When Tata Motors purchased Jaguar from the ailing Ford Motor Company in 2008, the Indian company was faced with a number of makeover issues. Of course Tata had to overcome the prejudiced assumption of poor quality control that American consumers generally hold for goods imported from East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, even though in this case the only product emanating from Mumbai was corporate management. But the fact that suspect build quality had grown to be a hallmark of the waning years of Ford’s tenure only compounded the task of reinvigorating Jag’s credibility as a luxury brand.
So in launching their brand new XJ flagship sedan earlier this year, Jaguar unleashed an all out marketing blitz that sought to re-connect with savvy luxury consumers through carefully chosen branding partners. In Los Angeles, one of three focus markets for the strategy, these partnerships surfaced in a three-year sponsorship of the Hollywood Bowl as well as an association with the Sunset Marquis hotel. Though the Sunset Marquis may not ring a bell with readers the way the Beverly Hilton might, it is certainly one of new Hollywood’s most exclusive Sunset Strip digs, with celebrities milling about to the degree that the hotel’s website actually offers “paparazzi diversion tactics” for an extra fee. Indeed, when I picked up my test car at the Sunset Marquis, pop singer Seal casually strolled through the hotel restaurant, an instantaneous demonstration of the hotel’s under-the-radar cachet.
Bearing in mind these distinguished associations, the all new XJ could have easily proven to be an underwhelming disappointment that failed to match its partners’ reputation. We’re happy to report, however, that Jaguar’s careful design and planning has resulted in a car that more than lives up to the billing. The term “all-new” is thrown around rather frequently during vehicle launches, but this is one case in which the maxim is well applied. As recently as 2008, the XJ continued to wear an exterior design that had remained relatively unchanged since the model’s debut in 1968. Design Director Ian Callum, famed for his work on various Aston Martins and the BMW Z8, sought to completely re-imagine the XJ lines, a goal he has accomplished with a higher beltline and a sloping rear fastback. These cues lend the new XJ a sport coupe character that belies the car’s immense size. The front fascia has also been drastically revised, most notably with thin xenon headlamps that replace the former double-lens wide eyes with a slanted squint, instantly conjuring the image of a purring cat.
Callum’s team further conducted their makeover with a luxury sensibility, employing an unprecedented amount of leather and burled wood in the cabin, as well as an elegant glass roof that imbues spaciousness. Indeed, with smart leather-trimmed and aluminum appointed dual vents dominating the dash console, complemented by an analog clock worthy of a men’s jeweler, the XJ’s interior clarifies that it is reaching for an echelon of luxury notably lacking during the Ford era. These fine aesthetic details are bolstered by amenities like an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display, and plush perforated and stitched leather seats that offer a multitude of electronic adjustments, including bench length and back width. Seat back tray tables are an available option, as is a premium 1,200 watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system that boasts 20 speakers and 15 channels of processing.
Despite these obvious attempts to endow the XJ with the greatest luxury experience at this price point, the car also integrates sporting features in ways that demonstrate Jag’s continued commitment to its traditional identity as a sporting brand. This motif is most dramatically effected by the engine, a 5.0 liter V-8 that is available in three different configurations on both the standard wheelbase length and the long wheelbase that provides five extra inches of rear seat room. While the base V-8 is available as a normally aspirated powerplant good for 385 horsepower and 5.4 seconds to 60 mph, a supercharged version lifts horsepower to 470 and quickens launch times to only 4.9 seconds. A top of the line Supersport version tunes the supercharged engine even further, resulting in 510 horses and a 0 – 60 mph time of only 4.7 seconds. Though a 5.0 liter engine is by no means small, these performance numbers are also attributable to weight considerations. Jaguar is quick to announce that through extensive use of aluminum in the engine and body, the XJ’s weight has been reduced by about 300 pounds, making it the lightest luxury sedan in its class.
As such, driving characteristics are exciting and assured. With a wonderfully sensitive accelerator pedal, the XJ is easily coaxed into demonstrating its new svelte self, feeling remarkably quick for such a large car. Further nods to sporting aspirations are found in the Dynamic Mode, which changes shift points and stiffens the suspension, and is activated by a switch labeled with a checkered flag. Activating this feature also changes the car’s main 12-inch virtual instrument console (which is basically a computer screen) from its default blue hue to a more exciting red. This last minor touch reflects an obvious appreciation for the aspect of theater that such a car requires. In fact, to this end Jag has also re-imagined the gear selector with a knurled dial that rises from the center console when the car is started. Though it is little more than a well-played bell & whistle, this inventive feature dramatically suggests that the new Jaguar is not only doing something different, but with ostentatious flair, no less. Enthusiastic drivers will surely also welcome the paddles that can manually actuate the 6-speed automatic transmission. Despite the lack of a dual–clutch architecture, Jag’s so-called Sequential Shift system ably handles the job, providing quick, smooth shifts that largely eschew the lurch of earlier paddle systems.
Add in a complimentary best-in-class warranty plan that covers all service and maintenance for the first 5 years or 50,000 miles and it is clear that Jaguar is seriously attempting to unseat its more established German competitors in this market segment. The long wheelbase XJL offers design and packaging more unique than Mercedes’ S Class or BMW’s 7 Series. And priced at less than half a Bentley or Rolls, the XJL delivers 90% of the experience of those cars. For luxury sedan shoppers looking for the best value around six figures, this will be a difficult car to ignore.
Price as tested: $90,195
Aluminum DOHC Supercharged 5,000 cc V-8
Rear-wheel drive 6-speed automatic gearbox with optional paddle shifting
Max Power 510 bhp at 6,000 rpm
Max Torque 461 lb-ft at 2,500 rpm
Acceleration 0 – 60 mph in 4.7 seconds
Max Speed 155 mph