In the next 90 seconds or so I will attempt to convey what it is to be ‘Jaguar’ in 2010. If by the time you read the first few paragraphs, you don’t see anything relevant, then I will have failed – so I’d better press on.
Jaguar has always been a stylish and desirable brand, but in recent years the cars have struggled with a fractured identity – a traditionalist’s choice of car that is also supposed to be chic and sporty. Many of us, if we’re honest, were un-convinced by this identity and saw the average buyer typified by the portly ex-Deputy Prime Minister, John ‘Two Jags’ Prescott. Jaguar faced an uphill challenge with many people foretelling the demise of this once great British marque.
Then something significant happened. March 2006 marked the birth of Jaguar’s current range – the latest XK sports car – which attracted new customers to the brand who’d previously congregated at the House of Stuttgart. In 2008, Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata – India’s largest car maker – and Jaguar launched the new XF saloon, a car that simply HAD to succeed.
Free from the platform-sharing shackles of Ford’s Premier Auto Group, Jaguar could now source new technologies and engineering solutions from best-in-class partners and forge a strategy that suited the needs of its own customers.
The transformation in just 2 years has been remarkable and if like me you’ve ignored the Coventry brand in favour of its German competitors, then it’s time to make a detour to your local dealer and check out these changes for yourself.
What does it take to be a Jaguar?
We recently spent a day with Jaguar at Silverstone to drive the complete range, including the new XJ saloon which we’d yet to sample. The opportunity provided an invaluable perspective on where the marque is in 2010 and what this means for fans and enthusiasts alike.
The cars at our disposal included; XK 5.0-litre Convertible, XKR Speed Pack Coupe, XF 3.0-litre 240PS Diesel, XF 3.0-litre 275PS Diesel S, XFR 5.0-litre s/c V8, XJ 510PS Supersport s/c V8, and XJ V6 3.0 Diesel LWB, so we gained an invaluable perspective on the full model range.
Just call me ‘Seven-Jags’ Davies..
When you listen to Jaguar’s brand evangelists you’ll hear mention of terms such as contemporary style, power and class leading luxury and whilst these are all admirable qualities, many are subjective and could easily be applied to their rivals (depending on your taste).
The unique qualities of a modern Jaguar are far more difficult for their competitors to emulate and whilst they are perhaps different to the virtues most lauded by traditionalists, they are nevertheless just as worthy and arguably more sustainable as we look towards future models.
We’re pleased to report that the modern Jaguar possesses the kind of qualities that should appeal to every driving enthusiast, and resonate most clearly with those who appreciate a car’s performance and dynamics even more than its aesthetics – effortless performance and precision are the overriding sensations we gained from driving these cars and a tangible reward from tackling a twisty road rather than merely travelling from A to B.
In a modern Jaguar you steer through your wrists and fingertips, guiding a front-end that is stable and planted, yet eager to turn. The steering is light and deliberately measured, but weighted sufficiently to build confidence in the turns. Each and every car we drove flowed from corner to corner with effortless poise, shrinking in size and rewarding increased commitment. This wasn’t just in the supercharged ‘R’ models, even the base level 3.0-litre XF carried itself in the same way as its more powerful siblings.
As a driver you revel in smoothly connecting the curves on a road, pushing on harder, without demanding increased levels of physical or mental effort. These are performance cars in the way we used to consider BMWs, but with a subtlety that the Bavarian brand has occasionally misplaced in recent models.
Driving the XKR
There were just a couple of flies in the ointment – the XKR Speed Pack displayed a behaviour that I’ve disliked in previous XKRs that I’ve driven, namely a mild lateral instability of the front chassis when turning into fast corners combined with a deadness of steering response just when you’d appreciate the assurance. The same behaviour was absent in the normally aspirated XK Convertible that we drove, leading us to conclude that the XKR’s computerised Active Differential Control, which reduces steering sensitivity at very high speeds, might be spoiling the party.
