By the looks of it, you wouldn’t think Jaguar is a brand in transition, tossed from Ford to India’s Tata Motors just 20 months ago. The changeover happened not long after the two-door XK kicked off what’s arguably been a top-to-bottom rebirth for the brand. Two model years later came the XF sedan. Now, the redesigned XJ flagship completes the circle — an automotive “Return of the Jedi,” if you will. (Please, let there be no “Phantom Menace.”)
Not far from our downtown Chicago offices, Jaguar invited journalists to check out the 2010 XJ, a car first introduced in London last summer. It’s a spectacle on many levels. The styling looks a great deal like the XF’s, at least until you go around back. Then all bets are off: The serpentine taillights defy resemblance to other Jaguars — many think they resemble a Maserati. The signage – no “Jaguar” spelled out, just the leaping feline logo — is ambitious, a bit brazen even. Good for Jaguar. Press materials say the black C-pillars give the XJ “the impression of an exotic ‘floating’ roof.” I may have to stare at them some more. After spending a couple hours poking around, they left me the impression of…black C-pillars.
The cabin sports chrome, wood and leather that’s surrounded by more wood and more leather. (Really. Jaguar says there’s more wood here than in any Jag from the past 30 years and more cowhide than any Jag ever built.) Jaguar spokesman Iain Balfour told me the XJ’s navigation system responds “lightning fast” compared to the XF’s rather slow system — an issue “we’re aware of,” Balfour said — and the steering wheel sits behind computer-simulated gauges.
I only wish there was more room to take it all in. Let me clarify: The rear seats have ample space, and if you get the extended-wheelbase XJ — Jaguar had one on hand at the event — the additional 5 inches of rear legroom means kids could play floor hockey in back. (Not really. But it is a pretty generous space.) Jaguar expects more than 80 percent of XJ buyers to opt for the longer wheelbase.
No matter which one you get, however, it’s the front seats that feel confined. The cabin seems taller than the smallish prior-generation XJ, but it’s still a bit snug, especially considering the XJ’s class includes full-size sedans like the BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class. All three make the driver feel like he’s piloting a car from an airplane’s first-class seat.
Still, the XJ’s all-aluminum body — said to shave a significant 300 pounds off versus a traditional steel body — and adept six-speed automatic should make it one of the more driver-centric sedans in this league. A 5.0-liter V-8 will serve as the base engine, with a supercharged V-8 optional. The 5.0 and six-speed proved a strong companion in the steel-bodied XF we last drove; the XF weighs about the same — making it the flyweight of its class — so there’s no reason not to expect similar fun here.
Jaguar will face some stiff competition: BMW minted a new 7 Series not 17 months ago, and Audi has a new A8 in the wings. Can the XJ hold its own? We’ll let you know once we drive it.