My dear friend and colleague, Sony Thomas, has decided never to speak to me again and I can't say I blame him, for he has a very good reason for this. It's called the Jaguar XJ L Supersport. And I... stole it from him. Well not quite, I outran him for it to be precise.
Being a Jag lover, he was looking forward to spending a weekend with the utterly ravishing, top banana XJ. Now, even though my footballing days are very much behind me, I seem to have retained my predatory instincts that served me so well in the box. And, ahem, like a jaguar hunting its prey, I pounced when the opportunity to drive it presented itself.
Old is gold, as far as I am concerned, and even though I had to wait ten years after the first XJ was launched in 1968 to breathe the same air as one, I got to appreciate these elegant cars ten years further down the line when my dad brought one home back in old Blighty. So there I was, a 10-year-old kid passionate about cars, but when I laid my eyes on the XJ, I didn't ever want to blink again in case it somehow washed away the memory of those magical lines and that wrestler-like squat. I was mesmerised by it and have always been a secret fan of the car. Those first XJs — the flagship Jag — had tons of character. It looked like it had a stiff upper lip yet it was as polite and as well mannered as could be, even though under the bonnet lay a 2.8- or 4.2-litre straight six. It was brilliantly English.
Fast-forward over four decades and Jaguar has taken me back to my youth courtesy of the sumptuous looking new XJ. It's one of the most impressive cars you'll see today. It represents a total revolution in the XJ's design and the most radical change Jaguar has ever attempted. It is truly stunning.
With its fluid, contemporary style and blacked-out C-pillars, it helps to disguise the XJ's substantial length of 5,247mm while the traditional elongated boot has been replaced by a more modern looking, sporty profile. The XJ's front end bears a strong resemblance to the smaller XF saloon, but the rear is unique. The LED taillights sweep upwards and have affectionately been named the ‘cat's claws' design. The result is a car that is still unmistakeably Jaguar, yet thoroughly modern.
This XJ L Supersport is the largest, most exclusive Jag you can buy. But what's Dh579,000 for a car that gives you limitless amounts of class, comfort and performance? I'd take two if I was rolling in it. It's cheaper than a Porsche Panamera Turbo (Dh635,000) and has 40 more horses than an AstonMartin Rapide.
Considering that this is the long wheelbase model, I was left a little disappointed by the boot space and was expecting it to be bigger than 520 litres. So where has all the extra room gone to? The back seats. They're enormous and comfortable and you really fly first class back there thanks to clever details like a luxurious wooden table behind the driver and passenger seats, vanity mirrors, heated and cooled seats, dual climate zones and sun shades for the side windows and the rear windshield. It feels like you're sitting inside a private jet while you'd be forgiven for taking a sneaky lick at the delicious looking burl walnut trim coupled with rich, creamy leather everywhere.
It's as gorgeous at the front as it is at the back with more leather, suede, and wood as far as the eye can see, but you get more piano black and chrome detailing up front, which adds to the glamour quotient in no uncertain terms. There's an obsessive attention to detail in here, and it's almost overwhelming.
Could have been better
The 12.3in high-definition LCD instrument panel, rather a virtual dashboard as opposed to traditional gauges, offers plenty of information which is easy to read. However, the Jag's on-board entertainment system is a let down. It's unintuitive and difficult to use, so much so that you don't even feel like using it at all. The 8in touch screen is cluttered with far too many options and the font is just way too small. But, I love the touch-sensitive buttons for the interior lights and glove box — very slick. And the top-of-the-range 1200W Bowers & Wilkins system just blows you away with its sound quality and clarity. But mind you, it can't match the aural thrill delivered by the V8...
The best is yet to come
Floor it and the Supersport's manic growl, laced with a supercharger whine, makes for a very intoxicating noise indeed. And it's not all mouth and no muscle either: The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 makes 510bhp and 625Nm of torque. With that kind of firepower, this car begins to look like a bit of a bargain.
The XJ makes the most of those 510 horses thanks to its extensive use of lightweight aluminium, which uses 50 per cent of recycled material. This saves three tonnes of CO2 per vehicle, compared toa bodyshell made from new aluminium. It helps to reduce the kerb weight down to 1,915kg, or almost 50kg less than the Panamera Turbo. This means the XJ is quick on its feet.
Power delivery comes in a deliciously steady flow rather than in one terrifying slug, thanks to the supercharger. The peak torque is available from 2,500rpm but there is always enough grunt no matter where the rev needle rests.
The Maserati Quattroporte Sport GTS is one of the best-handling big saloons we've ever driven and the XJ SS runs it close. It doesn't feel as nimble as the Maser, but ponderous it's not. The continuously variable damping may sound like a gimmick, but it actually works rather well, striking a near perfect balance of ride and handling.
Despite its obviously large dimensions, you feel as if you are in control of something much smaller. A trick only a few cars, like the aforementioned Maserati, are able to pull off. It feels compact in the corners and that gives you the confidence to push it harder and harder. But there's more...Dial the gearbox into ‘S', switch on ‘Dynamic' mode and the virtual instruments glow red.
At maximum attack, the traction control allows greater slip, the throttle response is sharpened further and the steering becomes firmer. At full tilt the XJ Supersport will race from zero to 100kph in 4.9 seconds. It's slower than the Panamera Turbo, butit's more comfortable and definitely a lot better looking.
The XJ Supersport seems to have it all — great looks, a beautifully crafted interior and jaw-dropping performance. It suffers from poor rearward visibility and a confounding infotainment system.
Overall, the Supersport isn't as fast as the Panamera, neither is it as good looking as the Aston Rapide. However, it offers the best compromise between the two and costs less than either of them. It rides like a luxury limousine and drives like a sportscar. Most cars, including the Porsche and the Aston, can only manage one. One of the best sports saloons on sale today? Probably. Best Jaguar? Definitely.
Porsche Panamera Turbo
We've grown to accept a Porsche with four doors because the Panamera is well, a brilliant car. It's Bentley-esque on the inside and with a bi-turbo 4.8-litre V8 under the bonnet, the 500bhp engine is a blast. It's bolted onto a seven-speed twin-clutch PDK and the power is then sent to all four wheels. It drives like a 911 Turbo. Nuff said.
Aston Martin Rapide
Like the Jag, it comes with rear-wheel drive. The sole powertrain teams a 470bhp 6.0-litre V12 to a six-speed slush box. The Rapide's standard features include leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, sat-nav and a 1,000W Bang & Olufsen audio system. It's strong off the line but it's not brutal and those rear seats are for kids only.
Tech sheet: Bag a Jag
1 The new XJ is the sleekest interpretation yet of design director Ian Callum's vision for the car in the 21st century.
2 Panoramic glass roof enables it to have a more streamlined rear and enhances the feeling of light and space inside.
3 The body is constructed using an aerospace-inspired aluminium technology, which makes it markedly lighter than its rivals.
4 Long-wheelbase offers a refined environment for back-seat passengers with an additional 125mm of legroom.
Model XJ L Supersport
Engine 5.0-litre supercharged V8
Transmission Six-speed auto, RWD
Max power 510bhp @ 6,000rpm
Max torque 625Nm @ 2,500rpm
Top speed 250kph
Plus Gorgeous interior, blistering performance
Minus Poor rearward visibility