I have to confess, this review is not going to be wholly impartial. I’ll lay it on the line: I have always loved the Jaguar XJ.
Growing up, my father’s car was a 1988 XJ6 Sovereign – and as such, I believed it to be the finest automobile ever crafted by man. In just about every way, it wasn’t.
It was almost fanatically unreliable, had maintenance bills larger than our mortgage, and from the outside looked, frankly, a bit pants. Then, to add insult to injury, Phil Mitchell started driving one.
But none of this mattered. I loved it. As I was only eight at the time, I can’t comment on its handling – but as a passenger, it was heavenly. And one thing you could never fault the Jag for was its interior: from the doughy leather that never seemed to lose its birch-tar fragrance, to the beautiful patterns of an immaculate walnut burr dash veneer.
This, thankfully, is about the only trait from 1988 that has been transferred to Jaguar’s latest XJ (the X351). The interior of the new XJ is so beautiful, in fact, that Top Gear magazine had to create a whole new category for its annual awards in order to laud it sufficiently.
The first thing that strikes you is just how much room there is. Yes, it is rather a huge car – but it’s not that much bigger than your average luxury saloon; it’s just designed to feel that way. You sit low in the car – giving it a sportier feel – while also giving you an airy amount of headroom. A sweeping parabola arches from the doors all the way around the inside of the windscreen only to be punctuated by a brushed metal plaque at the centre with Jaguar embossed upon it. And the illuminated chrome air vents are like a work of art.
Even the tiny silver button to open the glove compartment is a masterpiece – its design echoes the RAF roundel, and you only need to hover your hand above it for the catch to be released. Then you have the visual theatre of the driver selector, which glides upwards from the centre console as you press the ignition. (Keyless start, of course.)
But it’s at night that the Jaguar really comes alive. When you turn on the lights a phosphor blue hue emanates around every switch, knob and seal like some futuristic spaceship.
It certainly has some space-age technology. The two-way touch screen on the dash is genius. For example, from the driver’s seat you can set it up to see the sat nav, while simultaneously your passenger can watch the TV. On the same screen. Seriously, it will blow your mind. In the back there are more TV screens, wooden tray tables, and wireless headphones. There’s a panoramic roof for letting in the light – and electric blinds for keeping out the riff-raff. There’s a remote control that will have the kids entertained for hours or your grandparents confused for months. Helping along proceedings are the heated steering wheel and seats, wing-mirror proximity warning lights and a 1,200W Bowers & Wilkins stereo that can wake up the neighbours. If I owned a Jaguar XJ, I don’t think I’d bother having a house.
It’s not exactly bad looking from the outside, either. I was at the launch at the Saatchi Gallery in July 2009 where a scantily clad Elle Macpherson unveiled it. But the only body anyone was interested in looking at was that of the Jag. It’s rare when a car turns out to be as good as the designer’s sketches – even rarer when it surpasses them.
But enough about the looks – forgive me for being so shallow. It’s what’s under the hood that’s the most impressive of all. Yes, the diesel engine is meant to be one of the quietest and torquiest ever made, and if I was buying an XJ, I guess I’d have to pretend to consider the environment and that. But for me, it’s always going to be the five-litre V8. I’m a big kid at heart – and the throaty bark from those twin exhausts has me grinning like a simpleton.
No subtle ‘M’ here, or quiet ‘AMG’ there, Jaguar has laid it all on the line and called this version the Supersport. That’s a hell of a name to live up to. I’m happy to report it more than manages it. With 510bhp supercharged horses pushing it along, the car will hit 60mph in 4.7mph. And unlike my father’s XJ, this one can actually take a corner too. Sure, it will eat up motorways – but throw it round some B-roads and you’ll have the favour returned with a surprisingly responsive steering and a flat, stiff ride, especially on the larger rims (20” Mataiva scuff’n’cry numbers).
My only complaint is that when you’re feeling a bit sporty and want to use the gear paddles, they’re very, well, plastic. In a £90k car, you really want the reassuring touch of metal under your fingertips.
But moaning about a small detail like that is a bit like complaining to your father that the ice-cream he’s just bought you is a bit drippy. That said, there’s no way he would have ever let me have an ice-cream in the Jaguar. Not with that interior.
So, is there anything bad about the Jaguar XJ? Well, George Osborne is driven in one.
But you can’t judge the car by its passenger.