The straight at Jaguar's Gaydon Test track is deceptively long. The fact that it was a RAF airstrip and base during the 50's only adds to the deception. But I was determined to test my personal best on this dry-handling test track – the magical 300 kmph speed limit was on the verge of being run over.
I am at the wheel of the Jaguar XKR, taking in the last curve's delightful swoop and relishing the 5.8-litre, supercharged V8 engine's eagerness to join in charge. The wheels scream as I finish the turn pushing the car past the 85 miles per hour mark. As soon as the 1.1 mile long straight comes into view through the windscreen, I floor the throttle, putting all the 510 horses under the bonnet to work. The 1.7-tonne XKR lurches forward immediately, the six-speed gearbox, quickly shifts down and the sweet sound of the growling V8 seems to barely seep through into the cabin.
In a flash we cross the 200 kmph mark (about 125 miles per hour) and the car barely seems to be strained. I couldn't feel the effect of the speed either, inside the luxurious cabin of this capable coupe. Just a little more resolute stand on the throttle and the 170 miles per hour mark became history. But just as I was crossing the 175 miles per hour (over 280 kmph) speed level did I realise that the car's top speed had been limited to about 177 miles per hour.
The 300 kmph threshold too turned out to be a deception. Nonetheless, the XKR, the XFR and the XF were all amazing machines to take out on the track at Gaydon. I was there at the invitation of Jaguar Cars to get quintessential English summer driving experience in some of the finest Brit cars (so what if the owner is Indian). While the time at the track was exhilarating, the real joy of driving Jaguar's cars was best experienced on some of the country roads leading up to Gaydon.
Earlier in the day, I drove up to the facility from Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. And I was driving the new Jaguar XJ, a car that has been criticised in some conservative circles, but is more often been referred to as the refreshing new face of British automotive design. A drive couldn't get more Brit than this. Thankfully, during the drive, the weather wasn't typically British.
Jaguar is as British as the Union Jack, the Royal family, Earl Grey tea, fish and chips and Tartan checks. This is one car manufacturing company that has retained its character despite the many owners that have run it over the decades.
After decades of following a conservative design philosophy, Jaguar has sort of recalibrated itself to fit the modernity of design that today's buyers expect in their cars. First came the new XF in 2008 and then the XJ was introduced last year – these are two cars have radically altered the design direction for the company.
The Jaguar XJ made its first appearance in 1968, with the trademark twin-headlamps, straight waistline and four doors. It was much smaller than the current day saloon – more than a foot lesser in length. It is said to have been the last saloon that Sir William Lyons, Jaguar Car's founder worked on.
The XJ has had a chequered 42 years as the flagship model of the Jaguar range. Staying true to its heritage, the current XJ (X351) carries forward the design language of the original in its own unique way, while also re-interpreting automotive luxury for the buyer of the new millennium.
The new, fourth generation XJ, which was introduced last year, represents a dramatic design departure for Jaguar. And like the new XF, the XJ too follows an aggressive, much more youthful overall design. There are subtle hints to the XJs of the past, such as the twin lamps peeping from within the unified housing of the headlamp and the prominent bonnet ridge. Yet, the new XJ is nothing like the predecessors from the three generations of the previous four decades.
Ian Callum, Design Director, Jaguar Cars says that the new XJ is very different and yet carries forward the fast profile, the sense of velocity and the beautiful flowing lines, all of which are the characteristics of a true Jaguar. One of the most criticised aspects of the new XJ is the design of the tail-lamps. Nick-named cat's claws, the design of the tail-lamps gives them a striped, swooped-over the boot look - too radical compared to the conservative, stiff upper lip designs of the past.
The new XJ's design attempts to lure the younger buyer with the elongated teardrop shape of the side windows. This gives the car a coupe-like silhouette and is a big contributor to its flowing design. The new XJ's design is also purposefully streamlined enabling it to share a drag coefficient of 0.29 with the XF saloon, making them both the aerodynamic Jaguars ever.
A panoramic glass roof is an integral part of the all-new XJ's design concept, enabling the car to have a lower, more streamlined roofline, while dramatically enhancing the feeling of light and space inside the car.
The new XJ's sleek lines are complemented by a taut waistline, which further accentuates the impression of length and elegance and creates a natural tension as it fades from the front arch into the middle section of the car before reappearing as a strong haunch towards the rear. The coupé profile also cloaks a cabin that manages to offer comparable levels of space to saloons that feature a more conventional style. There is enough room for five occupants to sit comfortably.
The exquisitely designed, luxurious interior of the new XJ has a strong sporting character too throughout. Jaguar designers like to call it hi-tech couture that captures the essence of British craftsmanship. The cabin is a mix of the traditional and the modern making sure that there is innovative use of rare, luxurious materials such as the real wood veneers (not milled from Winnie the Pooh's 100-acre woods) used on the pillars and the door trims, and the fine, double-stitched leather wrapped on the dash and seats. Simultaneously, Jaguar designers and engineers have also ensured that there are enough modern materials inside the new XJ to satiate the tastes of today's gadget savvy young buyer. Chrome, unique digital elements and high-end audio and video features are made to combine with the rest aesthetically.
To add more drama and novelty to the new XJ, Jaguar designers have chosen to replace the automatic gear stick shift with a simple knob. Enter the XJ, touch the start button and you are greeted by the signature Jaguar ‘handshake' – the circular knurled aluminium rotary control of the JaguarDrive Selector rising into the driver's palm – stylish 3D animations also materialise in the virtual instrument cluster and on the central Touch-screen. There is no physical instrument cluster display in the all-new XJ. Instead, a 12.3-inch high-definition screen, which uses sophisticated and detailed virtual instruments, provides all of the functions performed by traditional dials.
As the XJ starts, three virtual dials build before your eyes: the centre dial houses a speedometer, flanked on the right by a rev counter and on the left by an information window with fuel and temperature gauges. To maximise clarity, the display employs a ‘spotlight' effect to highlight the areas showing the most important information, such as the current speed or engine revs. When required – for example, if fuel is running low, or the driver is selecting a radio station – the rev counter fades away to be temporarily replaced by the required warning message or menu.
I got to drive and experience two XJ variants on the road. The first was the powerful, supercharged 5.0-litre Gen III V8 petrol engine, that generates a whopping 510PS of peak power. Step in and push the start button to crank the engine and you are initially fooled by how inaudible the engine is during idling. Tap the throttle and the engine grunts into life, lets out its aural response from the twin exhausts at the rear and the car literally rocks as the engine warms up. With that level of power on tap, this saloon behaves like a sports car under the bonnet, and thanks to its sorted, rigid, all-aluminium body structure, it drives like one too. The quick surge in power and engine sound, and the taut handling was so addictive I had to curb my urge to try another swift manoeuvre at every available opportunity. The other variant that I got to experience was the 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine.
There is a lot more to discover in the new Jaguar XJ. But many of its other features haven't changed in all these decades, including its characteristic quiet and smooth ride quality for rear passengers.
Jaguar cars continue to be aspirational, beautiful, very British and unique. The XJ is still a classic Jag. It just reinterprets the brand's core values of simplicity and efficiency in its own, unique way, giving you a taste of royalty and modernity simultaneously.