What is it?
A new petrol-powered version of the Jaguar XJ. If Jaguar’s growing success in the global executive car market is to continue, it’ll be thanks in no small part to downsized petrol power. As part of 2013 model year revisions on both its XF middleweight and XJ heavyweight saloons, as well as making the former available as a ‘sportbrake’ estate and adding four-wheel drive to both models, Jaguar has also introduced two new petrol-fuelled engines.
The smallest, a 237bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot, won’t be offered in the UK, but is expected to boost Jaguar XF and XJ export volumes to the US and China by a considerable margin. But the other, a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that should be particularly popular in Russia, America and parts of central Europe, will be available to us Brits.
It’s been added to the XJ range as part of the current car’s first mid-life refresh since its launch in 2009. There have been minor updates to the navigation system, and there’s a new high-end hifi, offered as an option, from Meridian.
But the headline changes consist of the 335bhp V6 engine in place of the old atmospheric 5.0-litre V8, the addition of ZF’s eight-speed automatic gearbox to every engine in place of the old six-speeder, and a slight reappraisal of the chassis’ spring and damper rates intended to produce a slightly more quiet and cosseting secondary ride.
What is it like?
Time has been kind to the XJ – but more in some ways than others. The last three years certainly haven’t brought a better-looking limousine to market. To these eyes, Ian Callum’s elegantly sporting giant continues to shine at least twice as brightly as any other large exec, having set the bar on aesthetic appeal almost unreachably high for the relatively conservative German opposition. Perhaps that’s why the car’s exterior design has survived its first facelift entirely unchanged.
It’s a shame that Gaydon’s interior design department wasn’t employed to bring some of the XJ’s cabin materials up to a slightly more rarified level. There’s nothing wrong with the look of the car’s leathers, veneers, trims and controls; quite the opposite, in fact. When you slide onboard, the bright and lustrous mix of chrome trims, knobs and vents you’re faced with creates a very warm and special ambiance. But when you begin to touch some of those trims and prod some of the minor switchgear, it’s a plasticky, slightly mass-market impression you get; not the cool, tactile metallic substance of an Audi A8 or Mercedes S-class. Still, the new hifi system is as powerful and clear as almost any we’ve heard recently. And Russian compatibility has been added to the XJ’s voice recognition system - which tells you everything you need to know about where in the world JLR is now looking for further success.
Why retune the chassis? Apparently, it wasn’t in response to feedback from customers, or criticism from the press about the XJ’s lack of rolling refinement - although there’s been plenty. According to Chief Program Engineer Andy Dobson, it’s was simply a process that they would naturally go through following any change to the engine and transmission lineup. “But it has given us the opportunity to improve the ride a little, which was something we were keen to do,” he says. Enough said. Spring and dampers rates are now lower, though they vary depending on engine and wheel specification.
But the concurrent improvement is small – and our test car, a Portfolio-spec long-wheelbase example with low-profile 20in wheels, wasn’t ideal to demonstrate it. At low speed, on broken and uneven urban roads, it inspired the same criticisms we made of the XJ in 2009: that it simply doesn’t isolate its occupants from lumps and bumps smoothly enough to be considered particularly luxurious. Although they don’t crash through into the cabin and there’s little harshness to their impacts, even fairly small ridges can disturb the comfort of occupants, and the general calm of the cabin.
Out of town, at higher speeds, you can feel more of a difference. On the motorway, there’s more compliance in the chassis – enough to cope with expansion joints with less fuss. And on British B-roads, there’s just more ‘give’ in the suspension. The XJ now wafts and ‘breathes’ with the road surface that little bit more - Jaguar’s traditional dynamic mode – without ever really running out of vertical body control or beginning to roll or pitch. And when you want that little bit more control, Dynamic Mode on the adaptive dampers instantly delivers it.
Light, precise and informative steering, and that accommodating but still sporting ride, make the Jaguar a much more involving and talented driver’s car than the full-sized executive norm. It’s brilliant at covering ground at brisk but unhurried pace, and its capacity for effortless, flattering accuracy is unmatched.
Owner-drivers will continue to love the XJ then, while passengers may be a little unconvinced: situation normal. And what of the engine – the supercharged six-pot that will go on to power Jaguar’s 2013 F-type sports car?
It’s flexible and characterful, powerful and sweet-sounding. Paired with the XJ’s torque converter auto, its power delivery seemed slightly lumpy at times, but its responses are sure to be cleaner when working in tandem with the dual-clutch gearbox of the F-type. Refinement’s good under small throttle loads; not-so-good at high revs, where the engine begins to feel a little strained - but that could be different in the case of its F-type state of tune. Economy’s good too: expect to better 30mpg on a quiet run.
Should I buy one?
On balance, we’d still opt for the 3.0-litre V6 diesel in the XJ, as nine out of ten UK owners will. The diesel’s combination of mid-range torque, equally impressive refinement at most speeds, and of 40mpg economy just makes more sense in a car like this.
But the more important news is two-fold: firstly, that the XJ’s handling remains as wonderful and distinguishing as it has been for the last three years – something likely to keep it at the top of our limousine road test rankings for a while yet. And secondly, that one very early sign suggests that the F-type could be another of Gaydon’s sporting greats.
Jaguar XJ 3.0 SC Portfolio LWB
Price £75,815; 0-62mph 5.9sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 30.0mpg; CO2 224g/km; Kerb weight tbc; Engine V6, 2995cc, supercharged petrol; Power 335bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 3500-5000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic