A lot can happen in a decade. Take the last ten years for example. We’ve collectively witnessed the rise and rise of social media; the invention of the smart phone; and pretty much digital everything. Attitudes have changed too — President Obama is living proof of that — while we also contend with the phenomenon that is the ‘box set’ TV series.
Can the same be said for the motoring industry? The landscape has undoubtedly changed, but to what extent? Jaguar, a company not renowned for its innovation, presents a perfect case study with the release of its latest and pre-eminent saloon, the XJR. It’s quite a different beast from its predecessor, and I should know, as it’s my daily drive — the old one that is…
Gone are the traditional lines that have been familiar to Jaguar drivers for decades, replaced by a longer, rakish body — albeit with more muscular haunches — and an upright, oversized mesh grille that’s anything but subtle. Unlike the regular XJ, the R model sports a body kit, air dams and imposing, matt black 20-inch rims. Very ‘un-Jaguar like’ in other words.
At the core, the two cars are not entirely dissimilar. Both are made of aluminium, are powered with a supercharged V8 power plant and are laden with luxury equipment. And it’s worth noting that Jaguar has an undeserved bad rap in the technology space — when my car was released in 2003, it was acknowledged as a technological tour de force, at least in materials if not in design.
But it’s not just the design language that’s changed. For 2014, the power output has jumped from 297kW to a whopping 404kW. If you’re more familiar with horsepower, the numbers are even more staggering — 420hp up to 550hp. The car is also brimming with electronic aids, so much so in fact, that what was once cutting edge back in the 2000s doesn’t so much look last decade as last century.
The difference is most stark when I punch the starter button, the 5.0‑litre V8 rumbling into life with a vengeance. To say it has presence does not do it justice. An exploratory nudge of the accelerator is met with an instant and most unexpected throttle response. I confess, it was a little intimidating.
Cautiously underway, I expect the new car to feel huge in comparison, but despite its increased size, it’s surprising how quickly it feels ‘about right’. Our focus, with fading light and limited time, is to photograph the two cars, but one change is immediately noticeable — the ride quality. I can generously describe the XJR as sporty, although others might call it just plain firm.
As day becomes night and the temperature drops, we ditch my car and set course for Greytown. What better way to stretch the big cat’s legs than a quick trip over the mighty Rimutakas? At the base of the hill, the rain has really settled in and despite the XJR’s brilliant bi-xenon headlights, it’s hard to see. I am patient and cautious, but the sheer power and depth of the XJR’s power plant comes though despite our restricted pace.
By the summit, it’s sleeting and even with all aids engaged, traction is an issue and I’m struggling to keep the XJR at bay. I’m starting to think — for the first time ever — that when it comes to power there can be too much of a good thing.
But by the time we hit the Wairarapa plains, and with clearing skies, the XJR starts to make more sense. It feels like a true limousine, albeit a dynamic one, and I can’t help but admire anew the beautifully put together interior, the luxurious fit-out and the sheer volume of technology on offer.
Does it advance then, or detract from the cause? Design might be subjective but thinking back ten years, a Mercedes S‑Class parked next to an XJ looked like it came from the future. Today, it’s the other way around. (And speaking of the German competition, the power wars that have dominated that luxury segment are only one part of the argument.)
Jaguar has always embraced other values like style and elegance. In the new XJR you win on both counts. Like Daniel Craig’s James Bond, when it’s time for a flex-off at the beach, the XJR has more than enough under its bespoke tailoring to deliver the goods.
While it likely presents a bit of a shock for the ‘pipe and slippers’ set, most will see it for what it is — a genuinely modern car with old-fashioned Jaguar values.
Model reviewed: Jaguar XJR