Cats in the cradle

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 September, 2010, 12:00am

It was hard not to be impressed when the 2011 Jaguar XJ rolled into the car park. It's a head-turner among the other luxury sedans you see on Hong Kong's roads every day. The fruit seller didn't feel the same, though, when the 5.25-metre wheelbase basic Portfolio model pulled up in front of her stall, blotting it from view.

'An icon reimagined' is how Jaguar Cars puts it, and it's not instantly recognisable as the XJ of old. But look closer and it comes into focus. A larger, square grill that looks like it wants to literally eat the road leaves little room for the traditional double headlamps, which are now tiered back, encased in slim, single units that tail off to the sides, almost meeting the wheel.

The long bonnet and body are pure XJ, but sleeker and more aerodynamic. At the rear, the more controversial aspect of the design, 'cat's claw' tail lights sidle down to the bumper. Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum, previously with Aston Martin, set out to give Jaguar's flagship model a redesign that would shatter the XJ's 'old man's car' image and appeal more to successful fortysomethings. It was a hunch that appears to have paid off. It was Callum's blueprint for the all-new luxury sedan that apparently persuaded Tata of India to buy Jaguar from Ford. (The iconic British marque has not totally lost touch with its roots, however: the cars are still made in Jaguar's two factories in northern England.)

Slip into the driver's seat and the new XJ's interior breathes distinction. Think soft leather and more leather, coating just about everything that's not chrome or polished wood. The cabin combines hi-tech gadgetry with classic retro touches that will ensure it doesn't fall out of favour with the older driver. An elegant analogue clock nestles between snooker-ball chrome air vents inspired by jet engines. Exclusive to Jaguar, a 'virtual instrument display', similar to the dials on an iPad, can switch from mph to km/h, from Celsius to Fahrenheit, and more, controlled by touch pads on the spokes of the steering wheel.

Many features are touch-sensitive. Flick the interior lights to turn them on and off. Tap the glove compartment and it gapes open. A touch screen on the dashboard allows you to regulate the cabin temperature or operate the audio system - there are 20 Bowers & Wilkins speakers in the regular-wheelbase Portfolio model, the long wheelbase version has 24. It's a rock star's car stereo.

Temperature control extends to air-conditioned seats, which can run hot or cold. The wheel can also warm cold fingers in winter. Overhead is a double sun roof for front and back seats that opens up almost the whole roof.

After marveling at the accessories, press the keyless ignition's stop-start button and the XJ's characteristic cylindrical automatic drive selector surfaces on the console as the display panel lights up. Action stations! Despite its size, it doesn't feel like such a big car once you're on the road. It corners and otherwise maneouvres effortlessly around, town and is a sheer joy on the narrow, winding country roads of the New Territories. Its responsiveness inspires confidence and you soon stop worrying about losing a wing mirror.

A big contribution to the car's ease of mobility is a lightweight aluminium body, which makes the XJ about 150kg lighter than its steel-bodied competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz S500L, which Jaguar is quick to point out. It also makes for greater fuel economy than other cars in its class.

On the highway, it tracks true, and when the 385 horses under the bonnet are fully unleashed, keep an eye on the dials because the acceleration can creep up on you. For added thrills, press the Dynamic button and the suspension noticeably tightens - you can feel it in your spine. Then step on the throttle and the specially tuned engine emits an exhilarating, throaty roar. If you miss the fun of an old-fashioned gearbox and want a more engaging driving experience, gears can also be chosen manually by using paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Switch to manual and a big red number indicating the gear you're in appears on the virtual display. Pull right to gear up, left to drop a gear, and listen to the engine roar as you put it through its paces.

You are reminded of how long the limo-esque long-wheelbase model is when it comes to parking. Pull the car into a marked parking space and the rear end sits half a metre over the white line.

There are three models in the new XJ range to choose from in Hong Kong - the 385-horsepower basic Portfolio and Premium Luxury models, and the 510-hp Supersport, all available with short or long wheelbase. The new 'reimagined' XJ is a thrilling ride that would leave you wanting on a short journey. It's a car with personality in spades. The leaping cat has leapt the age barrier.

At a glance

What drives it? The XJ Portfolio and Premium Luxury models are powered by a five-litre V8 engine pushing out 385 hp and 515Nm of torque. Each features a six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift. While the Portfolio runs on 20-inch alloy wheels, the Premium Luxury's wheels are 19 inches. The Supersport variant has a five-litre V8 supercharged engine that puts out 510 hp and 625Nm of torque and has 19-inch wheels.

How fast is it? The first two models accelerate from zero to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds with a top speed of 250km/h. The Supersport goes from a standstill to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds but also has its top speed limited at 250km/h.

How safe is it? All models are equipped with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat airbags, side-curtain airbags, active head restraints and a blind-spot warning system using radar sensors.

How thirsty is it? The lighter aluminium structure help the Portfolio and Premium sedans offer a fuel economy of 11.3 litres per 100 kilometres, with a fuel tank capable of holding 82 litres. The Supersport manages 12.1 litres per kilometre.

How clean is it? Across models and wheelbases, the XJs put out between 184 and 289 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, which makes them top of their class for green credentials. Also, more than half of the aluminium used in its structure is recycled.

Available Prices for the Portfolio are HK$1,410,000 for the short wheelbase and HK$1,460,000 for the long wheelbase. Premium Luxury costs HK$1,248,000 for the SWB and HK$1,298,000 for the LWB. A SWB Supersport goes for HK$2,048,000 and HK$2,098,000 for the LWB. Jaguar Hong Kong, tel: 2520 0989