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First drive: Jaguar's awesome XJ

2010-08-11 16:03
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Jaguar
Engine Five--litre V8
Power 283kW @ 6500rpm
Torque 515Nm @ 3500rpm
Transmission Six-speed auto/paddle shift
Zero To Hundred 5.7sec
Top Speed 250km/h (governed)
Fuel Tank 82 litres
Fuel Consumption 11.4 litres/100km / 259g CO2/km
Weight 1755kg
Boot Size 520 litres
Steering Quick-ratio hydraulic power assistance
Airbags Dual front, side, curtain
Tyres 18", 19", 20"
Front Suspension Fully adaptive air, coil springs, unequal length wishbones
Rear Suspension Fully adaptive air, subframe-mounted multilink
Service Intervals 12 months / 24 000km
Price R1 100 000
Rivals Audi A8, BMW 750i, Mercedes S500

Les Stephenson

Jaguar's new flagship, the XJ, has finally reached South Africa a year after its launch in northern hemisphere markets, its delay mainly blamed on the disruption of the soccer World Cup - but the prices set back then still stand.

The name is now decades years old but the tech is tomorrow. "The icon," says Jaguar, "is re-emerging." After driving it this week, I have to agree…

Four five-litre V8 petrol models are available now; two 202kW, V6, three-litre diesels will arrive shortly after SA fuel compatibility problems have been sorted.

Prices range from R920 000 for the basic diesel to almost R1.6m for the seriously high-performance, long-wheelbase, supercharged Supersport.

Jaguar says the XJ, the latest incarnation of a model name that's been around since the 1970's, has completed an Ian Callum-designed trilogy of new models that was begun in 2006 with the XK and followed in 2008 by the XF - the latter a cross between a sports car and luxury sedan.

The new XJ reached its first markets in 2009.

The XJ's media launch was based this week at the new Oubaai golf resort and spa outside Herolds Bay on the Western Cape's south coast, its driving route covering nearly 400km on the gloriously sweeping roads and mountain passes of the Langkloof with a lunch stop in the ostrich capital of Oudtshoorn.

Mick Razza, Jaguar's overseas operations director ("38 markets") was at the launch and recalled company founder Sir William Lyons' mantra from the 1940's - "Our mission is to build beautiful, fast cars" - when as he added: "We need to get back to a British type of heritage We want 'British' to be 'cool' again."

Which is pretty cool itself, seeing as how Jaguar and sister company Land Rover are now owned by the giant Indian conglomerate Tata, though they are still assembled in England - so now we have Mumbai's top and bottom models concurrently available in South Africa.

Razza sees the cars’ market as being among people who are entrepreneurial, well-travelled, tech savvy and environmentally conscious - that last, Razza added, fitting nicely with Jaguar's target of getting all its products below the 120g/km CO2 barrier.

Indeed, the Jaguar XF diesel S model, which is all-aluminium, has claimed the title "greenest luxury car in Britain" with its best fuel consumption of around four litres/100km.

He also promised: "In years to come, Jaguar will be back in’ sports-car racing." Which is good news, but even better tidings for big families: I was also told that station-wagon versions of Jag products are in the pipeline.

And, as his final comment on the newly re-found prestige of Jaguar, Razza pointed out that the German motoring media, after a ride-and-drive in the XJ in February, 2010, put the Brit car ahead of its German competitors.

Only one XJ model was available for this week's South African test drive, but there was a fleet of a dozen to choose from: the R1.1m XJ 5.0 Premium Luxury whose V8 petrol engine is good for 283kW/515Nm and a governed top speed of 250km/h. The two other versions of the petrol V8, an engine already familiar in South Africa in Land Rover and Range Rover products, have been tuned and supercharged for 346kW/575Nm and 375kW/625Nm.

