No wrin­kles on this Jaguar XJ flag­ship

Age­ing sedan lacks some giz­mos but it’s un­beaten for el­e­gance and lux­ury

The Star Early Edition - - MOTORING - JESSE ADAMS

YOU HAVE to feel a lit­tle sorry for Jaguar’s XJ. Even when it was fresh and new way back in 2010, it en­tered the South African lux­ury flag­ship bat­tle­field with one hand tied be­hind its back. Any­thing with­out a BMW or Mercedes badge is forced to fight with a dis­ad­van­tage in this ul­tra-pre­mium neck of the woods, and along with Lexus’ LS, Maserati’s Qu­at­tro­porte and even Audi’s A8, Jag’s largest sedan has been stuck fight­ing for scraps left be­hind by mar­ket dom­i­nant 7 Se­ries and S-Class.

Seven years on, and things aren’t get­ting any eas­ier for the big cat. Yes it’s been given spo­radic up­dates here and facelifts there - the most re­cent and sig­nif­i­cant com­ing late last year - but fact is the XJ is an age­ing model up against the high­est-tech cars on the planet. While both the 7 and S have moved the gizmo game on with re­mote con­trol park­ing, road-scan­ning sus­pen­sion sys­tems and cut­ting-edge self driv­ing gad­gets, the Jag is quite prim­i­tive by com­par­i­son.

But for­get all that. When it comes to pure posh­ness the XJ has no prob­lem hold­ing its own. It might not be able to drive it­self down a high­way, and you can’t ad­just the ra­dio’s vol­ume by twirling a fin­ger in the air (does any­one re­ally need this?), but it still rides as re­gally and pam­pers as plushly as any­thing this side of a Bent­ley.

On test here is the Jaguar XJ Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy model - flag­ship of the range. When the facelifted range was launched lo­cally last year the Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy re­placed the Su­pers­port at the top of the lineup, with an ex­tended wheel­base (de­noted by an L badge on the boot), a back seat fit for roy­alty, and a su­per­charged V8 to move it all along.

Let’s start at the back. The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy comes ex­clu­sively with in­di­vid­ual rear bucket seats that re­cline, cool, heat and mas­sage. In be­tween is a gi­ant cen­tre con­sole lined with deep pur­ple velour which might sound ‘Ve­gas pimp’ but ac­tu­ally looks great. Here you’ll find seat con­trols, USB and HDMI ports and a re­mov­able re­mote con­trol for two flip-up colour screens in the front seat backs. There are also re­mov­able footrests, a pair of White­fire head­phones, and each pas­sen­ger gets a very solidly-made fold­ing tray ta­ble.

Most XJ own­ers, out­side of Buck­hing­ham Palace any­way, will likely do the driv­ing them­selves, but the Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is per­fectly ca­pa­ble of gen­uine chauf­feur drives. Rarely are these air­line-style back seats in lux­ury cars ac­tu­ally us­able as com­fort­able work or rest spa­ces, but the XJ’s sec­ond row is plenty spa­cious for a cou­ple of worka­holic ex­ecs or hun­gover celebs. The tray ta­bles are big enough for av­er­age-sized lap­tops, and in full re­cline mode it’s pos­si­ble to stretch out for a de­cent, kneesstraight snooze.

Up front the am­bi­ence is just as dig­ni­fied. Our test car was kit­ted with jet black di­a­mond-quilted leather up­hol­stery ac­cented with ivory stitches, while dark oak ve­neers to­gether with a black leather head­liner made for a very moody at­mos­phere. Jaguar did well de­sign­ing this in­te­rior al­most a decade ago, and even if the aqua-coloured back­light­ing is look­ing a lit­tle dated, the gen­er­ous use of glossy black and pol­ished metal fin­ishes keep the place feel­ing rel­a­tively cur­rent against much more mod­ern ri­vals.

Last year’s facelift brought with it Jag’s lat­est InCon­trol Touch Pro in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, so now this eight-year old model gets the same pinch and swipe, tablet-like dash­board cen­tre­piece as you get in much newer Jaguars and Range Rovers. New func­tion­al­ity in­cludes a 60gig hard drive, wifi hotspot, smart­phone app con­trols and splitview tech so driver sees one screen (such as nav) and pas­sen­ger sees an­other (such as a movie). There’s also a dig­i­tal in­stru­ment clus­ter which can show nav screens across its full 31.2cm width.

You sit deep in­side an XJ, and while I per­son­ally like the en­closed sen­sa­tion, it might be a bit claus­tro­pho­bic for oth­ers. The side win­dows sit at shoul­der height, the top of the dash rises di­rectly into line-of-sight, and the yacht-in­spired rear glass sec­tion seems very far away in the rear-view mir­ror. Out­ward vis­i­bil­ity is com­pro­mised by the XJ’s unique body de­sign, but in fair­ness it’s this very de­sign which has pre­vented it from look­ing dated over the years.

Power. There’s plenty of it. The short-wheel­base only XJR takes the cake as the most pow­er­ful XJ de­riv­a­tive with 405kW/680Nm, but the Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy’s 375kW and 625Nm never come close to feel­ing in­ad­e­quate. Mash the throt­tle and Big Bessie hikes her skirt, noses up, and charges for­ward like an over­weight bal­le­rina leap­ing off stage.

It sounds mean too. Un­der par­tial load there’s an un­ob­tru­sive gur­gle at the back, but open her up and the 5-litre V8 shouts with a deep braaap not un­like its sis­ter F-Type sportscar.

For such a huge ma­chine it’s sur­pris­ingly easy to ma­noeu­vre. The facelifted XJ ditched the old model’s hy­draulic steer­ing for a new speed-sen­si­tive elec­tric sys­tem, and now it’s pos­si­ble to move the barge around park­ing lots with one fin­ger on the wheel. The as­sis­tance then tight­ens up as ve­loc­ity in­creases, though at high­way speeds the steer­ing did be­come a tad too heavy for my lik­ing. Mi­nor lane keep­ing cor­rec­tions took a bit too much mus­cle, and the sen­sa­tion felt a lit­tle too ar­ti­fi­cial.

But that’s your chauf­feur’s prob­lem.

VER­DICT

It might be get­ting on in years, but Jag’s XJ is hardly show­ing any wrin­kles. Sure it’s lack­ing in some lat­est giz­motron­ics, but as far as lux­ury, qual­ity, el­e­gance and style go, it still plays right at the sharp end of the pack. The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy packs plenty of glam, and gets one of the best back seats in the busi­ness class sedan league.

Yours for R2 783 816.

The long-wheel­base Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is the flag­ship of the XJ range and sells for just un­der R2.8-mil­lion.

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