But those E-Type-inspired roots are also what made the XJ so very different and so timeless. Yes, the engineering key to the car was the exceptional refinement and ride, but it also managed to cross a new level of limousine isolation with a real sporting vibe. The low seat, the open glasshouse and the minimal dashboard made the XJ a truly unique experience.
My first experience with the XJ family was back in 1993. I drove a just-exiting XJ40 long-termer for a final shoot down by Battersea Power Station. One of the guys on the dustbin lorry came over and said: “I’ve got one of those – did the bootlid rust through?” Indeed it had (and it was a reminder that second-hand XJs have long enabled working people to own a really good car).
Weeks later, the new X300s arrived. Styled to look more like the classic XJ, it was a revelation. Built with much greater precision under Ford, the supercharged version with its mean black dash was a monumentally uplifting vehicle. Its rapidity was emphasised by the enclosed cockpit and sense of closeness to the road.
On the other hand, in the same year I took part in a feature that had me sitting in the rear of four luxury executive cars while being shuttled across the UK. Certainly, the S-Class was huge and comfortable, the Lexus was spacious but unsettled and, by comparison, the XJ was confined. But the old-school interior of chrome and wood had – especially at night – by far the best atmosphere. It’s not all about competing on leg room.
It’s that duality of the XJ that’s so compelling, but it’s the car – in all its versions – that had a remarkable ability to imprint itself on my mind. Despite driving hundreds of cars over the years, what stands out is the midsummer long-distance weekend in a Daimler Double Six and six months’ ‘ownership’ of the X350. I really enjoyed that latter car.
As did I the X358, the final XJ and, very sadly, a car now selling in tiny numbers. As different as it is, this XJ remains a joy to drive. Leggy, refined and relaxed but also capable of lighting up on a quick road.
I have to admit I used to drive around London at night in the X358, listening to jazz. The vibe that car had on empty night-time city streets is still unquestionably one of my peak motoring experiences.
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