The XJ is so obviously a Jaguar; the svelte lines, the cigar-shaped fuselage and twin headlights all evocative design cues that define the marque's iconic saloons. Peer inside and you're greeted by the familiar tang of leather and the clubby veneer of the dashboard. Ostensibly, little appears to have changed. If ever a car could be held up as an example of appearances being deceptive, the latest XJ would be a good candidate. The very essence of the car, its bare metal, has undergone an enormous revision. Out goes steel, in comes aluminium, a result of which is that the XJ now weighs the same as the baby X-TYPE.
The bodyshell is some 40% lighter than an equivalent steel body, bringing benefits not just in agility, but also in terms of performance, fuel consumption, emissions and corrosion protection. What's more, it's 60% stiffer, making the suspension designer's work easier and boosting safety, refinement and durability. David Scholes, the Chief Programme Engineer, sums up the thinking behind aluminium construction when he notes "we chose a lightweight aluminium vehicle architecture for the XJ not because it was something new, but because it enabled us to deliver real and significant benefits to our customers."
Thanks to a longer wheelbase and a roofline that by some optical illusion is five inches higher than before, the XJ has a far roomier cabin than before. Headroom, legroom and shoulder room have all increased and the rear seats are no longer below par for the class. Luggage space has also increased dramatically.
It's only when you park the latest car next to its predecessor that you can see the stylistic tricks employed by the designer. The front and rear overhangs are shorter so that the wheels intrude less into the passenger cell. The bonnet has been made shorter but at the same time, the XJ has retained that raffishly sleek look by fitting a more steeply raked windscreen. The doors are deeper too, allowing the stylist a bigger canvas on which to etch delicate strokes, an age-old piece of visual artifice that emphasises the car's length. It's a masterful job.
The XJ takes the best aspect of the Audi A8 in terms of bodywork metallurgy and marries it to the one item that made the Mercedes S-Class such a success - self-levelling air suspension. This also represents a first for Jaguar and ensures that the full suspension travel is always available by automatically increasing spring stiffness relative to the car's payload. This means that the XJ never slumps when travelling heavily loaded, offers superb comfort and refinement and can also lower the ride height when cruising at high speed, increasing aerodynamic efficiency.
Jaguar once had an unenviable reputation for reliability. With lighting from Lucas 'Prince of Darkness' and suspect transmissions, a used Jaguar was often a wildly optimistic leap of blind patriotism No longer. With the massive cash infusion from parent company Ford, Jaguars now offer the sort of metronomic reliability that was once the preserve of Mercedes and BMW. Just about the only problem that has arisen has been the in-car entertainment system but this is rare. Small wonder that Jaguar came joint top in the 2004 JD Power survey.
(approx based on an XJ 3.5) A Jaguar is never going to be a cheap car should parts go wrong but it's extremely rare that they do. Should you ever need a new starter motor, expect to pay around £375. A radiator costs around £425 and front brake pads are approximately £75 per set with rears weighing in at £60.
A range of four engines are available. The two 4.2-litre units carried over from the outgoing car mark the apex of the range and are the only engines available in long-wheelbase form. In normally aspirated form, the first of these V8s generates 300bhp, whilst the supercharged version fitted to the XJR and Super V8 models is good for a monster 400bhp. When coupled with the lightweight body, expect some astonishing performance figures. A smaller V8 is also available, in this case a 3.5-litre unit that generates 262bhp. A long overdue diesel powerplant was introduced in Spring 2005.
Key to an improved sales performance was the revival of the XJ6 badge for the entry-level 6 cylinder version powered by the 240bhp AJ-V6 engine as seen in the X and S-TYPE models. All engines were coupled to six speed transmissions designed by ZF. Traditionalists will be hugely heartened by the sight of that Jaguar staple, the J-gated gear shifter, this time marshalling a gearbox of redoubtable artificial intelligence.
As long as you can afford the upfront asking price, the Jaguar XJ makes a great used buy. It's reliable, well built and great fun to drive. Here's a British built car that knocks the Germans into a cocked hat.