Two years ago when Jaguar was preparing to launch the X-type, the company said it was trying to get away from its 'boardroom' image and attract new, younger customers.
While that strategy might work for the premium upper-medium X-type, changing the flagship XJ is a more delicate matter. Thousands of drivers have chosen the XJ because it looks like a Jaguar should do, so any radical change with the new model might have been a step too far.
Meanwhile, there are drivers who have a degree of admiration for Jaguar, but for various rational reasons choose to drive a Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi or Lexus. They will soon have another choice in the shape of the Volkswagen Phaeton. So when Jaguar was planning the new XJ, it needed to retain the brand's traditional values but also give drivers of rival cars good reason to seriously consider switching to Jaguar.
And the old XJ really was desperate for a thorough makeover.
While the old model looked good on a straightforward price comparison with rivals and had the performance to take the game to the best Germany has to offer, in the 'rational' areas it didn't make much sense.
Unless you chose the long-wheelbase model rear legroom was poor, and despite being the largest Jaguar saloon on sale, luggage space was put to shame by the smaller S-type and X-type.
The dilemma for Jaguar was that a bigger car would be a heavier car and a thirstier car, making it more difficult to drive and more expensive to run.
The new XJ remedies this by making extensive use of lightweight materials – aluminium for the body shell and magnesium in some other areas. The new aluminium-bodied XJ results in a body shell 40% lighter and 60% stiffer than if it had been made of steel. Interior volume has been increased by 40% and the boot has gained 100 extra litres of space.
New engines have been adopted – with the upgraded 4.2-litre V8 already found in the XK and S-type, a new 3.5- litre V8 and the 3.0-litre V6 found in the S-type which revives the XJ6 moniker after an absence of eight years.
Six-speed automatic transmissions are standard across the range, as well as other features which are new to the flagship model.
Electronic parking brake, DVD satellite navigation, adaptive cruise control, CATS air suspension, ARTS safety system are all here either as standard or on the options list. The lightweight body results in much improved fuel consumption – 27mpg on the combined cycle for the XJ6 – and although an XJ6 diesel is another 18 months away, Jaguar believes its pricing strategy will be enough to compensate. Benefit-in-kind tax liability for the entry-level XJ6 will be £6 a year less than the diesel-engined Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI.
Jaguar believes the main reason company car drivers choose diesel is because of the lower benefit-in-kind tax liability, and with the XJ6 it has removed that obstacle. The rest of the range is priced to undercut its main rivals and also offer lower tax bills as well.
The majority of XJ purchases will be made with company money of one kind or another, according to Jaguar's new corporate sales manager James Drake-Lee. He says 25-plus fleets account for about half of XJ sales but when you also consider those bought by drivers taking cash instead of a company car, the 'fleet' percentage of sales probably reaches about 90%.
Therefore, creating a new car that appeals to the hard-edged business sensibilities of the company finance director was just as important as making it good to drive.
Behind the wheel
YOU don't appreciate the proportions of the new XJ until you see it in the metal. It is unmistakably a Jaguar, but looks more like the XJs of 20 to 30 years ago than any of the recent past. And yet the design is bang up to date.
Panel gaps are among the narrowest and most consistent in the industry. There is an impact-absorbing 'bolt-on' front end and the passenger compartment, while using traditional wood and standard leather across the range, looks like a scaled-up version of the X-type.
The optional satellite navigation screen seems at home in the centre console while the electronic parking brake switch lifted from the S-type removes the need for a conventional handbrake lever. Having said that, there isn't as much space in the interior as a Mercedes-Benz S-class or a BMW 7-series.
The XJ feels about as big as a Ford Mondeo inside, with legroom to spare in the rear even with a six-footer behind the wheel. There is no word on a long-wheelbase version yet, but they usually follow a couple of years after the standard car. Headroom in the rear is better than in any other Jaguar (often compromised by the curve of the C-pillar).
All engine variants of the new XJ were available for testing at the launch in Spain, but it was the XJ6 that was most impressive.
Available in three versions in the UK (plain XJ6, SE and Sport) the XJ6 is lighter than four-wheel drive versions of the X-type. Acceleration is brisk and at 75kg lighter than the 4.2-litre V8 the XJ6 feels better balanced when being hustled along twisty roads. On our test route, 3.0-litre models were easily able to keep up with supercharged V8s on more challenging roads, only for the XJRs to unleash their brutal acceleration and disappear on the straights.
Apart from a few degrees of slack in the straight-ahead position, the steering offers consistent resistance and feedback at speed, making the XJ6 feel smaller than it is. However, all XJs shrink around the driver to a certain extent. Most bends are accounted for by a flick of the wrists with barely a quarter turn on the wheel needed. All are silent when cruising, but the engines make themselves heard when accelerating hard – a shrill wail from the V6, a deeper howl from the V8s and the stereo howl and whoosh from the supercharged versions.
The CATS suspension works supremely well at wafting the cars over all surfaces. Even the worst potholes in the road are only felt through the steering, other passengers will be blissfully unaware of what's going on with the wheels. However, it stiffens up when tackling tight bends, and mid-bend softens the suspension on the inner wheels to improve grip.
ALL new XJs offer strong performance, ride more smoothly and handle more nimbly than rivals, and while not as spacious as the competition, are much more spacious than previous Jaguar flagships. To my mind the design encapsulates exactly how a modern Jaguar should look – traditional styling cues using modern construction methods.
|Jaguar XJ fact file|
|Model: XJ||3.0 V6||3.5 V8||4.2 V8||4.2 V8 s/c|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||240/6,800||262/6,250||300/6,000||400/6,100|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||221/4,100||254/4,200||310/4,100||408/3,500|
|Top speed (mph):||145||150||155||155|
|Comb economy (Mpg):||27.0||26.6||26.0||23.0|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||249||254||264||299|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||85/18.7|
|Transmission: 6-sp auto|
|On sale: April|
|Prices (OTR):||Approx: £39,000 - £68,000|