21 Mar 2013

Jaguar XJ Supercharged Supersaloon shootout - 3 Litre vs 5 Litre

Colin Hubbard drives two Jaguar XJs back to back.  One with the supercharged 3 litre V6 and one with the supercharged 5 litre V8, and tries to decide which one is best.

The current derivative of the Jaguar XJ was launched in 2009 as a ground-up redesigned new car and boasted an all alloy body that made it over 100kilos lighter than the equivalent engined German rivals. The benefits of aluminium mean that being lighter it is easier to strengthen, without adding huge weight and this new XJ is significantly stronger than the previous incarnation.

Ian Callum the designer has done a great job on the styling and, as it was designed as a long wheelbase from the outset, it doesn’t look like its been photoshopped with a longer wheelbase like other extended cars such as the China market A6s and 5 series.  He’s created a very sleek shape with an aggressive front end and high but distinctive rear end. You only notice how big the car is from the outside when you compare the size and position of the drivers head in relation to the car.  It's hard to disguise the bulk of a vehicle this size and the current trend of higher and higher waistline means there's vast amounts of body below the windows. Nevertheless with a crease towards the lower end of the doors it breaks up the expanse just enough to pull off the enormity into a handsome car.

The only detail I don't like is the black C pillars which apparently were intended to hide the cars width.  They do nothing for me and if I had the car in any colour other than black would send it off to the paintshop to be colourcoded.

In black with the right wheels they do look superb and very British, gaining fans from David Cameron to David Beckham and even as M’s transport in the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall. Thank godness Mr Jelly AKA Chris Bangle doesn’t visit the right side of the channel or it would have been a disaster with wobbly lines and curves in the wrong places.

Step into the drivers seat, first off in the 3 litre supercharged standard wheelbase XJ and what a fantastic place to be. The dash is very theatrical as it opens up all the way to the windscreen and the instruments and controls protrude towards the driver, the central vents remind me of Jar Jar Binks’s eyes in Star Wars. Looking around at the accommodating interior and through to the generous rear seating area and everything is of exceptionally high quality with handsome design.  They have cracked this luxury car feel like no other this side of £100k.

Hands on the leather double folded and stitched wheel, which feels odd at first (and the thought that it might collect dust springs to mind) and reach for the starter button and press. The 3 litre 6 cylinder supercharged engine springs to life with a quiet yowl and settles to a silent idle. This new unit is to be the powerhouse for the new F Type so I am expecting good things, and especially refinement in this application which is rated as 335 bhp and 332lb/ft.  There's no doubt more to come in the F type.

The dashclocks are all LCD virtual instruments and can be configured to display various readouts in addition to the standard speedo. A lot of thought has gone into these and whilst they are all lightly lit I found that when on the road they highlight your speed and revs by illuminating 20mph either side of your speed and 1500 revs either side of your engine speed so you only focus on what you need. In addition when you set the cruise control it highlights the speed you are going on the speedo, making referencing your set speed very manageable.

Take a few moments to allow the vital fluids to warm and cycle then turn the circular transmission selector dial to drive and off we go, slowly at first until we enter the open roads of Coventry. Over the speed bumps on site the damping is well judged, fairly firm but composed on it’s 20 inch wheels and I’m dying to feel how the car performs at speed. At the junction onto the main road, traffic clear and launch.  A creamy linear acceleration and we’re down the road, 50 mph limit car, obedient to my control.

I like this alot and I’ve only done half a mile, further down the road hit some roundabouts, slow corners, fast corners and its so well composed for such a big car it just copes with no drama and the engine's a beauty. The chassis is made up of coil springs up front, air springs at the rear and electrically controlled continuously variable damping all round.  It shows Jaguar must have spent a lot of time on British roads to find the right balance of ability versus comfort on this mini limo.

Speed wise it will hit sixty in 5.7 seconds (quicker than a new Porsche Boxter) and go onto a limited 155mph where the roads and law permits.  The official economy figure is that it will go 30 miles on a gallon of God's finest.  Seriously doubt the economy, especially on today’s run, but even if you allow a real world 25mpg that’s some feat considering it's dimensions and performance. It's even emissions rated at 224 g/km CO2, so you will save when it comes to tax the car at £270 a year which in part is achieved through the 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox bumping up to the highest gear when it can.

After 30 plus miles I’ve been relaxed, excited and impressed by this package and it’s worthy of the Jaguar XJ badge for the 21st century and I’m looking forward to driving the version with an additional 2000cc and 168bhp.

