By Jonathan Crouch
Resting on its rich history was never going to be enough if Jaguar's largest luxury saloon was going to cut it against top-notch rivals like the Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series. So in 2009, the company came up with this, the uniquely-styled, innovative and dynamic fourth generation XJ saloon. How does it stack up as a used buy?
4dr Luxury Saloon (3.0 V6 petrol, 5.0 V8 petrol, 3.0 Diesel)
There are still plenty of people who get that warm fuzzy feeling when they see an old Jag. The brand is entwined in our national psyche with its raffish wood 'n' leather, pipe smoking, sports jacket-wearing, Britishness. Of course, all that means nothing whatsoever to luxury car buyers in the US, Europe and beyond, buyers whose purchase decisions make or break Jaguar as a credible global car maker. The famous marque was hamstrung by its own history for too long but today there's a newfound confidence and a forward-looking agenda. And nothing illustrates this more dramatically than this car, the MK4 model XJ launched in 2009.
The XK sports coupe and the XF executive saloon were breakthrough cars for Jaguar. They married all that heritage to a more overtly modern approach. The XJ showed Jaguar spreading its wings further with a luxury saloon to challenge the sector's leading lights. It marked a firm break from the big Jag tradition that was originated in 1968 by the original XJ. Through at least five generations of Jaguar's flagship, the styling evolved at an arthritic snail's pace. It reached the point where this car's hi-tech aluminium-bodied predecessor, one of the most advanced luxury cars on sale at the time of its launch, looked ostensibly the same as the rusting relics that could be picked up for peanuts at any second hand car dealership. Jaguar wasn't communicating its dynamism and relevance, but with this fourth generation XJ, all of that was put right.
What You Get
The shape may have been new, but the thinking behind this car wasn't. Most of the development work to create its all-aluminium underpinnings was done for the previous generation model, a car to which Jaguar's engineers also added the all-independent suspension they'd developed for the latter days of the S-Type. But the controversial shape still dominates any discussion that touches upon this car and everyone you meet will have an opinion. Ex-Aston Martin designer Ian Callum is clear about his vision for a '21st century luxury car', believing that the brand should understand the values that made the original XJ great without necessarily copying them.
So he hasn't. In fact, it's hard to imagine any reference point to this design, so different is it to anything else. Gone is the low-slung three-box look we expect an XJ to deliver, replaced instead by a shape many will feel is more stylish and interesting, if one that takes time to grow on you. What can we pick out? Oh, where to start.. Maybe the slender roof pillars, almost invisible at the rear to give a 'floating roof' effect. Or Designer Callum's favourite touch, the rear lighting elements intended to resemble the scratch marks of a cat's claws. The shape artfully conceals what is actually a very spacious 520-litre boot.
But love or hate the exterior, you can't argue with the masterpiece that is this XJ's cabin. You enter expecting the feeling of a Gentleman's Club but what's delivered instead is Brit design cool and an undercurrent of true indulgence. Though other Germans rivals offer a little more rear seat space (blame that sloping coupe-style roofline), the airiness provided by the standard glass roof with its twin electric blinds means that you don't really notice the fact. And it's an opulent cabin, trimmed with the kind of beautiful materials you'd find in a Bentley or a Rolls Royce. Many will want the extra legroom of the long wheelbase version but to be honest, you're hardly going to be at risk of deep vein thrombosis in the standard car, so generous is the leg and shoulder room on offer.
But why sit in the back unless you have to in a driver-focused car like this? Especially when a seat up-front is such a commandingly luxurious place to be. The facia is dominated by an arc of wood veneer that runs from the doors right across the dash top, with its instrument panel wrapped in leather. Ah yes, the instruments. There actually aren't any, at least in the sense of conventional dials. Replacing them is a 12" screen of the kind pilots refer to as a 'glass cockpit'. On to this, a variety of displays are projected, including virtual fuel, speed, temperature and rev-counter gauges - and you can further configure them with additional information according to taste: the left dial for example can sometimes be replaced by a sat nav prompt.
