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.