When I was told which car Jaguar's vehicle integrity chief engineer, Mike Cross, would be driving for this feature, I was a little surprised. It would be a chance, as we sometimes get, to spend quality time with a new car and one of its primary creators. But I'd expected Jaguar to bring its dynamic benchmark derivative.
“Mike's bringing the Supercharged car,” said the man from Jaguar.
“Good, good,” thought I.
“It's a long-wheelbase one.”
Quite often in the luxury car market, you see, the long-wheelbase version – as with the most recent XJ, for instance – is not the way to sample a model's dynamics in its best light. The cabin is leggier for rear-seat occupants, certainly, but usually at the expense of style, weight and, more crucially, body rigidity.
“Afterthought” would be an unkind way of putting it, but certainly the hardest dynamic work is typically done on the shorter-wheelbase version, with long-wheelbase cars merely an exercise in metalwork. Apparently, though, this is not the case with the new XJ. At least, we can but hope.
The first time I clap eyes on the new XJ in the metal is also the first time I meet Mike Cross properly. “I prefer the look of this long-wheelbase car,” he says as we take a stroll around it (which takes a while), “although Ian [Callum, Jaguar's design director] prefers the shorter one.”
I wasn't sold on the photos I'd seen of the XJ at its launch, but away from the harsh lights and stark reflections of a studio it looks very elegant, and that black plastic section of the C-pillar jars less against the rear glass because the two don't seem to have such differing levels of reflectiveness.
It looks expensive, which is probably just as well because, in this form at least, it is. This car's supercharged 5.0-liter V8 lacks a few horses (the U.S. spec delivers 464hp rather than the full-fat 503hp UK quota). But engine software difference aside, this is the top XJ, and therefore the marque's new flagship: an XJ Supersport LWB. Including a couple of options (there aren't many), you're looking at a $100,000 Jag. Crikey.
That sounds like a lot, but to my eyes it looks like it could pass muster as a 100 grand motor. Base models are closer to $70k, a trick the XJ will pull off with ease.
I've come to meet Cross, and the XJ, in Welshpool, from where, sadly, he'll do all the driving (no one outside Jaguar has yet got behind the wheel), deeper into Wales.
We'll be heading onto the roads on which Jaguar signs off the ride and handling traits of its cars and, according to Cross, where you get an excellent selection of road styles.
Between Jaguar's Gaydon HQ and Welshpool you'll find urban roads, motorways plus a few sweepers, followed by increasingly challenging and smaller rural roads as you head towards Bala. They're all attainable within a long working day.
So, Mike. This long-wheelbase thing: not an afterthought? “No, we tuned the long-wheelbase car first and then worked on developing the short-wheelbase car from that,” he says. “Traditionally, we haven't done that – and the LWB car hasn't felt the same as a result. But this way round, we've got a much better long-wheelbase car, and ideally you won't know the difference between the two dynamically.”
What you will feel in either wheelbase, Cross hopes, is that you're definitely in a Jaguar. “What we've tried to do generally is establish a Jaguar DNA. But we tweak it slightly, so the XK is the most extreme, and this is at the other end of the scale.”
Certainly, as we set off I'm initially impressed with the XJ's town ride. There's a suppleness, albeit wallow-free and with an underlying security, that's fast becoming a Jaguar trait. “We wanted the agility and the steering to feel the same as the XF, but it's a smoother car,” says Cross. “But what I'm most pleased about is that the XJ has a nice, agile feel to it.”
Part of that is down to the aluminum construction, which keeps the weight of the new XJ to no more than an XF's, even though the LWB car is 5.2m long (the SWB car is 5 in. shy of that). And it's lighter than the similar-sized Mercedes-Benz S-class or BMW 7-series.
The old XJ had the same advantage. “I'd like to think owners of the previous model would know they were still in an XJ,” says Cross. “That was a better car to drive than perhaps it looked. It was agile, because it was relatively light. So I think previous owners will know they're driving an XJ – but this car has more ability in depth.”