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From Pebble Beach: All new Jag flagship a cat with 'sparkle'

August 14, 2009 | 10:55 am


My eyes rolled like slot machine cherries when Mike O'Driscoll, managing director of Jaguar Cars, announced that the new XJ sedan was nothing less than the Jaguar "icon reimagined." "Icon" is often used and frequently abused in PR fluffery, and, besides, Jag can claim only one icon and that's the E-Type. I settled in for a long night of skepticism at the Pebble Beach Beach Club, where the car was unveiled at a gala Thursday night.

 And then the silk came off the the next-generation XJ and I thought, well, hang on. This car is pretty nice. A big, cool, streamlined sedan with terrific shoulders and a low greenhouse with blacked out roof supports, the XJ -- an all-aluminum bodied car built in Castle Bromwich, England -- has proportions and symmetries similar to the Audi A8 but it hits the eyes as broader and lower. The car revels in chromic details inside and out. There's grace and there's sin here. Yeah, this is a nice car.

The most distinctive feature of the exterior is a bold, tapering, mirror-chrome ellipse around the DLO, the "daylight opening," that looks like the gestural trace of a bright light in a dark room. The company's signature chrome mesh grille, which seems to struggle for approval on the nose of the XF sedan, is here much more proportional and refined. "It's more three-fifths," notes Ian Callum, Jaguar's design director. Another detail: Unlike the rounded, eyeliner brows above the headlamps of the XF -- "I still quite like those," says Callum -- the XJ has deeply hooded headlamps, glowering with road-consuming purpose. Altogether the sculpture of the XJ is vastly more compelling than the XF, and one can immediately imagine it scooping up conquest sales from other pretty flagship cars, including the A8, Mercedes-Benz S class and BMW 7 series.

Jag XJ at Pebble 3 Nearly the entire roof of the XJ is glass, and the blacked out D pillars make the roof seem to float above the car. From behind the XJ looks about 10 feet wide but total track is only 60 millimeters wider than the previous model. Two configurations will be offered: The standard XJ is 201.7 inches long, and the long wheelbase is 206.6 inches. The extra five inches all show up as rear leg room.

Other data points include a choice of four engines that will be offered worldwide: a 3.0-liter, 275-hp turbodiesel (0-60 mph in 6 seconds); a 5.0-liter 385-hp, direct injection gas V8 (5.4 seconds); a 5.0-liter, 470-hp direct injection supercharged gas V8 (4.9 seconds); and a high output 5.0-liter good for 510 hp (4.7 seconds). Curb weight ranges from 3,960 pounds for the diesel SWB to 4,223 pounds for the LWB 5.0-liter V8.

Jag XJ at Pebble 4 While the exterior is a success, the knockout punch comes from the interior, which is stitched to high heaven with quality leather and wrapped in a walnut wainscoting like no car I've ever seen. "Designers default setting is minimalism," says Callum, who had to convince his young, iPod-loving team to go in a different direction. "I wanted to turn the wick up on the sparkle," he says, "a little more life." The car is brilliant with chrome and piano black surfaces, which play beautifully against the high-tech LCD screens. The Jag daringly uses "virtual" instrumentation, which is to say, the dials are graphic simulations of needle-swinging instruments like tach and speedo. Like the Porsche Panamera, navigation displays can be put into the instrument console.

Jag XJ at Pebble 5 The car starts in the low $70,000s and can be up-fitted, with big engines and amenities, to more than $90,000.

This is a richly elegant car, with lots of futurism and overachieving from a company once known for underachieving and the designers' version of ancestor worship. It's also an expensive car to build and you can see many corners that were left uncut for the sake of sheer gorgeousness. "We are developing a culture at Jaguar that says, Look, design is out single biggest attribute. Let's use it."

Verdict: Fabulous.

-- Dan Neil

Photos: Dan Neil / Los Angeles Times