It doesn’t take an expert’s eye to see the new XJ is the boldest Jaguar for decades – trading the traditional styling of its predecessors for an ultra-modern new look. Ian Callum, the firm’s chief designer, claims that in a class this competitive you have to push the boundaries to get noticed. But has he taken it a step too far?
To find out, we’ve brought the big Jag together with the beauty queen of the class, Maserati’s effortlessly elegant Quattroporte – here in its most focused Sport GT S guise – for its sternest test yet.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Jaguar XJ
Place these two luxury limos next to each other and their dimensions are virtually identical – but the overall impression couldn’t be more different. While the Jag’s scowling front end and chunky bodywork are as avant-garde and in-your-face as it gets, the Maserati has a delicate demeanour, swapping bold surfaces for smooth flowing lines.
Exterior features such as the blacked-out C-pillars – which create the effect of a wraparound rear screen – and the vertical rear lights have divided opinion. But nothing car prepare you for the visual impact the XJ carries when you see it in the flesh. It’s certainly a more successful design seen with your own eyes, rather than in pictures.
Climb inside the XJ’s sumptuous interior and the Jag starts to stamp its authority on this contest. Gone are the days of XJ cabins clad exclusively in wood – now leather is the dominant material, with piano black and brushed aluminium trim applied liberally to the hard surfaces.
Huge eyeball style air vents and the wonderfully tactile and ergonomic steering wheel add flair to the obvious quality.
But the modernism isn’t skin deep. Push the starter button and the gear selector rises dramatically from the centre console, just like in the XF. There’s also a trio of virtual dials, which display analogue readouts on a digital screen, plus the other-worldly dual-view central monitor – allowing the driver and passenger to watch two completely separate images at the same time.
In comparison, the Maserati seems old-hat. Although there’s no shortage of luxury in the Quattroporte’s cabin, including carbon fibre and Alcantara trim, its dated feel demonstrates just how far Jaguar has moved the game on with the XJ.
Access to the Jag’s driver’s seat is still forbidden, but back-to-back rides in both reveal plenty about the XJ on the move. The big cat’s creamy power delivery oozes refinement, while the steel springs at the front and air-suspension at the rear deliver the insulating ride that large Jaguars have always been famous for. The Maserati, on the other hand, has a harder edge to its single-rate dampers, but the trade-off is better body control in fast bends.
The engines go about their business in wildly different ways. The Jaguar’s brutal 5.0-litre supercharged V8 delivers a thump to your back, as the 625Nm of torque propels you forward, but keeps a hushed and refined manner. It produces 69bhp more than the Maserati’s Ferrari-derived, naturally aspirated 4.7-litre V8, and thanks to its advanced aluminium spaceframe chassis, the XJ tips the scales at 98kg less.
But while the Quattroporte has its work cut out keeping up with the XJ on twisting country lanes, it makes up for it with one of the most glorious soundtracks of any production car – a thoroughbred Italian bellow from its quad exhausts that can be turned up to 11 by prodding the innocuous-looking Sport button on the dash.
Buyers of large luxury saloons have never had it so good. These two cars are chalk and cheese – the Maserati a slice of old-school charm sprinkled with the flair of an Italian supercar, while the Jag is unashamedly modern, luxurious and forward-thinking. But both fulfil their brief brilliantly – to be the most luxurious and effortless way to travel point to point, whether you’re driving or being driven.
Maserati Quattroporte details
* Price: £89,865
* Engine: 4.7-litre V8
* Power: 434bhp
* Torque: 489Nm
* 0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
* Top speed: 177mph
* Economy: 18mpg
* CO2: 365g/km
* Equipment: Electric leather sports seats, climate control, fridge in armrest, sports exhaust, 20-inch trident alloy wheels, satellite navigation, Alcantara upholstery
* On sale: Now
Jaguar XJ details
* Price: £85,000
* Engine: 5.0-litre, supercharged V8
* Power: 503bhp
* Torque: 625Nm
* 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
* Top speed: 155mph
* Economy: 23.4mpg
* CO2: 289g/km
* Equipment: Panoramic sunroof, softgrain leather upholstery, dual-view touch screen, satellite navigation, 20-inch alloy wheels, climate control
* On sale: Jan 2010