The Jaguar XJ is Approaching 50. What’s Next?
Looking back while looking forward
As a child growing up in 1970s and 80s, I have fond, vivid memories of spotting Series 2 and Series 3 Jaguar XJs gliding down American roads. And boy were they smooth.
My first ride in the gracefully designed British luxury sedan didn't disappoint. The serene cabin environment and supple ride quality are burned into my brain. Later in life, a friend's mom bought a brand-new X300 XJ in 1994. We'd steal the keys and thrash it. It handled brilliantly and looked cool, even if it was old fashioned and lacking in interior space.
A former boss bought the supercharged XJR version of the X308 in early 2003. I drove that car to Road America for a vintage race later that year. It was a perfect companion for both horrid Chicago traffic and blasts over 150 mph in rural Wisconsin. The well-sorted chassis never failed to impress.
My first press trip for Automobile involved an XJ—the launch of facelifted version of the aluminum X350 in 2005, to be precise. Jaguar finally fixed the interior space shortcomings with the X350 and the chassis was still fantastic, but the design, both inside and out, was one big yawn. Its successor, the X351, arrived in 2010, keeping the basic chassis of the X350 but carrying an all-new exterior that was a departure from XJs of the past. It was long overdue.
With Jaguar soon celebrating the 50th anniversary of their flagship four door, I decided to spend time with the current XJ during one of my regular visits to the UK. The future of the long-standing nameplate ran around in my brain as I ran around England in the big Jaguar.
The styling of today's XJ may not be everybody's taste, but I love that it doesn't look like the cookie-cutter design of the smaller XF and XE sedan and that it is no longer trying to carry on the look of the Series 1 XJ. Instead, the X351 started a long-overdue new look for the XJ. It makes a statement, which is exactly what a top-level sedan should do. I wonder if things would be different at Jaguar if the company picked the X350 XJ in the early 2000s to start the transformation of the company into its modern-design era instead of waiting for the XF in 2007.
I also spent time in the new, one-segment-lower Mercedes-Benz E350d while in the UK and the larger XJ felt smaller and nimbler, especially when pushed hard on the narrow, undulating back roads of England. The Jaguar soaked up the bumps better the Benz, with superior body control despite large, 20-inch wheels. The whole experience reminded me that Jaguar nailed many aspects of the current XJ and should continue to differentiate themselves from the competition instead of facing it like-for-like. It's what I really appreciate about the XJ—it's not a me-too product. Sure, an S-Class is likely a better car to live with everyday over the long run due to its depth of engineering and plethora of technology, but if I wrote the check for the Benz, I'd have an underlying feeling that the Jaguar would have been the much more exciting and emotional experience.
Another XJ is coming soon and here is what we know—or can at least speculate. With sedan sales sinking, Jaguar considered killing the XJ altogether. A Range Rover-esque large SUV as well as a sporty coupe-like concept and a bespoke, all-electric sedan were all considered as a replacement, but a long-wheelbase, three-box sedan was deemed too important for China and the U.S. The new XJ will launch the next design language for Jaguar while maintaining an avant-garde theme seen in the X351. Underpinning the large four door will be Jaguar's modular D7a aluminum platform but with carbon fiber chassis elements added in a fashion similar to the latest BMW 7 Series.
A new 'Ingenium' V6 (both diesel and gasoline) will live under the hood, with a plug-in hybrid and possibly an all-electric version also planned. Power-hungry buyers should still be able to get a supercharged V-8. Look for further use of touchscreens similar to what's inside the new Range Rover Velar as well as a more aggressive cabin design compared to Jaguar's lower-priced XE and XF. Jaguar is also said to have paid particular attention to increasing rear headroom. Let's hope they also fix the XJ's lackluster trunk space. Oh, and quality at JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) can always use improvement. We expect to see the new XJ in 2019, with a concept version possibly appearing in 2018 to commemorate the model's 50th anniversary.