Competing in the high-end executive sector, the stakes are steep for getting a contender wrong but, as Iain Robertson highlights, adopting an alternative route to market can pay dividends, especially against the might of the ‘Teutonic Threesome’.
Jaguar has always been an ‘outsider’. While today’s market sometimes appreciates a ‘disrupter’, the Coventry-based semi-traditionalist might be congratulated for not playing the game by the purported rules. If there are pitfalls, it makes them for itself, although it should be able to extricate itself invariably from the largest stumbling-blocks. Yet, I have to admit that, even at a most fraught period of the company’s existence (and it has experienced several of them), I am not alone in desiring Jaguar Cars to improve its stance, build its market penetration and become ‘the’ model of choice for the top-end of the relatively affordable premium sector.
The current X351, which is Jaguar-speak for the long and sleek XJ luxury saloon, has been with us since the end of 2009, when it was unveiled in customary star-studded form in London. It replaced a car that had been markedly improved since its first iteration in 1968 but which was also deeply entrenched in old-fashioned and traditional design and construction methods, even after moving to light alloy body panels.
No single element was retained for the ground-up new XJ. Yet, having been only lightly titivated since, first in 2014 and again in 2015, the same, coupe-like body-style, notably in short-wheelbase test car form, has played a Marmite role in Jaguar’s line-up, attracting as many new buyers, as it has lost traditional customers. Yet, with an annual turnover of a mere 10,000 examples, XJ is shaded by its notional Germanic rivals; the BMW 7-Series, Merc S-Class and Audi A8. Factor-in the Lexus LS and you appreciate that it is not exactly a big volume sector.
First acquaintance with the test XJ Portfolio provided an ‘Ooh!’ moment, its elegant and deep Carpathian Grey paintwork (£795 extra cost) contrasting with the gorgeous, crosshatched London tan, full-hide upholstery. Entering the cockpit was an event, the 18-way electrically adjustable seats (with massage function) and electric steering column adjustment enabling an excellent driving position to result. However, a combination of the tumblehome of the side windows and the depth of the black ‘velveteen’ upholstered headlining creating a distinct shortage of headroom for a two metres tall occupant, a compromise resulted for me.
Sadly, this apparent lack of space also creates a compromise in the back seat, where there is simply insufficient legroom in the SWB model for executive lounging. It is a problem encountered by Jaguar with all of its biggest cars, even since the original XJ6 hit our market in the late-1960s, which is why the LWB alternative was devised and remains available today.
Yet, I am damned, if I am going to let this ruin my enjoyment of a Coventry Cat. The ultra-modern, leather-clad dashboard, with its massive centrally-located, ‘coke-snorting’ air-vents flanking an analogue clock that looks like it does but does not alter its angle, are attention-generating. The instrument nacelle ahead of the driver contains a configurable screen, with only essential information (speed, engine revs, fuel and water gauges) being in-focus. The large touch-screen at the top of the centre console, now much faster-reacting than it has ever been, provides access to a vastly improved amount of connectivity, climate control and several of the car’s key functions. The steering wheel is peppered with micro-switches, shift paddles and minor controls.
The XJ’s handling and roadholding are exemplary. While its ride quality can be altered between sportily firm and wondrously luxuriant, the 8-speed automatic transmission slushes imperceptibly between the ratios, allowing the ‘old girl’ to hike up her skirts and despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in 5.9s, en-route to a limited top speed of 155mph. Yet, it provides a fuss-free progression, as refined as a car of this class should be, with its 3.0-litre, 296bhp, 516lbs ft V6 turbo-diesel engine growling distantly and benignly.
It is already acknowledged as a great engine and it can return an outstanding 48.0mpg on the Official Combined test cycle, while emitting a mere 155g/km CO2 from its exhaust tailpipe, figures that are more familiar to compact hatch owners. Every element of the car is different to its clinical German and Japanese rivals, which is probably the XJ’s only saving grace, because, in SWB form, it simply cannot compete with them. It offers insufficient room.
Naturally, this does affect its sales potential in the up-market category, where a fair percentage of company registered examples are driven by a professional, while the owner lounges in the back seat. In truth, the LWB only offers increased legroom, as every other dimension is exceeded by its main competitors. Interestingly, the best year of world-wide sales for the current XJ was 2013, prior to the trim upgrades, when it almost smashed the 20,000 units level. Since then, it has tumbled to its present level at half that figure, which disappoints me greatly.
It is abundantly clear that its design is unacceptable. It is abundantly clear that its history of unreliability has played against it. It is abundantly clear that it is too highly priced. Yet, it is classy, it is elegant, it is quick and it is frugal. It is just not turning-on the market, whether in the country estate, or the corporate car park. Personally, I believe that the Jaguar XJ deserves a fairer crack of the whip. A few pertinent modifications would improve its lot but, almost a decade into the current generation and over 50 years since the XJ stunned the large car market, the XJ has simply not moved with the times, while embodying a more bespoke, hand-built image that its meagre sales figures might suggest.
Pre-discount price-tagged at £70,515, plus the aforementioned paint, privacy glass (+£275), illumination pack (+£1,045), 360-degree parking air (+£270), surround camera system (+£615) and adaptive cruise control with queue assist (+£1,645), the latest XJ is a premium model that still almost manages to make occupants feel special.