Jaguar XJ driven

The definitive verdict on big cat's most luxurious model ever - driven here in petrol V8 guise.

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

By abandoning its traditional retro roots, the XJ is now one of the most stylish and desirable luxury vehicles you can buy. Its cabin has a tailored feel, while even in long-wheelbase form the big cat is remarkably light on its feet. Better still, the muscular yet refined 5.0-litre petrol V8 allows the model to be both sporty and serene. Only the firm ride and limited rear headroom give cause for concern – but despite these flaws, Jaguar now has a real contender for class honours.

The big cat is ready to sink its claws into the luxury car class! Jaguar’s bold new XJ is finally here – and Auto Express is first to get behind the wheel of the British firm’s most important model in years.

Bolstered by the success of the smaller XF saloon, Jaguar has given its new flagship striking looks and a contemporary cabin that’s packed with hi-tech kit. But the cutting-edge approach isn’t limited to the styling and interior, as the XJ features lightweight aluminium construction, an advanced chassis set-up and powerful new engines.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Jaguar XJ

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As a result, bosses claim they’ve created a sporting limo that has the ability to take on the smooth Mercedes S-Class and poised Porsche Panamera. To see if the car has what it takes, we drove a long-wheelbase 5.0-litre V8 XJ in top-spec Portfolio trim.

There’s no question that the car trumps its German rivals in the style stakes. As with the XF, the newcomer banishes the retro looks and stuffy image of its predecessor to the history books.

At the front is a gaping grille and menacing lights, while a rakish profile gives a sporty stance. The rear boasts eye-catching, vertically mounted LED tail-lamps.

For even more kerbside appeal you can specify our car’s long wheelbase. It boosts the standard model’s length by 125mm to an imposing 5.2 metres.

The most controversial aspect of the design is the black C-pillar inserts, which are intended to create the illusion of a wraparound rear screen. To our eyes, though, this visual trick looks like an afterthought.

There are four trim levels - Luxury, Luxury Premium, Portfolio and supercharged Supersport. The top two are distinguished by 20-inch alloy rims that help fill out the XJ’s large wheelarches.

No limo would be complete without a cosseting cabin – and the Jag doesn’t disappoint. Climb into the back of the LWB car and you’ll find generous legroom and contoured seats. However, the low roofline means tall occupants will find their head touching the rooflining. All models get a panoramic glass roof, which gives the interior an airy feel – despite the narrow side windows and darkened privacy glass.

Up front, the dash is bang up-to-date. As with the XF and XK, you get the trademark rotary gear selector which rises out of the centre console, while the driving position is excellent. Elsewhere you’ll spot the ‘virtual’ dials that mimic traditional analogue units. For extra drama, the backlighting turns red when you engage the car’s Dynamic driving mode. At night the rest of the cabin is bathed in a cool phosphorus blue glow.

Despite ripping up the retro design book, Jaguar’s heritage hasn’t been forgotten. Soft leather, a selection of nine classy wood trim finishes and plenty of chrome embellishment mark the XJ out as a very British luxury car.

Beneath the skin, though, is a thoroughly modern machine. By using aluminium for the body and underpinnings, engineers have created a surprisingly light vehicle. The LWB we drove tips the scales at 1,773kg – a huge 242kg less than Mercedes’ S500.

All models get the Adaptive Dynamics system, which refines the steering, damping and throttle at the touch of button. However, even in the standard setting the XJ feels poised and agile. The steering is extremely sharp, and the Jag slices through bends with the eagerness of a much smaller machine.

Grip is strong in the dry, the brakes deliver eye-popping stopping power and high- speed body control is excellent. But the biggest surprise is the firm ride. In town the car feels fidgety, while it doesn’t shrug off potholes with the composure of the S-Class.

There are no complaints about the muscular powerplant, which emits a muted V8 bark under hard acceleration. Yet when cruising, the 5.0-litre is near-silent, helping to make the Jag an extremely quiet motorway companion. Also available is the firm’s 3.0-litre V6 diesel and the 503bhp supercharged V8 from the XFR. All versions get the same six-speed paddleshift auto box.

The XJ is massively attractive, while the cabin leaves occupants feeling privileged and pampered. The newcomer is a world away from its stuffy and outdated predecessor, and is now ready to take on the luxury elite.

Rival: Mercedes S500L Nearly five years old, but still at the top of its game. In 383bhp 5.5-litre V8 form, the S-Class is fast, refined and a technological masterpiece. Further highlights include the beautiful build and luxuriously appointed cabin.

Don't miss next week's magazine (on sale March 3) when we put the XJ up against its closest rivals.

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