The new Jaguar XJ gives further indication that the marque is moving away from its "hoary and old" stereotypes.
Fast and beautiful, the Jaguar XJ
Anyone needing any further indication that the words "hoary and old" have been banned from Jaguar's lexicon needs but five minutes behind the steering wheel of the new XJ to realise the blue rinse set has been left well and truly behind. You don't even have to drive it, provided of course that, like me, you have an attentive (and mighty young, I might add) Jaguar engineer putting the car's electronics through its paces.
I'm talking of the new XJ's gauge set, normally a very boring part of an automobile despite many an interior designer's pretensions to the contrary. The new Jag is, however, something else entirely, adding a bit of theatre to an area of automotive design which is usually as dull as dishwater. Essentially, the entire instrument cluster has been replaced with a high definition TFT screen (like a high-end laptop) that, like a computer screen, can be programmed to give a seemingly endless stream of configurations in 3-D animation. For instance, in normal driving mode, the speedometer takes pride of place occupying the centre of the screen with the largest dial. However, flick the XJ into its sport mode and the tachometer gracefully moves centre stage displacing the now less important speedometer. And adding a bit of visual attitude to the proceedings, the gauges begin throbbing red as the revs rise while the large, digital gear shift indicator starts burning bright crimson when it's time to shift gears.
Switch back to normal mode with the circular speedometer back in its position of prominence and the digits indicating your actual speed are highlighted with light as if the end of the speedo needle contained a miniature torch. Switch into automatic cruise control mode and the entire speedometer - up to your desired cruising speed - turns green. Activate the navigation system and the left hand side of the gauge set turns into a Google Maps-quality instruction guide rather than the basic stick diagrams that most navigation systems provide in the instrument display. And as enthusiastic as I'm sounding about all this kit, I'm not doing this electronic gadgetry justice. This is the kind of utility that the electronics industry has always promised for in-car information systems, but instead delivered those infernal knob-controlled multimedia interfaces that we've all come to know and loathe.
As if this isn't enough, Jaguar has also come up with a unique "dual-view" LCD screen mounted on the centre console that provides different views to the passenger and driver. It's way nifty to sit in the driver's seat and see nothing but typical radio and air-conditioning data, but then walk around to the passenger's seat and realise that a movie is simultaneously playing on the very same screen. It's also worth noting that the two rear screens (built into the back of the front seats' headrests) can have different inputs. So, if the toddlers can't agree on which movie to watch, it's not imperative - at least from a technological point of view - that they share.
Of course, while very nifty gadgetry is a welcome bonus to Jaguar ownership, pixels, highly defined or otherwise, are not the reason the monied and pampered shell out big bucks for a Jag. The prime motivator for Jaguar ownership is style, that avant-garde feel that the storied marque all but abandoned a decade ago. It's only very recently, in fact - with the new XK first and, last year, with the XF - that Jaguar has rediscovered its styling mojo, once again penning shapes that simultaneously scream style and speed. Chief designer Ian Callum has many explanations as to why his latest designs work where previous Jaguars appeared dated and out of touch, but all that you really need to know is that, while the last decade's Jags have been (retro) styled with one eye in the rearview mirror, these latest models are actually more historically accurate because they are futuristic, just as the original XJ and iconic E-Type were in their day.
The new XJ is both aggressive and sensuous in equal measures. It's nothing at all like the outgoing model and is very much the embodiment of where Jaguar is heading in the future - younger, sportier and a whole bunch more "with it." It's designer Ian Callum's best work yet even if a few design elements - like the angular rear lights and the piano black D-pillar that Callum sees as a "continuation of the rear glass" - will rattle a few traditionalists.
The actual chassis is much more a continuation of the current XJ's technology. That's actually a good thing, since the current XJ has arguably the world's most advanced aluminium technology. Stiff in the extreme yet noticeably lighter than equivalent saloons sculpted out of steel, the aluminium construction should help both performance and fuel economy. Like the previous XJ, the 2010 rides on dual-wishbone suspension all round, though the new version only uses air suspension in the rear where the 2009 uses it at all four corners. The reason, says Jaguar, is the company's new emphasis on sportiness means the front springing has been stiffened already and the new continuously variable damping suspension provides much of the same effect that the air bladders did. Also making an appearance in the XJ is the new electronically-controlled rear differential that first made its appearance on the recently refreshed XKR.
Of course, the XJ makes use of the latest series of direct-injected and variable-valve-timed 5.0L V8s that just started showing up in XKs and XFs. Like those cars, the normally aspirated version is good for 385 horsepower, but the supercharged version will sport two configurations: one with 470 ponies and another, in the limited-edition "supersport" model, 510. While neither is outrageously powerful compared with some of the monster motors coming out of Mercedes and the like, remember that the XJ is constructed of aluminium (with a little magnesium thrown in for good measure) and weighs in at just 1,900 kilograms. The 4.9 seconds that Jaguar says the 510hp version takes to accelerate to 100 kilometres per hour seems very pessimistic indeed. Expect it to be significantly quicker.
Coming full circle back to the interior we discussed at the beginning of this ramble, two things stand out. One is that Jaguar has really gone to town with the brightwork. Virtually every item in the Jag's interior, from the seat adjuster buttons to the centrepiece of the air bents, has some chrome finishing. Door trim, steering wheel trim, even the surround to the cupholders is chromed. It's quite a contrast to the subdued Jag interiors of old.
The other thing worth boasting about is the Bower & Wilkins stereo that will be optional in top-of-the-line XJs, the audio system is complete with no less than 20 speakers and a whooping great 1,200 watts to drive them, not to mention a new Dolby Pro Logic 2X surround system that is truly incredible. I don't know if it is at all superior to the Bang & Olufsen system featured in Audi's S8, but its is more impressive than the much heralded Mark Levinson system in Lexus' LS.
In fact, it's hard to not be impressed by the new XJ. With its new engines, Jaguar's promise of competitive performance does not ring hollow. The interior is just the right combination of traditional British warmth and hi-tech gadgetry. And, though the styling is likely to polarise a few, it is bold, striking and, in my opinion, yet another winner. Mike O'Driscoll, Jaguar's managing director says it best," If you want an appliance, you should look elsewhere. We'll never be green enough. We'll never be ordinary enough. We build cars that are fast and beautiful. To be successful, we need to sell 75,000 fast and beautiful cars and we think we can do that if you we keep building cars like this new XJ."