For decades, the full-size Jaguar XJ sedan was the old world alternative to the cold and clinical German luxury offerings. With a design dating back to 1968, it was upright and proper, but quietly muscular and commanding. It had a chrome grill, traditional round headlights, and that iconic leaping cat hood ornament. Inside, it was all leather, wool carpets, and wood. It was a traditional British luxury car in every way, enveloping its occupants in tasteful, elegant surroundings while providing a seemingly endless supply of power. If you could keep it running, that is.
But about 10 years ago, that stopped being good enough. Cars were evolving quicker, Jaguar was in dire financial straits, and the ancient XJ had all but become an afterthought in a segment shared with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and Audi A8. Compared the Germans, the Jag’s decades-old design and reliability issues made it feel like it was from the stone age, and its sales mirrored the company’s sagging fortunes. As Jaguar teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, it appeared that the XJ was doomed to age into total obsolescence.
That’s why when the all-new XJ was unveiled in 2009, it was such a shock. It was sleek, modern, and– shockingly for Jaguar – tech savvy. Designed by Ian Callum (the man behind the Ford RS200 and the Aston Martin DB7), the car’s sinuous styling and seamless blend of performance and luxury set it apart from it’s traditional German rivals, bridging the gap between the formal luxury sedans and more exotic offerings like the Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte. In its 510 horsepower supercharged V8 guise, the big Jag could sprint from zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds, and had an electronically-limited speed of 161 miles per hour, making it fast enough to run with some of the best performance cars in the world.
Six years later, and hot on the heels of BMW’s debut of its new 7-Series, Jaguar has just unveiled its facelifted XJ, and in true Jaguar fashion, it’s more of a graceful evolution than it is a clean-sheet redesign.
Like the unchanging lines of the ’68-’09 XJ line, Jaguar decided that Callum’s design needed only a subtle refresh to keep it current. The company is dealing with one of the best looking sedans in the world, and luckily, it knows it. The few subtle exterior changes to the XJ include a revised front end, new LED headlights with “J-Blade” running lamps, LED taillights, and oval exhaust tips. But like the new BMW flagship, Jaguar has put its efforts into what lies beneath the all-aluminum sheet metal, and the result is a British sedan that just might be able to take its rivals from the Continent on in the tech department.
With this current XJ, Jaguar realized that tradition can only go so far in today’s auto market. There’s still plenty of leather and wood in the new XJ, but new features make its interior more like a 21st century tech showcase than 19th century club room. It has a customizable digital instrument panel, an app that allows drivers to control certain functions from their phone, and an all-new infotainment system that Jaguar hopes will set it apart from its rivals. With a faster processing speed, intuitive touch screen interface, and navigation that uses 360-degree cameras to scan an area and find open parking spaces, Jaguar is betting that its InControl Touch Pro system will be enough to make its current confusing and slow infotainment system a distant memory in no time.
In Europe, the car will come in no less than six different trim levels (expect fewer to be offered stateside), and the four diesel and gasoline engine options will be largely carried over from the current car. Ranging from a 300 horsepower diesel V6 to the venerable 550 horsepower V8, the powerplants will all be mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. No word on pricing yet, but don’t expect it to move far out of the $75,000-$95,000 range the XJ line currently sells for.
Despite the unique position the XJ holds in the full-size luxury segment, it’s still very much a niche car. In 2014, Jaguar sold only 4,329 of them in America. In comparison, Mercedes sold 25,276 of its S-Class. But that’s what makes Jaguars special; they aren’t exactly mass-market cars. To many, their combination of elegance and rarity means that Jags exist somewhere in the space between a Mercedes and a Rolls-Royce – even if their window stickers say otherwise. In any major city in America, an S-Class, a 7-Series, and an A8 are all common sites. The XJ isn’t; and it’s prettier, rarer, and ultimately, more exclusive. Jaguar isn’t trying to outsell its German rivals, it’s trying to build a better car. With the new XJ, it might have just succeeded.