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In the not inconsiderable shape of the new XJ V6 Turbo diesel Jaguar has delivered a lithe and engagingly pacey saloon – a car with the credentials to be considered ‘the ultimate driving machine’, writes Gi’s motoring correspondent, Anthony Ffrench-Constant

Ironic, isn’t it, that as cars become increasingly reliable and are designed to survive ever longer, the showroom life span of each new model has become increasingly short. Memory possibly clouded by the cataracts of time, I could swear that when I first weaved timidly onto the tarmac with Osibisa (‘criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness’) thumping through the eight-track, any new model had to trundle around for at least a decade before we were treated to even the impending gleam of a replacement.

In these More Bigger Snacks Now times, however, cars built to last until hell is at least looking a little frosty round the edges are written off by manufacturers in half that time, notwithstanding the inevitable biannual facelift to keep us all interested. And this poses two questions: Firstly, does the public get what it wants, or want what it gets? In other words, has the car buyer’s attention span really shrunk to that of a newt, or is it the manufacturers themselves who have decided that we must treat our astonishingly expensive cars like white goods and simply discard them every other year in the manner of a ninety quid microwave oven?

And secondly, how on earth are car makers managing to catapult new models at us with such increasingly short lead times? Surely, sacrificial short-cuts must be made somewhere in that my sterious mire of research, development and manufacture…

Interestingly, a recent week in which I found myself behind the wheel of both Jaguar’s new XJ and the latest iteration of BMW’s arch-rival 5 Series has left me convinced that not even the manufacturers themselves have come up with a straight answer to either question. I drove the 5 Series on BMW’s home turf, in Munich, and the company spent an inordinate amount of time during launch proceedings showing off their latest R & D technology. Alongside more wind tunnels than you could shake a stick at, in which new models are subjected to every conceivable (and, indeed, hitherto inconceivable) test, BMW has spent a large fortune installing legion, 360o driving simulators merely to demonstrate to itself that customers can safely operate their oft maligned iDrive multimedia control system without simultaneously hurtling into the shrubbery.

The fact that the nice lady in charge herself cantered into kerbs, cones and innocent wheelie-bin bystanders more than once during a short, knob wielding demonstration did little to reassure me that many of these all-in-one, audio/phone/sat’ nav’ control systems do not, in fact, represent far more of an on-board driving hazard than that quick, verboten chat on the mobile phone…

But what really rang the alarm bells was the curt, one word response to the question; ‘Have you driven the new 5 Series on our dreadful British roads yet?’ Answer; ‘No’.

Welcome, then, to an age wherein new cars under development appear to spend far too much time as laboratory rats, and far too little as actual road runners. In the case of said BMW, the proof of that particular pudding being a new, electric steering system about as inert and uninvolving as a pre-snog SnowWhite. Not entirely the level of responsiveness one equates with ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, and kindling the suspicion that, en route to the launch pad, the 5 Series may not actually have been driven on any real roads at all. All of which brings us to the £64,400, 3.0 litre V6 turbo diesel version of Jaguar’s new XJ. This is a very different kettle of fish indeed, and what it lacks in terms of the sheer crushing efficiency we’ve come to equate with a 5 Series, it more than makes up for in elegance, charm, a whiff of quirkiness and great dollops of driver involvement.

Admittedly, in the manner of Jennifer Lopez, the rear view might at first appear gently out of proportion (not unpleasant, just, well, a tad larger than expected), and the creak-and-reek full-leather interior may still be a little chrome heavy and replete with the occasional clunky detail such as that dreadful, high street chain jeweller quality clock, but the whole is largely rather delicious and the XJ has tremendous road presence. Besides, 100 yards down the road, you’ll forgive it anything.

Used to effortless performance from any big Jaguar and with every other engine in the range boasting some 5.0 litres, I was initially concerned that a humble 3.0 litre V6might not be able to shift a tin of this not inconsiderable size with the requisite alacrity. But a relatively modest 271bhp is only half the story, and a handsome 442lb ft of torque rapidly allays any such concerns, the XJ thumping to 60mph in just 6.0 seconds, and on to a governed top speed of 155mph.

Establishing the high speed loafing, lounge lizard credentials you’d expect of a Jaguar is one thing, but what really stands out here is just how engaging this big car is to throw around. Most significantly, the good old fashioned hydraulic, speed sensitive power steering is everything BMW’s offering is not. Amine of detailed road surface information, it’s perfectly weighted, unnervingly accurate and sweetly responsive. Allied to appropriately tenacious undercarriage, it makes for such effortless, scything progress that you’ll invariably find yourself travelling somewhat more rapidly than your nicely cosseted senses would have you believe.

However, where Jaguar must be applauded for clearly having driven the XJ the length and breadth of Britain to elicit such an involving drive, a small Bronx cheer might be more appropriate for one or two rather more dubious decisions taken during the development process.

Firstly, inevitably sub-contracted out to save money, one supposes, the front seats just aren’t good enough. They’re too flat, unwelcoming and lacking in lateral support. There’s little point in having electrical hugging adjustment to the seat side bolsters if all they do when activated is merely push you forward out of the seat in the manner of an orange pip squeezed between fingertips. I know Jaguar is eager to shed the gentleman’s club image of yore, but a comfy chair is just a comfy chair, wherever you find it.

Evidence of cost-cutting also surfaces on first contact with the 8” centre console touch screen. I must confess to far preferring touch screen systems to the distracting, knob-operated alternative which the German manufacturers have now all aped BMW in adopting. But not if the reality is a screen so inelegant and insensitive to the touch that serious digit bruising is the outcome of loading in a particularly lengthy destination address.

But the most unfortunate new-age addition, and that from which there’s no escape, is the replacement of analogue dials in the driver’s instrument binnacle with, er, virtual analogue dials. Sorry, Jag’, they may allow you to force-feed the driver all manner of ancillary information but, lacking the visual crispness and quality of the real thing, they just don’t cut the ocular mustard. Yet another automotive solution to a problem which doesn’t exist, I can only assume this tone-lowering device must somehow constitute either a time or cost saving somewhere along the line…

A pity, because these niggles aside (and the fact that you’ll have to plump for a long wheelbase version to gain overmuch rear legroom on the sibling XF), the new XJ is something of a character in this increasingly anodyne class. It has immense appeal and, compared to the does-exactly-what-it says- on-the-tin 5 Series, is a farmore engaging, entertaining drive. Given the choice, I’d opt for the Jaguar every time. Which makes it all the more baffling to just know the majority wont.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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