"We're not in the transportation business, we're in the entertainment business," says Jaguar's Managing Director Mike O'Driscoll during the introduction of the 2010 Jaguar XJ at Hedsor House, a 19th century country estate outside London.
It's one of those tidy, pre-packaged comments that attempts to say something about the company without really saying anything at all. Had O'Driscoll uttered the line while standing in front of the current XJ, he would have been laughed out of the room.
Instead, he's standing next to the new 2010 Jaguar XJ, a sedan that makes O'Driscoll look as if he believes what he says. It's easily Jaguar's most ambitious-looking sedan in decades, with a design that will either make it fly off the sales lots or fail miserably. And that should be entertaining to watch.
Not a Bigger Car, Just a Better Design
Like every Jaguar of the last decade, the design of this XJ was overseen by Ian Callum, a soft-spoken Scotsman who drives a '32 Ford hot rod on the weekends. He's taken his lumps over the years for unloved designs from others that he shepherded through the design process, like the X-Type sedan and even the current XJ, but this time around it looks like he's finally gotten the sedan he always wanted.
The first example of Callum's new design language showed up in the form of the midsize XF sedan introduced last year. The sportier XFR followed, but this new XJ clearly takes Callum's idea a few steps further.
Up front, a prominent mesh grille, deep fascia and wide front fenders make this XJ look like a real sport sedan instead of a British limousine with big wheels and tires. The aggressive appearance isn't just an illusion either, as the front track of the 2010 XJ is nearly 3 inches wider than before, even though the overall width is the same.
Standing slightly lower than its predecessor, the new XJ rides on exactly the same wheelbase as the old XJ in both standard and stretched "L" versions. Still, this XJ's long roof line makes it look much bigger than the previous model. Callum describes its profile as "coupelike" (a description that is all the rage these days), but like the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Volkswagen CC, the XJ is less coupe and more squashed sedan.
To break up what Callum says might look like an otherwise heavy-looking roof, every XJ gets a blacked-out D-pillar thanks to an injection-molded piece of plastic. Yes, it sounds a bit gimmicky, but the piano-black finish looks as good as painted metal. Once you combine this with the optional darkly tinted rear glass, the 2010 Jaguar will never be confused with anything out of Germany.
Same goes for the XJ's rear end. From the vertical taillights that extend up and over the trunk to the almost complete absence of badging, the XJ looks more French than British. Then again, with the lone Leaper badge sitting dead center, it's pretty obvious this is not a Citroën.
Look Out for the 5.0
As much attention as this XJ will get for its exterior design, there's still a serious car underneath the skin. And this skin, by the way, will continue to be made out of aluminum, which keeps the car's overall weight to a maximum of 4,323 pounds in long-wheelbase form. That's only about 120 pounds more than the smaller, steel-bodied XF.
Every XJ will be powered by Jaguar's new direct-injection 5.0-liter V8 in various levels of tune. At the minimum, base XJs get a normally aspirated version of the engine that develops 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Jaguar says an XJ so equipped is good for a 0-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds and a curiously low top speed of 121 mph.
The midgrade Jaguar XJ Supercharged adds forced induction to bring output to 470 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque, enough to shave a half second off the standard car's 0-60 time. And finally, there's the top-of-the-line Jaguar XJ Supersport, which shares its 510-hp supercharged V8 with the XFR sport sedan and is capable of powering the car to 60 mph from a standstill in less than 5.0 seconds.
All three models send their power to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, and every XJ gets an adjustable suspension similar to the setup found in the XFR sedan and XKR coupe. The Supersport also adds the electronically controlled rear differential just introduced by the 2010 Jaguar XFR.
A set of 19-inch wheels are standard on base models, while the supercharged XJs get 20s. The Supersport model on display at Hedsor wore Dunlop SportMax GT tires sized 245/40R20 in front and 275/35R20 in back.
Technology Meets Tradition
Jaguar has struggled over the past decade when it has come to incorporating new technology into cabin designs that were meant to reflect its tradition of old-world craftsmanship. This time around, Jaguar hasn't held back on the high-tech gadgetry, as the cabin features a fully electronic gauge cluster, 8-inch navigation screen and an optional 20-speaker audio system.
It's not all for show, either. For instance, when you dial up the car's Sport mode, the electronic gauge cluster moves the tachometer to the center and brings up an enlarged shift indicator in anticipation of more spirited driving. For the navigation screen, there's optional dual-view technology that allows the driver and front passenger to see two different screens at the same time.
Thankfully, there's still enough leather, wood and chrome interspersed throughout the cabin to keep the XJ from looking — or feeling — like a Lexus. There's contrasting stitching on the dash and chrome registers on the air vents. The analog clock is a little trite, but Jaguar's pop-up transmission selector now seems perfectly normal instead of gimmicky.
Although the cabin is spacious, the deeply set front seats make the interior feel more like a cockpit than a cabin cruiser, with a high center console and narrow footwells. Rear seat room is about average in standard-wheelbase models and slightly more spacious than a Mercedes S-Class when the XJ-L model is considered. And of course there are optional fold-down seatback trays, which remain as useless as ever.
Is It Enough?
The current XJ barely registers on the luxury sedan radar. It was invisible the day it was introduced and its meager sales reflect the fact that traditional styling can only take a vehicle so far. Jaguar needed an XJ that would make people ask questions, and Callum has delivered it.
Not all of those questions are likely to be positive ones, though, but just getting people to care in the first place is a good first step. With production of the 2010 Jaguar XJ expected to start this fall and U.S. sales beginning early next year, buyers will have a good six months to decide if this new XJ is worth taking a chance on. We expect a good number will give it a shot.