Jaguar's new XJ is worthy of the history and hype

This could be the year of the Jaguar. David Booth marvels at its new flagship, the 2011 XJ.

Methinks Jaguar is about to regain some of the credibility it has so assiduously squandered in recent years. Thanks to Ian Callum, there's something more stylish in Jaguar dealerships than the ever more regressive homages to Sir William Lyons' iconic 1968 XJ that had been emanating from its design studios. In its place is a sense that looking to the future, rather than navel-gazing at the past, is the way forward for the legendary English car maker.

It's not a moment too soon. The recent economic tsunami might easily have swallowed whole a boutique car maker that had lost its way. And, let's be honest, Jaguar had lost its mojo. From an X-Type that was based on a Ford Econo-sedan to an S-Type and XJ whose retro stylings had started looking woefully out of date, the hoary English marque had just about spent all the brand equity it took 75 storied years to create.

A new XK, a spate of new, technically-advanced V8 engines and the much-ballyhooed XF all indicated that Jaguar was on something of a revival. But Jaguar lives and dies on the reputation of its iconic, top-of-the-line XJ sedan, and that, most recently, had suffered massively for its retro styling. Built on one of the most advanced chassis in the automotive world - constructed of lightweight bonded and riveted aluminium - Jaguar clothed its wondrous technology in last year's rags and buyers ignored the result in droves.

They will not ignore this latest eighth-generation XJ. Avante garde where its predecessor was passé, sleek where the old was bulky, the 2011 XJ combines the grace traditional in all Jaguars with the modernity that its designs have lacked of late. Criticise little details like the odd black C-pillar if you must, but the entire car is gorgeous indeed. Underneath that swooping skin is an evolution of the chassis developed for its predecessor, albeit with numerous developments as Jaguar learns more about the intricacies of moulding, extruding and casting aluminium. This version, for instance, incorporates more magnesium for even greater weight saving (Jag claims that its lightweight body-in-white is 135 fuel-saving kilograms lighter than an equivalent steel version), fewer rivets are needed and advances in its adhesives technology means that fusion welding is no longer required anywhere in the chassis.

It must work, because the chassis is reputed to be 11 per cent stiffer than its already impressively rigid predecessor and is the best overall ride/handling package Jaguar has ever constructed. From a ride best described as velvetine to handling (in the car's Dynamic Mode) that is all but BMW precise, the new XJ is equal to anything in this distinctly competitive segment. Indeed, the XJ's steering is the first in this segment to rival the BMW 7 Series for delicacy and feedback. The suspension, even in top-line Supersport guise, is not quite as stiff as a Bimmer, but roll is well contained and high-speed handling is all you could want out of a full-sized saloon.

And, by full-sized, I mean the longer-wheelbase (by 125mm) version of the new XJ that, unlike previous top Jaguars, was designed simultaneously with the short wheelbase. In fact, Jaguar claims that it conducted most of its suspension calibration on the longer model, probably the reason I preferred the bigger car's more planted feeling at speed. Speed is something the new XJ generates with consummate ease. Even the lowliest version - the US$72,500 (Dh266,000; all prices for the US market, UAE markets may differ), short-wheelbase, normally-aspirated 5.0L - boasts 385hp, just 15 down on the predecessor's supercharged V8. Jaguar claims a 5.7-second zero-to-100kph acceleration time. It feels faster. Certainly, the lack of the supercharger does not leave it wanting compared with the competition, aided, again, by that lighter-than-steel chassis.

The full-zoot $112,000 (Dh411,000), 510hp supercharged Supersport (there's also a $87,500 (Dh321,100), 470hp "Supercharged"), of course, adds even more performance, scooting to 100kph in less than five seconds. There's even more torque (not that the base version is lacking) and the Supersport is easily comparable with BMW's 760 and the AMG S63 Mercedes. Unusually, the supercharged version also seems a tad smoother with, again unusually, a mellower intake note.

Oddly, the Supersport does not get any significant chassis upgrades to go along with its power increase. On the one hand, as I mentioned earlier, the XJ handles a treat and is easily able to minister to the supercharged engine's 125 extra ponies. On the other, all that power deserves the very best chassis Jaguar can muster and behind the wheel of the aluminium-framed beast - even in its most powerful supercharged version - there's a feeling of more performance waiting to be unleashed.

Inside, though the XJ be all-new, there's still the feeling of cosiness common to all Jags, even in the rear seats of the long-wheelbase, where there's plenty of room to stretch out. Traditionally, that's been the main attraction of Jaguar interiors. To the 2011 XJ, you can now add some (actually desirable) hi-tech wizardry. My favourite is the new TFT gauge set that is, not only colourful and crystal clear, but profoundly useful. The screen typically displays three round dials - a fuel/temperature gauge, the large speedometer in the middle and a tachometer to the right. However, if the navigation system indicates a change of direction is about to occur, the computer controller morphs the temp/fuel gauge into a little histographic image of the turn you should make. Want to reset the vehicle settings? A complete list of the choices pops up temporarily where the tach generally resides. There's plenty more gee-whizzery, all of it practical.

There's also the touch-screen on-board computer controller that's a lot easier to fiddle with than those silly computer knobs favoured in Germany. And there's a phenomenal Bowers & Wilkins audio system, of which 1,200 watts and 20 speakers are the next best thing to the Bang & Olufsen system offered in the Audi A8. Beethoven's Fifth never sounded so good. It's actually quite tough to find things to complain about the new Jag (though, see the marketing sidebar, because I did manage). Reliability, if we are to believe JD Power & Associates, is up, the styling fresh, the technology advanced and the performance stupendous.

The revitalisation of Jaguar appears to be real. Jaguar can confirm the XJ will start at Dh349,000 here in the UAE, but no other details are available.