The Jaguar XJ of old is a car that epitomised luxury and comfort. Unfortunately, it also epitomised excess, due to its lack of eco-friendly credentials and its close association with punch-happy politicians. You might assume there would be little room for such a car in modern society, but, with the release of the 2010 XJ, Jaguar is out to prove the doubters wrong.
The XJ sits above the Jaguar XF in the jungle pecking order, and it's easy to see why. The minute we laid eyes on our test vehicle, a silver, 3-litre diesel, Portfolio special edition, we fell in love. It shares DNA with the XF, but has evolved to feature a larger, more aggressive front grille, a longer, sleeker silhouette, and a beautifully minimal rear end. It's a gorgeous slab of metal -- make no mistake.
The gorgeous exterior of the XJ plays second fiddle to the interior. Rather than recycle the already impressive cabin from the XF and XK, Jaguar has started with a blank canvas.Leather and wood feature heavily, but your eyes will be drawn immediately to the XJ's headline features: an 8-inch, dual-view display that can show two images simultaneously -- one to the driver and one to the passenger --and a 12.3-inch TFT screen that functions as an instrument panel.
A poor workman blames his instruments
The XJ's 'virtual instruments' panel is recessed in front of the steering wheel. It's a proper TFT screen that displays all the car's gauges using computer graphics. The screen has a circular speedometer in the centre, flanked by a rev counter on the right, and a third circle on the left that shows fuel levels, the engine temperature, and status messages related to the audio-visual system.
The 'virtual-instruments' graphics are dynamic and context-sensitive. Access the engine computer, for example, and the rev counter is replaced by a colour menu that provides access to a host of vehicle set-up functions, or colour graphics indicating what buttons the driver should press to activate a given function. Receive new directions from the sat-nav, and the fuel gauge is temporarily replaced with a full-colour map.Activate the car's sporty 'dynamic' mode and the entire display switches from a chrome colour to an angry red, hinting at the car's increased readiness to shred tarmac. The radio-station indicator in the centre of the left-most circle fades away, to be replaced by gear indicator numbers, leaving the driver in no doubt as to what gear has been selected via the car's flappy-paddle gearbox.
Jaguar has stopped short of allowing drivers to skin their virtual instruments, but, in theory, the system can replicate the visual styling of just about any car dials you can imagine. Virtual instruments come as standard on all UK XJs.
Let me infotain you
There aren't many in-car gadgets cooler than a foot-long digital instrument panel, but the XJ's dual-view infotainment screen -- which feeds different images to the driver and passenger simultaneously -- just gets the nod. This, like most vehicle interfaces, provides touch access to common car functions, including climate-control, communications, navigation and audio features. But it'll also allow the passenger to enjoy the car's on-board Freeview television system, a DVD, or DivX films (via discs).
Relatively simple technology is behind the dual-view display. The screen comprises a backlit colour LCD and a special mask placed over the liquid-crystal layer. Images for the left and right viewing angles are shown simultaneously on adjacent pixel columns, while the mask distributes the picture in opposite directions. The driver sees an image constructed of the first, third, fifth and other odd-numbered pixel columns, while the passenger's image is constructed of the second, fourth, sixth and subsequent even-numbered columns.
It works beautifully in practice, although image-quality junkies should note that the screen's standard 800x480-pixel resolution is reduced in dual-view mode, giving each side a total resolution of just 400x480 pixels. The dual-view display comes fitted as standard on all the Portfolio and Supersport versions of UK XJs.
The 2010 XJ can handle a vast array of multimedia content. Its single-slot optical drive is capable of accepting a disc full of MP3 audio, standard audio CDs and DVD discs. The absence of a multi-disc changer is conspicuous, but most users won't mind, as Jaguar provides a 30GB hard disk drive that replaces the need for physical discs.
Of this storage, 20GB is reserved for housing maps in the satellite-navigation system, while the remainder is allocated to music storage. It's possible to rip a collection of CDs in lossless format directly to this storage and access them via the car's audio system as if they were stored in a virtual CD changer.
The XJ's media credentials don't end there. Customers have the option of a DAB radio, priced at £250, a digital Freeview TV, priced at £500, and a rear-seat entertainment package, consisting of two headrest-mounted displays for the rear passengers, priced at £1,500. The car also features not one but two USB ports, into which the user can connect an iPod and an external hard drive simultaneously. More impressive, though, is the fact that the XJ can handle Bluetooth 2 streaming audio, which allows users to stream music over the air from a mobile phone to the car's speakers. This feature was unavailable in our test vehicle, but Jaguar engineers tell us the system works with a wide variety of handsets, including the iPhone.
All XJs feature a high-end Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system. Again, Jaguar hasn't simply recycled the B&W kit from the XF -- the XJ's is all-new. Power amplification has been boosted from a humble 400W in the XF to a frankly terrifying 1,200W in this car.
The speaker count has also been boosted from 14 to 20, including three in each door, two on the dashboard, four surround speakers on the parcel shelf, and two subwoofers. We came back from the car's press launch deaf in one ear, but we're happy to testify that it's probably the best factory-fitted audio system we've ever encountered.
Did we mention it drives well?
The XJ's technology is impressive, but it never once upstages the car as a driving machine -- and that's really saying something. We spent a total of about nine hours behind the wheel of the new Portfolio edition, racking up hundreds of miles along country roads, motorways and city streets, and not once did we want to get out.
The car's ride is somewhat firmer than one might expect of a luxury vehicle, but it gives the XJ a poise and agility that are lacking in some of its rivals. Despite this firmness, passengers are unlikely to feel as if they're about to lose their fillings or their lunch, as the suspension is supple enough to make light of all but the most pockmarked roads.
We'd harboured fears that Jaguar would cut corners with the new XJ. It would have been all too easy for the company to butcher parts from its XK and XF models, or take the cookie-cutter approach and follow the lead of rivals cars from BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi. Thankfully, it's done neither, and the XJ is a better car for it. It's gorgeous to look at, well-built and right there at the cutting edge of technology. All things considered, we couldn't ask for much more.
Jaguar XJ stats
- Model tested: Jaguar XJ 3.0L V6D 600
- Top speed: 155mph (limited)
- Acceleration: 0-60mph in 6 seconds
- Max power: 275PS at 4,000rpm
- Economy: 40.1mpg (combined cycle)
- Price: £67,200