Possibly our favourite part of this car though is the 8" touch-screen display in the centre console and fitted as standard on the plusher models. Dual-View technology means that the driver can use it to manage climate control, audio, communications and navigation systems at the same time as his front seat passenger is using the same screen to view a DVD - or TV if you've specified it. Neat.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
We came across the odd gearbox issue but otherwise, owners report only niggling faults: things like windows that slightly drop when they should be up, an occasionally malfunctioning rear view camera and judders experienced through the wheel and the wipers. Check all these things on your test drive - and look out for scuffed alloy wheels that could be pricey to fix.
(approx based on a 2010 Jaguar XJ 3.0D) A full exhaust system is around £850. Front shock absorbers are about £200 a pair. An alternator is about £300 and a starter motor around £300. Front brake pads are around £120.
On the Road
So. Revolutionary to look at. Is it so to drive? You don't expect a car well over five metres long and weighing nearly two tonnes to be a responsive driver's machine but Jaguar insists that owners used to its sporting XF or XKR models will feel right at home. And so they will. Thanks to its aluminium construction, this is after all, a Mercedes S-Class-sized Luxury Saloon which weighs less than Jag's apparently smaller Executive-sized XF. Lightness which makes it quick on its feet, something you'll notice with the first bend you take.
This isn't the only car in its sector to use aluminium build: Audi's A8 does too, but then rather negates the resulting 150kg weight-saving benefit by slinging on a hefty four-wheel drive system. The rear-driven XJ sees no need for that, focusing inside on tactile response rather than ultimate grip to reward its driver. The first thing you notice is the steering: light yes, but also quick and accurate as befits a steering rack borrowed from the XFR super saloon and used on every XJ. Then there's the ride. Not quite as pillow-like over rough surfaces as older Jags or indeed a Mercedes S-Class but closer to these standard-setters than any real driver's car has any right to be.
Because let's get this straight: in talking of this car's roadgoing demeanour, it's underselling it to make comparisons with S-Classes and Audi A8s, BMW 7 Series' and Lexus LS's: it's far better than that. Suffice it to say that if you were considering stretching to a more dynamic example of this breed, say a Maserati Quattroporte or a Porsche Panamera, you could find this XJ as satisfying - and spend a lot less enjoying it. Even indeed, if you go for the 3.0-litre V6 diesel variant that will account for over 85% of British sales. It does after all, boast 271bhp that, thanks to the light weight and an enormous 600Nm of torque from variable geometry twin turbos, simply hurls this car at the horizon, rest to sixty dispatched in 6s dead on the way to a top speed necessarily limited to 155mph.
The sheer speed and tractability may take those with longer memories back to the days when Jaguars were the cars of choice for bank job getaway drivers. But even with a boot full of bullion, the police would need some quite serious hardware to keep up with an XJ, especially if it happened to be petrol-powered. While the 380bhp 5.0-litre V8 version is merely very fast, the 503bhp flagship supercharged SuperSports model is quite simply concussive, delivering sixty from rest in a Ferrari-like 4.7s. Yet this, a car that would nudge the best part of 200mph if the speed limiter were removed, rides on the same tyres and uses the same suspension as the entry-level diesel V6. In short, they're all this good.
If you want to sharpen things still further on the curvy stuff, there's a 'Dynamic' setting as an alternative to the standard and 'winter' modes on the adaptive damping system, the options selectable via the JaguarDrive rotary knob that takes the place of a conventional gear lever. These modes adjust the suspension, throttle response, gearshift speeds, stability control settings and the active differential to produce the desired results. The gearbox itself is an electronically-controlled six-speed auto complete with wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Everything then, points to Jaguar's desire for this to be seen as a real driver's car.
There's no doubt that this XJ is an outstanding technical achievement. But then the same can be said of many of its rivals. Where this Jaguar is different though, can be summed up in that one simple but very telling word 'character'. Rather than being merely a larger version of an existing model, this is a stand-alone design in its own right. As a result. it feels special in a way that German rivals struggle to match.
More importantly, this car's unique selling points aren't only restricted to the way that it looks. Even if you don't agree with Designer Ian Callum's vision of the future of luxury motoring, you'll have to admit that the cabin is on another level from its rivals, even if it can't quite match them for space. And it offers the kind of involving driving experience you simply wouldn't expect from a car of this size. Bold and ferociously modern, this is a car you can bond with - and a luxury saloon that it's very difficult to ignore.