Stands Out From Understated, Bland Competition
Makes BMW 7 Series, Mercedes S Class, Audi A8 Look Anonymous
For beautiful, fast, luxurious
Against lack of headroom in rear, tacky speedo
If you have about £70,000 to spend on a four-door limousine the choices are nothing short of magnificent. I don’t, but it is a lot of fun going through the motions.
First on the list for high-tech limo leadership is the Mercedes S class, closely followed by the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8. The Porsche Panamera looks awful to some, but not to me. That is a strong candidate too. The Lexus LS has its champions, and I could make a case for being a bit daring and plumping for a Maserati Quattroporte, but these last two choices mean you’d have to spend up to another £20,000.
Then of course there is the Jaguar XJ.
The mainstream choices BMW, Mercedes and Audi all look a bit bland and understated, as though their occupants are feeling guilty for having spent so much of the shareholders money on a car. You can’t say that about the Jaguar. It has fabulous, sweeping, unapologetic, in yer face beautiful lines. The XJ’s front air intake looks like 1950s jet fighter crossed with a Maserati. The muscular lines sweeping to the back hint at Aston Martin. OK, so the rear might remind you of a big, cheap, mass-produced Peugeot, but forgive them that small lapse; just look inside at the hand-stitched leather, the real wood trim, and the wrap-around cockpit for the driver. In fact, the design of the rear is more about wind resistance than looks because it has been designed to ensure airflow was controlled without the need for a spoiler.
When you move inside and turn on the motor with the start button, the little wheel which serves as an automatic gearbox controller silently moves up out of the central console. Jaguar describes this as the signature Jaguar “handshake”, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste when you decide to switch into sport or winter mode, because twisting a dial feels less normal than pulling or pushing a lever,. But I’m sure you would either get used to it, or never need to switch modes at all. The diesel engine is barely audible until you move away and the speed mounts. On the open road the engine note is more like a sophisticated V-8 than an oil-burner, and it is just as lightening fast to react to pressure from the accelerator.
Zips through its paces
The XJL’s (for long wheelbase) road behavior is top class. It holds itself flat through the fast curves and the steering is light and accurate.
Handling on the twisty bits was impeccable, thanks to new features like air suspension, continuously variable suspension damping, active differential control and quick-ratio power steering, delivering the blend of responsive, dynamic handling and refined, supple ride expected from a Jaguar. This is a big car, but the body is made from aluminium, so the weight is considerably less than a similar-sized rival. That also promises more longevity, but probably also more expense if you are involved in a crash.
As this is a long-wheel base car, you would expect plenty of room in the back. That is certainly true for the legs, but the height was less generous. My six-foot frame was just about snug. Anyone bigger might find the headroom less than comfortable. My inquiries reveal that this aspect of the car not enough head room in the back compared with the BMW 7-series for instance - has cost Jaguar orders in this segment of the market where many owners will actually spend more time in the back than the front.
The XJ is a magnificent limousine, a sports-saloon really, with the pace, comfort and quality to compete with the world’s best. You can imagine that some captains of industry would feel a little queasy about flaunting their wealth and might feel that a German or Japanese choice might deflect unwanted attention. That would be a pity if Jaguar’s gutsy decision to eschew blandness and embrace excitement cost it sales, although if the average height of a chauffeur is found to be more than six feet, perhaps Jaguar should do a swift redesign in the back.
Neil Winton May 20, 2011
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