There’s not much to prepare the unprepared for the 2011 Jaguar XJ’s new avant-garde silhouette.
The last time around, Jaguar played it too safe. The 2004 XJ bore a striking resemblance to, of all things, a Buick LeSabre. The new version’s part Aston Rapide, part Jaguar XF, with some kinky details highlighting (or spoiling) its drawn-long shape.
All the old XJ's upright lines are discarded for a low, sleek roofline. Fenders swell along curvaceous lines like the 2007 XK coupe and convertible and vertical taillamps get LED lighting. It’s a bold reimagination—and a clever one too, since the car sits on an identical wheelbase and is only marginally longer and wider.
Three details stand out: the D-pillar is blacked out to create a floating-roof look, but it jars the eye, disturbing the XJ's elegance more than it enhances it. Maybe if it’s eventually stripped bare and polished smooth down to its aluminum substrate, it’ll make sense. The second detail is a massive glass sunroof that opens the XJ cabin to light--and glare from its gauges and flashy trim. Third, those distinctive hockey-stick taillamps. Most dislike them on first glance, but they lift the XJ's tail and do more to evoke a sort of French sensibility that trumps the same influences in the sleek Mercedes-Benz CLS. Tally them up and there's real visual interest, and mostly, home runs.
Inside, Jaguar promises all that sunroof transparency gives the transformed interior a modern, informed look. The bubbled-up air vents, the pop-up transmission controller and wide bands of wood on the doors and dash neatly distill the themes of the other Jaguar cars, with notable side adventures. A leather headliner, upgraded leather seats and laser-inlaid wood trim and new custom trim options bring nouveau opulence to the game. In all it's a decadent place to sit--but the liberal use of piano-black plastic and metallic trim is one of those taste borderlines that might have been tripped over. The stuff's a fingerprint magnet, for sure. Then again, so's an Apple iPad.
While we're picking nits, the XJ's dash clearly saved time by keeping the former car's structure. We'll admire the efficiency and maybe even swallow the styling line about the big band of wood on the dash echoing the lines of a luxury speedboat, but we're just as inclined to see a lot of Nissan Maxima in the way it's carved out a lot of the old dash's visual heft.
You should also be a technophile if you plan on savoring the XJ's electronic platter of delights. The gauges and secondary controls all but abandon real dials for a large high-definition LCD screen that displays all the usual functions, while also changing colors subtly to indicate performance driving modes with a soft red glow. There's also an LCD touchscreen that interfaces driver and climate, audio and navigation functions without using buttons. It's all very Starship: Enterprise, not at all Jefferson Starship in the way the old XJ might have handled the same cues. (Still you have to know, as they say on Delta Air Lines, that it's a touchscreen, not a punch-screen.)