Here I have to declare two biases. First, to be honest I am, it seems, culturally disadvantaged. I like gauges and switches and little knobs that rotate to increase or decrease volume or airflow. And, I love analog gauges. Second, I like dinosaurs. So, to be inserted into a five-liter V8 2011 Jaguar XJ and be sung the praises of the new game-boy instrument panel with look-alike speedometer and rev-counter, pricked at my ante-diluvian predilections. Why, I thought, would anyone go to all the trouble to computer generate images of analog gauges on a TV screen when at less expense and, to my mind with a whole lot more style, have proper ones? Mrs. H saved the day with the answer: Because I am old and I liked them.” So, clearly, the problem lay with my perception rather than the sparkling modernity that they symbolized; that’s official. The XJ is a very fine motorcar. It returns the owner to the correct seat — the one behind the steering wheel. The car communicates with the driver through firm suspension, precise and very responsive steering with nicely tuned understeer. It is not a quiet car — the low profile tires and engine noise see to that — but then, it was never designed that way. If you want a silent saloon to sit in the back of, there are many out there and the XJ is not for you.
If, however, you want a car that will burble soothingly through a shopping mall car park yet tool along at twice the legal speed limit having pinned your ears back with its scintillating acceleration to inhabit the zone, then it has arrived in the form of the XJ! this car is quite unlike any previous Jaguar and light years from my Mark Nine, which in a time long ago in a place far away, was the epitome of luxury. It will be as much of a classic and for many of the same reasons: Build quality, luxury, the look of the beast and the driving experience. However, the technology and power that Jaguar has packed into this cat’s claws renders it as different from its ancestor as velociraptors were from budgerigars. The charming but antique styling that characterized Jaguars for decades has vanished. The traditional flat wooden fascia is replaced with a sweeping leather dashboard with a pair of turbine-sized air conditioning vents. Centrally located is the infotainment screen with (reassuringly one at least) a rotating knob to control the fan speed. The quality of leather and trim is outstanding — Jaguar really have taken to heart the axiom that you buy quality once and cheap items several times. The attention to detail and craftsmanship easily rivals that of cars five times the price. The central console is littered with flat buttons to control the car’s systems from FM seek to sport mode and a variety of drive options. When the start button (nice retro touch) is pressed, the car rumbles into life and the i-Drive style rotating gear control rises like a cinema organ out of the console to a fugue on eight cylinders by Jaguar.
This knurled control may be a knob, but I will have to enter my second childhood before I get used to it. I add to the above list of things to twiddle, a gear stick. It is all too easy to rotate the knurled knob a stage too far and click into sport mode rather than reverse. Could be expensive. However, the chap — or indeed, chapette — who designed and placed the paddle-shift gear change behind the steering wheel allowing easy and ergonomic access with the fingertips should get a medal. Quite apart from being linked to a gearbox so smooth and fast that you wonder if you have indeed changed gear, the shift paddles feel so right. It just has to have been designed by a driver. The steering wheel is another work of art. Just about every operation the driver might want to carry out in the car while moving can, after a little familiarization, be done without his hands leaving the wheel. The thing would look perfectly in place on a Formula 1 car. A large four-door car with real rear seats that took a couple of six-footers comfortably, the aluminum chassis allows it to weigh in at considerably less than its rivals. It also contributes to the car’s nimbleness and almost zero roll handling, even without the stabilization program engaged. It also helps the five liter V8 put the 385 HP it produces where it should be: on the road rather than lugging extra weight about. The 510 HP supercharged version or the XJ Supersport must be real handfuls.
The long list of standard equipment on the XJ includes 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension, panoramic sunroof, automatic xenon headlamps, auto-dimming mirrors, a power-closing trunk lid, keyless ignition/entry, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats (16-way driver and 12-way passenger) with memory functions, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and leather upholstery. Also standard is an LCD digital instrument panel, a touch screen electronics interface, Bluetooth (phone connection and audio streaming), a navigation system, voice controls and a 14-speaker sound system with CD player, digital music storage, an iPod interface, HD radio and satellite radio.
All XJ models come with a six-speed automatic with manual shift control. Jaguar estimates a 0-60-mph sprint of 5.4 seconds. Getting there is one thing; stopping is another. Every 2011 Jaguar XJ comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, active head restraints and a blind spot warning system. Front seat active seatbelts are optional on the XJ and XJL, and standard on the others. Once going, there are not many cars that strike such a perfect balance between ride comfort and sporty handling as the 2011 Jaguar XJ. With its lightweight aluminum chassis and adaptive suspension, the XJ is also deceptively agile. The “dynamic” driver setting engages a sharper throttle response — even firmer dampers and quicker downshifts — all of which make the XJ feel much livelier. The steering is sharp, body roll is negligible and there is a nimbleness you notice in the XJ that’s missing from its much heavier rivals. Comparing the XJ with its market rivals — the BMW7 series, larger Audis, Porsche Panamera or E-class Mercedes will be natural. The decisions to make though are not what is the best value for money — Jaguar is a winner here — but are you a driver or a passenger by nature?