The Jaguar XJ Supersport is the cheesed-off, angry version of the standard diesel XJ -- the Incredible Hulk to the diesel's nerdy, spec-wearing Bruce Banner. It's faster, more aggressive and ultimately more desirable, but does its added menace warrant its £90,000 asking price, or should you stick with the diesel model?
Tech me to your leader
The XJ Supersport has some of the best cabin tech we've seen in any car. One of its most notable inclusions is a virtual instruments display -- a 12.3-inch TFT screen behind the steering wheel that uses computer graphics to show the speedometer, rev counter and other assorted gauges.
All the graphics shown there are dynamic and context-sensitive, so the visuals change, depending on what the driver requires. Receive new directions from the sat-nav, for example, and the fuel gauge is temporarily replaced by a full-colour map showing new directions. Access the engine computer and the rev counter is swapped for a colour menu that gives you access to vehicle setup functions.
The virtual instruments panel is impressive, but it's trumped by the Supersport's dual-view infotainment display. Hit the dual-view button below the 8-inch panel and a hidden screen filter directs half the pixel columns to the left and the other half to the right, so those in the passenger seat can enjoy one video feed, while the driver sees another.
It sounds like the stuff from a James Bond movie, but it's practical and fun -- the passenger can kick back and watch analogue or digital Freeview TV, or DVD and DivX video files, while the driver sees the XJ's graphical menu system or sat-nav instructions.
Audio is well catered for, too. The car packs a 30GB hard drive, 10GB of which is allocated to music storage, so users can rip CDs directly to the car, reducing the need to carry CDs on your travels. The XJ will also play music stored on an iPod, iPhone or even a USB memory stick filled with unprotected WMA or MP3 music files.
Like all top-end Jaguars, the XJ Supersport is fitted with a Bowers & Wilkins audio system, but this particular setup is better than the ones we've seen previously. Its 20 speakers are driven by a whopping 1,200W amplifier, so it's no surprise it delivers clear, powerful sound no matter which seat you're sitting in.
We've cranked the volume up on countless factory-fitted audio setups. We've no qualms about saying this one is right up there with the best, second only perhaps to the Burmester audio system in the Porsche Panamera.
The XJ Supersport doesn't advertise its alpha status in the same way a souped-up hot hatchback might. There's no fancy automotive peacock display here -- there isn't even a single Supersport badge on the bodywork. The only way to tell that this is the high-end sporty model (from the outside, at least) is by noticing the chrome 'Supercharged' badge just ahead of the front doors, and the tricked-out, 20-inch, satin-finish alloy wheels.
There are several clues to its Supersport status on the inside, though these too are kept to a minimum. Most notably, Jaguar has installed a set of gorgeous backlit door sills that glow with the Supersport motif when the door opens and -- somewhat bizarrely -- the glove compartment and centre console are lined with purple suede. We're not really sure why.
Rocket and roll
The Supersport is enormous, so low-speed manoeuvres, such as parallel parking, are an absolute nightmare. Jaguar supplied our test car with a reverse-parking camera and front and rear proximity sensors to make it easier, but you'll need a calm head and your wits about you when manoeuvring this 5m-long barge into parking bays that are frequently not much bigger than the car itself.
The Supersport may be slightly unwieldy for driving around town, but it really comes into its own on the open road and -- if you're willing -- on the track. It uses the same 5-litre V8 engine found in the hyper-quick Jaguar XJR and Range Rover Sport, so it's brutally quick in a straight line. It'll reach 60mph from a standstill in as little as 4.7 seconds, which is just 0.01 of a second slower than the Jaguar XKR sports car. Keep the throttle planted and it'll keep pace with just about any fancy coupé until it reaches an electronically limited 155mph.
The Supersport goes about its performance in a slightly less dramatic way than its XKR and XFR stablemates. Its exhaust note is subdued for the most part and it cruises almost silently in traffic. Enthusiastic driving will reveal a regular snap, crackle and pop from the engine during what's known as overrun (backfiring), but the sound isn't as pervasive -- or as satisfying -- as it is with most super-charged sports cars. This car is designed more for comfort and less for delivering the visceral thrills one would expect of a car that uses this particular engine.
The Supersport is surprisingly agile -- a fact we discovered after a loutish decision to disable the traction control on a wet surface. Turning left on the slippery tarmac, we applied a touch too much throttle to see what would happen when the back end slid out. On lesser cars, this would have caused an embarrassing 180-degree spin, but not in the Supersport's case.
The car uses an active limited-slip differential (a feature missing on the standard XJ) which essentially transfers power to whichever wheel has the most grip when both are slipping. This, combined with a dab of opposite lock (turning the wheel in the opposite direction to the spin) meant we were able to stylishly powerslide our way out of the induced spin, Clarkson-style, until the car was back in a straight line. Not bad for something the size of an ocean liner.
All that extra power comes at the expense of fuel economy. The standard, 3-litre, diesel XJ has a combined fuel economy of 40.1mpg on the combined cycle (29.6mpg around town), plus carbon-dioxide emissions of 184g/km.
The 5-litre V8 super-charged engine in the Supersport isn't quite so frugal, delivering just 23.4mpg combined (15.4mpg around town) and a whopping 289g/km of CO2. It's heaps of fun, but, like all the best things in life, there's a price to pay in the long run.
The Jaguar XJ Supersport is a wonderful executive saloon. It's comfortable, has a wealth of extraordinary cabin tech and is fast enough to outrun just about anything on four wheels. If you're wealthy enough to afford the running costs and you're a whizz at fitting a large car into a small space, it'll prove a hugely rewarding vehicle.
Edited by Nick Hide