The competition in the top executive transport sector has over the years only gotten more and more competitive. Bentley, Rolls, Aston, Jaguar, Mercedes, Maybach, BMW, Audi, Porsche, Maserati, Lexus, VW with the Phaeton, and even now Hyundai are vying for a seat at the big boys’ table. It is, however, the English (although under foreign ownership) who are best at making proper luxury goods, be they shoes, suits, shotguns, stereos, et cetera, so it can be surmised that this must also be true of cars. Astons are sex on a stick, Rolls-Royces are, well, Rolls-Royces, Jaguars are a cut above the more mass-market competition, and Bentleys are at the top of the VW corporate brand pyramid. All four marks make great cars, yet of these great English machines three are more made-to-measure rather than Savile Row bespoke: Rolls’ Ghost is a better BMW 7-series, the Aston Martin Rapide is a longer version of the same platform under every current Aston (think of them as different lengths of the same hand rolled cigar), and the Bentley Continental is so alike its VW Phaeton cousin that it was built until 2006 for the European market using the same tooling in VW’s Dresden factory. The Jaguar XJ is, of course, a proper bespoke auto, on its own unique “aluminium” platform. It represents the best of both modern English technology and traditional luxury.
The head of design at Jaguar is a man by the name of Ian Callum (a Scot successfully transplanted to Oxfordshire) who previously held the same position at Aston Martin. The man is a fucking genius; his designs are brilliant, modern, beautiful, and somehow able to evoke the styling of cars predecessors without being in any way retro. He is the antithesis of Chris Bangle (the man who ruined BMW), and claims to have drawn the inspiration for the XJ’s cockpit from that of a 1950’s powerboat. Well, he nailed it. The interior of the Jag is spot-on, and the combination of ethically sourced wood, metal, and perfect hides covering nearly every surface is as good as it gets. You could pay four or five times more for a Rolls-Royce Phantom, but you just shouldn’t. The binnacle (and that is the word for it) has an adjustable high definition LCD (mercury free like the rest of the car, and unlike say a Prius) instead of traditional analogue gauges; this is another trick (the extruded construction being the other) taken from the aerospace industry. It works, as does the 1200W Bowers-Wilkins (Yellow Kevlar) stereo with 30Gb hard drive driven Sat Nav and a format agnostic interface (Bluetooth, USB, droid, iphone, iPod, cd, DVD, mp3, aux, digital radio, Sirius/XM in North America, AM, FM, and a few more) when it comes to music. The voice command system uses a say what’s on the display (it brings up a list) type interface, so unlike in a say a German car, it actually works.
The J-gate of old, which was a far better manu-matic than any of the up and down in a separate gate systems, has been replaced by a (backlit) selectable knob on the console and selectable Formula 1 style shifters for the 6-speed automatic transmission. Power is sent by this transmission to the rear wheels (in two-different wheelbases) by three varieties of the third generation 5.0L AJ-V8: 385hp, 470hp, and 510hp. Let’s just say that no matter which power level one chooses, you can haul, because since the Jag is an alloy cat, it’s an order of magnitude lighter than the competition. Audi’s A8 employs a racing derived tubular space-frame, and it is high technology for a car (lighter than the same frame in steel). The XJ is built like a jet fighter; it is lighter, stronger, and curvier than the competition. It drives like a Jag, rides like a Jag, and goes like a bat out of Hell.
Really it’s not a fair fight, the Jag is just so much more advanced, plus Jaguar has now become known for possessing excellent build-quality and reliability. The slippery body of the XJ completes the package (class leading aerodynamics). Mr. Callum and his team have given a big car sweeping feline curves, which make it seem much trimmer than it’s dimensions belie. There is even a bit of flat black paint on the C-pillars in order to give the impression of more glass area in the rear window. This may seem like a bit of a gimmick in some photos, but it actually works. The grill is a tasteful chrome mesh, and the headlamps look as if they are copied from the eyes of a beast of prey (it is a Jaguar after all). The rear, especially in long wheelbase form, gives Pippa Middleton a run for her money, and it has been reported that Prince Harry fits in the boot. This is not your grandfather’s Jag, and it runs with an elite crowd. If a Bentley Continental is a fat girl from Cheshire living off her German uncle’s Nazi derived money whilst sporting a Swarovski vagazzle, then the Jaguar XJ is Kate Beckinsale in an evening gown. The Jag is in a word, perfect.