the XJR and the S-Type R presumably being the extra 170 kg the latter carries around.

Spain has benefited perhaps more than any other country from its entry into the European Union. Massive public works budgets over the past few years have resulted in a network of sensational roads through some mountainous terrain, which the Spaniards, despite their best efforts, have as yet been unable to fill with cars.

 JaguarXJ

 JaguarXJ

 JaguarXJ
Click image to enlarge

Great roads; no traffic; plus-25 degree weather, in March – any wonder why this is a favourite spot for an automotive press preview? We had three shots at the new XJ – a short run in a base XJ8, a slightly longer tour in another XJ8 with the Sport package (firmer settings for the air springs and the shocks and better rubber), and the best part of a day in an XJR, which also gets the firmer suspension, plus huge Brembo brakes. Driving any of them was like meeting an old friend who has gotten buff. The look and feel are familiar, but the abs are now a six-pack, the buns are now of steel and not lard.

The car just does everything better. It rides better. It handles better. It goes better. It stops better. It even gets better fuel economy – indeed, the normal engine’s Transport Canada ratings of 12.8 litres per 100 km City / 7.8 Highway would not look bad on a much smaller, less powerful car.

Perhaps the biggest transformation relates to the car’s rigidity. It feels much more of-a-piece, rather than a loosely-assembled collection of bits. It shrinks around you as you drive it, seeming smaller than it is. If I have a qualm about the new XJ, it is about the styling. It’s a challenge for all car makers with strong traditions – how to stay the course, yet move the goalposts (I usually avoid cliches like the plague…). It’s a lovely-looking thing, thoroughly a Jaguar, if a bit thick through the mid-section.

But does it look different enough from the one your neighbour – maybe you – bought six years ago? What about six years from now? Some of my colleagues wondered why anyone would want the supercharged engine, since the base car goes so well. Others – well, me anyway – wonder why anyone would not go for the added power? There can’t be many cars at any price that can pull off a mid- to high-speed two lane pass any faster than one of these. And if you can afford the $85,000 give-or-take for the XJ8, what’s another $15,000 for the all-singing, all-dancing XJR?

Sure, you’ll get arguments over the noise – is the supercharger whine and gruff exhaust note when you stand on it inappropriate for such an otherwise serene car? Or does that all constitute an intriguing contrast?

Each Jaguar dealer in Canada should be getting a couple of demonstrators in the month of April, and taking orders for June delivery. Go find the answer to this question yourself.

Connect with Autos.ca