It's been a long time coming. Forty-one years after the Sir William Lyons-designed Jaguar XJ debuted, a completely new XJ is here. The original car was good, really good, nothing like the slightly bloated 1951 Mark VII or the awful 1962 Mark X. The first XJ was so good, in fact, that its basic formal themes persisted through multiple (although slight) variations, powered by new six-, eight-, and twelve-cylinder engines. Nice cars, all. But enough's enough. It was high time for a new - really new - XJ.
This one is the real thing, not corrupted by a Ford bean counter's benchmarking, as was the XF, but a pure Jaguar-engineering, Jaguar-styling product. It was done by Brits steeped in the lore and love of Jaguar, people who knew what they wanted and how to attain it within the multiple constraints that always inhibit the design process. No Pininfarina retouching, no Italdesign propositions that could be turned into a Lexus without anyone noticing. Jaguar may belong to Tata, an Indian company, but it is a British product through and through, its provenance evident at first glance and underlined on close examination. The XJ is not a German interpretation of a British car, as are both Bentley and Rolls-Royce products these days. It has some idiosyncratic touches emphasizing that fact, and it's much the better for it. It keeps a few classic marks of identity but happily is not at all retro.
In half a century I've seen many new-car presentations, but never one as intelligent as the one that Jaguar organized in June for a small group of American and Canadian journalists. Chauffeured to an archetypical stately home in a fleet of black 2009 XJ sedans, we were invited to a high balcony, where our first glimpse of the new XJ was the approach up a long driveway of first one, and then a second, silver-gray sedan. As the long- and short-wheelbase models moved gracefully before us, we could see them from every angle, which was fine, because there isn't a bad one.
The grille outline is remotely derived from the 1968 car's rectangle but like the XF's is completely reinterpreted, deeper-set and leaned back. The central "fuselage" protrudes from the mass, as the front fenders are cut short, with the headlamps bridging the distance between their peaks and the hood, longer visually than in hard fact. It is a nicely composed front end, instantly recognizable as a Jaguar. That is more than can be said for the side profile or the rear view, however nice they are. The dramatic, elongated, side-glass profile may become a persistent Jaguar cue in the future, and the Lancia Thema-like taillights may also become associated more with Jaguar than anything else.
The main thing is that this is an exceptionally handsome big sedan, incorporating high-level technology and restrained good taste in the cabin. Things are going to be tough in the luxury-car business, but the new XJ gives Jaguar a fair chance to survive the coming shakeout. Good.