The XKR also features a more sporty (aggressive) program for its auto box which spoils an otherwise perfect system with its abrupt and jerky changes at high revs. We really wanted to like the XKR, not least because it looked so awesome in the white paint and black wheels of our test car, but it lacked the ultimate delicacy that made the other models so enjoyable to drive. On the plus side it feels even quicker than we remembered and gone is the supercharged whine of early XKRs, replaced instead with a purposeful V8 roar that does little to hide its 510 horsepower.
But if we were buying an XK, we’d choose the 385PS normally aspirated V8 Coupe, it feels more than quick enough, sports an appealing bark and is 90kg lighter than its supercharged brethren.
XJ Saloon: the new range-topper
Star of the show was the new XJ Saloon, not for the novelty of it being new, but because it exemplifies the very best qualities from across the range. With Jaguar, the top of the range really is the top of the range, which is reassuring given the £89k sticker price of the Supersport model we drove.
I’m not normally a fan of big saloons, so you’ll not find me eulogising about ride comfort or a relaxing demeanour. Cars are for driving and usually the larger they get the more compromised they become in this regard. The XJ is different.
The entry-level XJ 3.0D is a full 150kg lighter than a BMW 730D and it shows, it feels dynamically more of a match for cars in the class below, shrinking in size around the driver and delivering the kind of agility that has you grinning with the absurdity of it all. This is a sports saloon rather than a limo, which is something I was really unprepared for, and yet it rides well and maintains an effortless composure that had us yearning for a longer test route.
More than any other car in Jaguar’s current range, we would gladly have driven the 510PS XJ Supersport across Europe without a second’s thought. It was quick (nearly M5/RS6 quick), eager in the bends and a special place to sit. You can really see and feel Jaguar’s move to increase the quality of its cabin materials, with one or two exceptions it feels a class above the XK and XF, which I suppose it is, and yet in some ways it feels even more sporty and driver focused. Neat.
The XJ 3.0D LWB that we drove later in the day was similarly capable, but dropped a few points in the ride/handling stakes (when compared to the range-topping Supersport) and we found ourselves yearning for the supercharged power plant which adds a ‘naughtiness’ to the XJs character.
Overall if you’re looking at one of its competitors (Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Maserati Quatrroporte or Porsche Panamera) or even one of the latest models from the class below (Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-Series) then you should take a look at the new Jaguar XJ, you’ll be glad you did.
Jaguar XF: the model that broke the mould
This is the car that Jaguar owes its continued existence to, not only has it succeeded but it’s climbed to achieve a market leading position in its sector. Despite being the entry model in the Jaguar range (since the X-type was thankfully discontinued), the XF feels in no way subordinate to its more expensive siblings.
The XF performs a neat trick that in our experience is unique in the luxury car market. You’d be forgiven for believing that the one to go for would be the 510PS XFR, imbued with all that’s best about Jaguar including that supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine, but you’d be wrong.
The entry level 240PS 3.0D feels effortlessly quick, drives just as well round the corners and even sounds good, without the slightest hint of diesel clatter. But then so does the 275PS 3.0D S, only slightly more so. But whereas this might make the XFR feel like a pointless indulgence, it doesn’t. They each justify their position in the Jaguar family without weakening the other, so if you choose a 3.0D you can feel satisfied in the prudence and completeness of your purchase, but if you’d prefer more power and attitude then you can feel equally satisfied when spending a little more. Genius.
If you’ve read this far and learned something new, then we’d suggest going and trying out a few cars yourself. To add further incentive, we’d like to feature your reviews within SkiddMark and reward the best write-up with the prize from a future competition. You don’t need to be a Jaguar fan and only have positive things to say, we’d be interested in hearing any criticisms if you find any.
From our day with Jaguar’s latest cars we discovered that their efforts are paying off, the cars have become more sporty, gained more personality and now involve the driver as much as any rival brand. If this comes as news to you, then we’d like to know if you notice these changes when you get behind the wheel and drive them.
We’ll put together a section during the next week where you can add your own reviews, in the meantime you can send in any reviews using the contact form below.