Jaguar XJ looks best in dark colours

We can't work out if it's gorgeous or grotesque but, at the very least, most of us agree on one thing: it's different.

The new Jaguar XJ feels surprisingly nimble for its size, with impressive acceleration and fuel consumption.
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Some cars, when you first cast eyes on them, hit you right between the peepers and grab hold of something inside, not letting go until you've visited the dealer to spec yours up and put down a hefty deposit. Not so the Jaguar XJ, a car that still polarises opinions all over the world. We can't work out if it's gorgeous or grotesque but, at the very least, most of us agree on one thing: it's different.

To my eyes, the XJ's complex shape works best when it's painted in a dark hue, preferably black, because the fussy detailing to its rear is lost, giving this enormous hunk of metal a more cohesive look. But, putting its external design aside, there's one aspect of the XJ that cannot fail to impress even the most hardened, cynical motoring hacks: the way it drives. Something as big as this should not feel so nimble, but its lightweight aluminium construction, along with a range of powerful, silky-smooth engines, makes it feel alive.

Surely fitting a 2.0L petrol unit under its large bonnet would make the XJ feel like a 40-a-day smoker running to catch a bus. Similar to fitting an outboard motor to an ocean-going liner, perhaps?

So why, then, am I powering a long-wheelbase XJ across some of England's prettiest routes, with a broad smile on my face, knowing full well that the engine responsible for this rapid performance is half the size we'd normally expect? Yep, this is an unfeasibly small motor for such a large car, but it's punching well above its weight and, frankly, I'm flabbergasted.

Driven by the constantly increasing demands by legislators in many parts of the world for better efficiency and lower emissions, Jaguar (like many producers of luxury cars) has had to take drastic action, not only to keep the men in white coats happy, but to appeal to a wider customer base in countries where fuel is so expensive it might as well be liquid gold. And this engine makes perfect sense.

Ten years ago, Jaguar fitted a normally aspirated V8 petrol engine in its then current XJ. This four-cylinder motor produces more torque than that, which shows the mind-blowing progress that has been made in engine design in the past decade. Essentially a specially tuned version of the 2.0L unit fitted to the sprightly Range Rover Evoque, in the XJ it exudes class, refinement and offers seamless power delivery right through each of its eight automatic gears. More importantly, perhaps, its head-scratching efficiency and low weight make for impressive acceleration (100kph from rest in 7.5 seconds) and a top speed of 241kph. That's similar performance to what my Scirocco offers, which is also fitted with a 2.0L, turbocharged four-pot - just imagine what the Jag's engine could do in my car.

While my little hatchback is perfectly suited to its zingy engine, it would never work in the XJ because it's happiest when it's thrashed. No, the Jag needs a power plant that feels muscular and is as silent as possible. What they've done with this one defies belief and I find myself wondering aloud whether the big V8s have had their day.

Certainly in countries where a car's CO2 output has an effect on the amount of tax purchasers have to pay, this XJ makes a strong financial case for itself. We're fortunate enough to pay significantly less for fuel in the GCC, so the appeal of a 2.0L big Jag might be lessened in favour of thirsty V8s, but that hasn't stopped Jaguar for announcing its firm intention to export it to our shores. So does it make sense as an ownership proposition here? I think it does, for a number of reasons.

Pricing is yet to be announced but this model is expected to be significantly less expensive than the larger capacity models, meaning it opens the prospect of luxury motoring to more potential owners. There is no external difference between this car and its more powerful, more expensive brethren, meaning it won't cause any embarrassment when turning up at the golf club. And it appeals on a more base level because anyone with an admiration for exquisite engineering will be thrilled that such a small, compact engine can provide such an engaging driving experience.

The cabin is no less opulent than other XJs, and its design is one of the very best in the business (let down only by the cheap-feeling transmission paddles and an overly fussy navigation system display). If your driving involves little more than city streets then you really wouldn't need any more than this.

This engine will also find its way into the svelte XF saloon, but that car is actually heavier than the bigger XJ, so its performance is blunted slightly. Other markets (principally North America) will soon be supplied with four-wheel drive Jaguars, so the company's transformation into a vibrant, relevant worldwide player is all but complete.