The automaker says they're the most advanced, powerful and efficient Jaguar engines yet and each drives through a shift-by-wire six-speed auto transmission controlled as you choose by a pop-up rotary selector on the centre console or steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Here's how they stack up…

3.0 202kW V6, twin-turbo diesel (0-100km/h 6.4sec).
5.0 283kW V8 direct-injection (0-100km/h 5.7sec).
5.0 346kW V8 supercharged direct-injection (0-100km/h 5.2sec).
5.0 375kW V8 supercharged direct-injection (0-100km/h 4.9sec).

…and while we're at it, here are the launch prices.

XJ 3.0 V6 Diesel Premium Luxury - R920 000
XJ 3.0 V6 Diesel Portfolio - R1 055 000

XJ 5.0 V8 Petrol Premium Luxury - R1 100 000
XJ 5.0 V8 Petrol SC 346kW Portfolio - R1 350 000
XJ 5.0 V8 Petrol SC 375kW Supersport - R1 525 000
XJ 5.0 V8 Petrol SC 375kW LWB Supersport - R1 590 000

Such figures puts the XJ up in Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series territory but sizewise the car more of a C or 5 – unless you opt for a long-wheelbase model that adds half a thigh to the rear legroom.

The standard car is, frankly, a little tight in that department unless the driver is short – if you aim to be chauffeured, then the stretched model is the only way to go.

The XJ's looks are also a contradiction: from the big, almost square, shiny grille (copied from the 1968 XJ) to the back of the rear doors, everything is stunning and Callum's curves and swoops have created an astounding drag coefficient of only 0.29.

Then things go awry, the classic lines of the all-aluminium shell shattered by slanted LED tail-light clusters that are not at all in tune with the rest of the car.

There’s also a slab of a boot lid adorned only by the letters XJ and a centred leaping cat - no model designation and, for the first time in Jaguar's history, the word Jaguar is absent.

Sure, the effect from behind is of a wide, haunchy car whose twin exhausts say their piece (and a typical, if muted, V8 song as you paddle the gears), but the look is certainly not "British". Cadillac came to mind, and Chrysler, but certainly not Jaguar.

Making up for this oddity is a movable glass skylight that takes up most of the roof. It's two-piece, complete with powered blinds; the glass lifts as it slides to avoid the usual loss of headroom associated with such accessories.

Get past the looks and into the driver’s seat and, really, there is nothing to criticise. Power adjustment is, of course, hooked to everything, where other cars have a set of three-dimensional dials, the XJ has a blank, black screen – until you fire the ignition. Then a digital world builds from the darkness.

Speed, revs, fuel and temperature - all the usual materialise and solidify but change modes, switch on the satnav, opt to change any number of settings and it all changes instantly according to demand. More information is displayed on a central colour screen which can also be viewed by the front passenger – who will see a movie, TV perhaps, forbidden to the driver.

The whole shebang is taken directly from the Range Rover which was launched in SA early in 2009 with the same equipment.

Jaguar’s interior designers focused on the classic Riva powerboats for much of the design; check the image of the cabin and note how the wood veneer continues behind the whole fascia assembly to represent the gunwale of a boat.

Elsewhere there are chromed highlights, air vents that look like an airplane’s engine nacelles… and leather. Oh, lots of leather.

Out on the road, the XJ displays a distinct Jekyll and Hyde persona, all depending on whether a ‘sport’ button with a chequered flag on it is up or down. There’s no lack of power and the claimed 250km/h top speed was reached without strain; the “unsporty” ride is silent and smooth, as a million-buck car should be but then…

…press the flag. Things change quite radically as the adaptive suspension stiffens, the gear-change points self-adjust and the bad guy bares his teeth. The car flattens to the road, the tyres seem to gain more bite and, presto, the boulevard cruiser becomes a bruiser.

And bear in mind that the car I was driving was the unblown model - there’s almost 100kW more to play with under the Supersport’s bonnet. Can’t wait to try one of those!

Cheekily, perhaps, Jaguar lists the Bentley Continental, Maserati Quattroporte and Mercedes AMG S63 among the Supersport’s competitors.

Jaguar is hoping to sell 100 XJ units by the end of 2010 and says about 80% of that total is under orders.

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