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Jaguar XJ 3.0 Litre Diesel Review & Road Test (2010)

Sun, 01 Aug 2010

We spend a week reviewing and road testing the new Jaguar XJ

pagespeed.lazyLoadImages.overrideAttributeFunctions(); It’s 1968, and I’m knee-high to a grasshopper and still wearing shorts. The world is moving fast – the Vietnam War is raging; Enoch Powell delivers his ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech; the last scheduled Steam Trains run; the Beatles release the White Album and Apollo 8 goes to the Dark Side of the Moon – and I’m standing with my dad staring at the new Jaguar XJ.

And of all those world-significant events I think the only one I remember without the benefit of hindsight is the new Jaguar XJ. The cold of the leather on the back of my legs as I’m allowed to sit in Jaguar’s new wonder; the seemingly endless row of fascinating buttons running across the dash; the feline grace of a saloon car confusing my young petrolhead mind – how can I drool over a four door saloon?

But drool was all we could do. Dad was a policeman, and a policeman’s wages – even one rising through the ranks – didn’t stretch to anything more than an Austin 1100 in 1968 (although they just stretched to a new Hillman Avenger in 1971 – KHK 783J. Strange what rubbish you remember). So this was fantasy land for me, and for dad.

But the garage didn’t mind us drooling. In fact they were rather pleased. Those were the days when everyone had respect for the police, so dad was welcome even though they knew he could never afford a Jaguar, much less a new Jaguar XJ.

Forty two years later I’m standing on my drive in brilliant sunshine and wearing shorts – not the same shorts I wore in 1968, I hasten to add – and drooling over the new Jaguar XJ. Sadly, dad isn’t drooling with me – I lost him eighteen months ago – but I can hear his voice saying the same things we said all those years ago when I was just a little boy.

Oh, how I wish dad were here to share the week I’m about to have with the new Jaguar XJ 3.0 litre Diesel. But how he would have laughed at the thought of a diesel-engined Jaguar being an appealing prospect. What happened to the glorious XK engines that used to sing to me when I drove MK II Jags on patrol, I can hear him say.

But things have changed, dad, and this is in many ways the pick of the new XJ models. But can a 3.0 litre diesel in an XJ ever be appealing to a car lover; one who loves ‘The Drive’?

I guess we’ll find out this week.

The Jaguar XJ's controversial rump

Jaguar’s move in to the 21st century – certainly in design terms – started two years ago with the XF. Out went the pastiche of the past that was the S Type and in came the modern cool of the XF, with its very contemporary take on Jaguar’s style.

But the XJ; that’s a very different icon to mess with. The S Type – although a good car – was not greatly loved. The XJ is. Sadly not by enough buyers to sustain it as a successful lookalike for the ’68 original, but loved none the less.

Before I first saw the XJ in the flesh – a little over a year ago – I’d decided from photos that the front looked OK, the side profile quite decent and the arse an abomination. A poor cobbling together of bits of old Citroen and Bentley design cues, my expert eye concluded. Wrong. Completely wrong.

In the flesh the XJ is glorious. You can catch the line of the MK II in the front wings; the top of the car is elegant and delicate and the bottom shouts aggression. And the arse works; so well. Richard called it a ‘Crouching Panther’ in the owners review of the new XJ he did recently. That is bang on the money.

But it is still Jaguar. However hard you try you couldn’t mistake it for anything else. That is its greatest styling achievement – individuality. It’s not a big, bland box like the competition – even the new A8 looks like a big, bland A4 – it is a real work of art, just as a Jaguar should be. Real ‘Grace’.

The interior is a revelation. Gone is the Gentleman’s Club interior to be replaced with an even more convincing modern take on a Jaguar than the XF. You still get the mass of leather covering everything in sight, but the touch is lighter. You still get the cocooned feel – the cockpit – which Jaguar does so well, but the cabin is light and airy thanks to the big glass roof.

The virtual instruments do a decent job of looking traditional when you want, and Playstation when you don’t. The theatre of the rising gear selector finds it’s way in to the XJ from the XF (and the XK too) and the split-screen monitor for the infotainment is clever. The Bowers and Wilkins sound system is awesome; the seats are heated and cooled and enormously comfortable and the XJ feels more modern; more individual; more cohesive; more Jaguar than I ever thought it could.

But you don’t want to know about that, important though it is. You’ve seen a million words written on the looks and the cabin of the new XJ – we managed umpteen pages of a new Jaguar XJ review a year ago. All you need to know in terms of how it looks is that once you’ve seen it you’ll know. You’ll know it works. You’ll know it’s a triumph.

What you really want to know is how does it go? How does it drive? Does it waft and wail, even with a diesel engine?

Jaguar XJ - the interior is a triumph

The Jaguar XJ was a very good car under the skin long before it became the new XJ. And thanks to that advanced aluminium construction the new XJ feels like a mid-sized sports saloon to drive, not a bloated, oversized executive barge with pretensions of offering ‘The Drive’. It’s the real thing.

