Launchpad The new Jaguar XJ is a well-rounded car that oozes styles and is exciting to drive, writes OUSEPH CHACKO

T his new Jaguar XJ is a deeply impressive car, one that has strong character and plenty of appeal as we found out. Taking on the Mercedes-Benz S-class, the BMW 7-series and the new Audi A8 is no small task after all.

This big Jag oozes presence, lots of it. The way school kids point excitedly and supercar-hardened people's gawp tells you they like the XJ's overall design stance. And, unlike the long wheelbase versions of its German rivals which look a bit too stretched, the XJ's long bonnet and swooping roofline make it look like it was designed to be stretched in the first place.

It is entirely convincing as a luxury car on the inside as well. There's a nice cockpit-like feel created by the high centre tunnel when you slide into the accommodating seats. Thumb the starter button and, like the smaller XF, the gear selector rises out of the centre console as the 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel hums to life.

Leather and well finished wood adorn most surfaces and there is a new-to-Jaguar digital dashboard display, in place of conventional, real analogue dials. Its resolution is fabulous and there are some neat graphics: speeds closest to the car's current velocity are beautifully highlighted while the rest is dimmed, and the manual gearchange selection shows up superbly. We especially like the old-school air-con vents that look and function brilliantly.

The rear seats, an important selecting criterion in India, are fantastic. The almost 3.2-metre-long wheelbase ensures there is plenty of legroom and more headroom than the swooping roof-line suggests; the rooflining is scooped out to make this possible. And, the seats are wide and comfortable – maybe not as nice as an S-class but impressive nonetheless. Equipped with the rear seat entertainment package, the car gets a gaming-console-like touch-screen remote to control the headrest-mounted screens. If anything, it's the low seats and the rather small rear windows that you could complain about – the XJ's rear seats don't give rear seat passengers the commanding view outside that a Merc S-class does.

The latest XJ uses aluminium for its body panels and chassis, an expensive process but one that, in the luxury class, only Audi's A8 shares. Unencumbered by the A8's four-wheel-drive system, however, the rear-wheel-drive XJ is one of the lightest cars in this class. Even this long-wheelbase version, at 1813kg, weighs just 13kg more than the smaller XF diesel!

This light weight means the 271bhp and 61.18kgm of torque don't work too hard to make the XJ get to 100kph in 8.5sec and even this figure doesn't tell you how effortlessly the XJ diesel adds speed in real-world use. What that figure also doesn't effectively communicate is how satisfying the diesel powertrain is to use. Throttle response is accurate, power delivery is linear and the six-speed auto 'box is intuitive, so you know exactly how much throttle to feed at all times. In Sport mode, the gearbox holds gears for longer and the shifts are quicker (and a little less smooth). Flicking the steering wheel-mounted paddles activates a manual mode which, if the car is set to Dynamic mode, will hold gears to the limiter. The powertrain is so refined that you can hear some tyre roar over course surfaces. The other happy corollary of the Jag's light weight is that it simply doesn't feel its size when you feel like driving hard. Jaguar engineers developed both the short wheelbase and long wheelbase versions alongside each other with the chassis development of the LWB version even taking precedence at times. This shows in the way this 5.2-metre-long saloon changes direction with the agility and precision we've not seen on any other car this size, including the BMW 7-series.

The steering is light but accurate and the balance is impressively neutral for a car this long. And, unsurprisingly, with its long wheelbase, it feels supremely stable and planted at high speeds. This is one of those cars that shrinks around you the faster you go.

Switch the adjustable dampers to their softer setting and you'll find a car that rides with aplomb over most surfaces with the occasional shudder over lumpy surfaces. It doesn't have the same authority over bad sections as a Merc S-class but then again, the S doesn't have the XJ's low-profile 245/45-R19 tyres.

The long wheelbase and ground-hugging stance mean you have to be extra careful over speedbreakers. There's also that rather narrow boot aperture that will make loading bigger pieces of luggage a bit of a task.

The XJ diesel in Portfolio spec costs Rs. 83 lakh. It is a well-rounded car that is so full of character. But the downside is the relatively small dealer network, which means it won't be practical to own.

More In: METRO PLUS | FEATURES