Cue the 5 litre Supercharged long wheelbase XJ Supersaloon to quote its full title, and this is 6 inches longer than the standard model with all that room available as extra rear legroom. This is the 5 litre supermodel engine that is available in most of the Jaguar Land Rover line up and mated, as with the 3 litre, to an 8 speed ZF auto gearbox. This will hit sixty in 4.7 seconds, which beats the current base 911 (that would be embarassing at the lights, you be straight back at the Porsche dealers asking them to fix it!) and again onto a limited 155mph.

Get in, adjust the seat and take in my surroundings noticing the large glass sunroof and suede headlining.  It's little details that make a car feel special. Prod the starter and the 5 litre engine bursts into life with much more aggression than the 3 litre and settles down to a quiet Grrrrrrrr. Play with the standard fit Meridian 825w sound system while the engine warms, slot in a compilation CD and whack it up until it starts to distort.  The thing is it doesn’t and Pure and Simple by Hearsay starts to give me a headache buts sounds sensational with glorious bass and exceptional midrange. Meridian have done a great job in here even if they did have 20 speakers to play with.

Engine now in comfort zone, select drive and off we go, composed down the long drive and wait by the entrance as a HGV goes by. Wait for an opening in the traffic and foot down, Jeeeesus this thing goes.  I’m trying my best to look forward to take in all the information in front of me but also want to look in the rear view mirror to see if there really was a huge XJ sized catapult behind me or was that just my imagination? At this point I have to back off for a car ahead and settle to a sane cruising speed to dwell on what had just happened. The brakes are steel discs all round and on the road proves they are more than sufficient.  There's no need for carbon discs on this car but on an armoured diplomat version with added weight (David Cameron's mid week wheels?) may benefit.

After a few adventurous miles and swooping bends I’m finding that this car has a different character to the 3 litre.  It's 503 ponies and 461 torques really do make their presence known but it is an eager beast. The best way to explain this is its like my dog, Daisy.  She's a hybrid Labrador x Collie and 3 years old.  When she senses we're going for a walk she goes absolutely bananas, crying howling and jumping up.  When the lead's on and the front door's locked behind me she pulls and jumps like she’s never been outside and my arm aches until she off the lead. This is exactly how the XJ is.  It’s thinking Dad's given me a massive engine and I want to make him proud by making the surroundings blurry like the starship enterprise does in warp speed and scaring old ladies standing in bus shelters.

Halfway through the drive I end up in a small village, so speed takes a back seat and I have a play with some of the cars features. I happen upon the seat massaging function so set it to the max and see what happens. Oooh aaah, this is wonderful and the first time I have sat in a car and been massaged.  In conjunction with the heating element in the seats they combine for a really relaxing experience, like a pair of small warm airfists running slowly up and down your back. Whomever thought to put massaging seats in a car was a loon, or perhaps a genius, but I couldn’t even contemplate the cost these would take to fix if they ever broke.

I end up trailing a pondering Fiat Panda driven by an elderly gentleman through the village and, once through, noticed the national speed limit signs.  As soon as the derestricted signs were in the rear view I obliviated the silver haired dodderer in the blink of an eye.  With the accelerator floored the XJ picked up revs and shot past the Panda like it was stationary - he mustn’t have known what had just happened.

The turn of speed this engine gives this aluminium bodied car is very impressive.  Not aggressive like an AMG powered Mercedes, but smooth and relentless, perhaps a little too much as it searches for the horizon - kind of quasi jetplane on rubber.

The 3 litre XJ Supercharged Portfolio as tested is priced at £72,815 and Jaguar's policy is to throw equipment at the cars so it includes standard fit electric heated seats, twin sunroofs, Sat Nav, Meridian 825w HiFi, cruise control and 20 inch alloy wheels - unlike the competition who prefer to charge for this kind of thing. The 5 litre Long Wheelbase Supersport is priced from £95,235 and benefits from rear headrest monitors and, for an additional £190, those glorious front seat massagers.

So what makes the better car out of these two supercharged petrol burners? Firstly I want to mention that I hate filling up my car with petrol.  It's 5 or 10 minutes out of your week that is wasted, you get dirty hands and have to interact with a sour faced grumpy troll in the supermarket petrol station that doesn’t want to be there and would rather chat to her equally grumpy co-troll.

This partly gives away my preference but if I had the choice would put my money into the 3 litre, because it is a smoother engine which most suits the XJ.  It’s a creamy unit when installed in this car and delivers more than adequate performance for any overtaking situation, but with the benefit of having to visit the trolls less often. Don’t get me wrong, the 5 litre is an outstanding powerplant but the character doesn’t suit the XJ as the limo of choice.  Maybe it’s the throttle mapping or just that the 3 litre engine is too good.  The larger engine's addiction to velocity just makes it too racy for this application.

So there we are, power isn’t always everything.  Just makes sure mine's painted black.