Jaguar has decided that they aren’t going to offer a car that sacrifices dynamism for comfort; they are in the business of offering sporting cars. That may upset the odd traditional Jaguar buyer, but for everyone else it’s perfect.

In ‘Comfort’ mode the ride is compliant, although you still know what you’re riding over, especially as our 3.0 Diesel Portfolio XJ sits on 20” rubber. We’re sure the ride would be more supple on the 18” or 19” rubber on lower spec models. But it’s not an uncomfortable firmness, more a reassuring one.

The chassis of the XJ is superb; it conspires to make the XJ more agile than any other in its class and it feels – ridiculous though this may sound for a 3.0 litre diesel in a very big luxury saloon – remarkably like the XFR when you start to push. The steering has the same, sometimes too light but ultimately perfectly balanced, sweet steering and body roll is kept brilliantly in check. It’s very hard to upset the XJ even when you’re clumsy, so well balanced is it. And in Dynamic mode you can feel the XJ gird its loins and hunker down for the fun to come.

The 3.0 litre diesel engine is nothing short of a wonder – as good as anything BMW produce, and praise comes no higher. It has almost as much torque as the 5.0 litre S/C and that shows in the way it seems capable of insane performance for a modestly sized oil burner.

It does 0-60mph in 6 seconds and feels quicker. In Dynamic mode the gearbox feels almost telepathic in its selection and hustling along is a joy. So much of a joy I found myself going out for a drive round winding country roads at speeds I won’t admit to in the early hours of the morning on the day Jaguar came to take ‘our’ XJ away. And that’s after a week with the XJ and the best part of 1,000 miles. It’s that good to drive quickly.

But the XJ has it’s faults; all cars do. Headroom is not enormous, front or back. But I’m 6’3” and long of body and I fit snugly, so unless you’re taller than Clarkson or sporting a beehive or Busby you should be OK. Legroom in the back of the XJ SWB is also snug – as it’s always been – but the LWB option will solve that. The boot is bigger than before but still not cavernous and the latency on the Infotainment screen sometimes makes you long for a row of buttons instead.

Beyond those very minor gripes you have to get nit-picky to find much to moan about. The clock should look elegant but instead looks like it came from an above average Christmas cracker (maybe an ivory face and matt silver would solve its garishness?) and the flappy paddles and the electric window switches don’t feel nice; they feel cheap functional rather than tactile and elegant.

And that’s it. Minor, insignificant gripes. All the boxes that matter ticked.

2010 Jaguar XJ - still very much a Jaaag

I have to confess we had a couple of glitches with our XJ. We pushed Jaguar in to giving us an XJ for a week as soon as they could. So we ended up with a very early car which had been run around by more hacks and celebs than you can shake a stick at. Despite that it felt completely together and tight, not at all the hard worked car.

But its history caused two issues. The battery had a brainstorm – doubtless confused by the plugging in of a thousand laptops, cameras and flat video batteries by clumsy journos – which caused software confusion and a ‘Low Battery – Start Car’ warning. And a loose hose on the turbo caused a limp-home mode to kick in. Not good, but we were never stranded, just irritated.

Do these problems indicate the new Jaguar XJ is unreliable? We really don’t think so. Jaguar now enjoys a reputation as good as any car maker – as shown by its sector leading results in the US JD Power Surveys – and we think the issues we had are just the result of an early, not particularly well-treated car. Still, they shouldn’t have happened and we’ll be keeping a careful eye open going forward for problems.

But minor moans apart, the new XJ is a triumph. Better to look at and better to drive – even with a modest 3.0 litre diesel engine – than any of the competition. Yes, just like the XF there are things the opposition do better, but none offer the package the XJ does.

The ability to offer a real drive is its ace; something the others, not even the BMW 7 Series, really quite manage as convincingly. But high up the list is the way the XJ makes you feel. As Richard said, it has a touch of the Aston Martin about it. We don’t really see that in its lines as much as in its presence. It’s a car you enjoy looking at, inside and out. It feels very special. It makes you feel good. And it engenders smiles of benign lust from all who encounter it.

So how do we sum up the new Jaguar XJ? Is it as special as we hoped? Does it drive as well as a Jaguar should? For me the answer is a resounding yes. It is the best car in its class, bar none. Dad said it perfectly 42 years ago, and I can hear him saying it all over again as I stand, once more, on my drive looking at the new Jaguar XJ before it goes back.

‘Bloody Hell Fire’, he said as we stood drooling over the new Jaguar XJ. ‘That’s the best car Jaguar’s ever made’.

He was right then, and he’s just as right now. Even if it’s only me who can hear him this time round.

Jaguar XJ 3.0 Litre Diesel Portfolio full specification, data and price

(45 photos – click any thumbnail for full gallery)

By Cars UK