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Driven – Jaguar XJ Supersport

Written on:May 27, 2011
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The all-aluminium, long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ Supersport features a 5.0-litre, supercharged V8 engine, 510bhp and sells, in the UK, for £94,000. It is then, a serious car but is there more to it than numbers, albeit very impressive ones?

The exterior is made largely from aluminium – 50% of which is recycled – and is neat and unremarkable, which is a good thing in the company that it’s designed to keep. My car was black, which helped to hide a little of the awkwardness that I think lurks around the back of the car, especially where the lights and the ‘C’ pillar meet.

The front though, is graceful and shark-like with a bluffness to it that hints at the power within; no aerodynamic nonsense here, it seems to say, I’m just going to force my way through that pesky air. The headlights squint at you like Robert de Niro; it’s a street fighter in a Savile Row suit, just like the old-school Jaguar XJR.

There is less controversy inside where the innovative design has been impeccably executed. Special praise has to be given for the way that the leather sweeps around the doors, over the dashboard and down through the centre console. It’s neatly stitched, and high quality and looks wonderful. Turning on the ignition prods the rotary drive control to rise from its previously flush position; little details like this matter. There is a sense of understated drama and occasion to the cockpit that few car manufacturers can carry off – and anyone does it as well as Jaguar in the XJ.

The instruments are entirely digital with a striking LCD screen replacing the analogue instruments that we’ve lived with for over a century. I wasn’t absolutely convinced by them, but I’ve little doubt that long-term owners will come to appreciate their clarity.  The advantages – configurability is much easier and the display can be changed instantaneously to better reflect the driver’s needs – will ensure that more and more manufacturers use them in the future as BMW, to name just one, are intending to.

Rear seat passengers are, if anything even more cosseted than the driver. The long wheelbase of the Supersport (optional on other models) enables them to stretch out in seats that have electric adjustment of the backrest recline angle, four-way lumbar support, footrests and a massage function.

The optional ‘Executive Pack’ transforms the rear of the XJ into a luxurious mobile office with fold-down laptop trays and an electric rear sun blind for increased privacy, as well as upgrading the carpeting, and installing a combination wood and leather steering wheel, gloss wood veneer and chrome mirror housings.

This is all very well, but it means little if it doesn’t drive as well as it looks; after all, despite the long wheelbase, most Supersport owners won’t be employing the services of a chauffeur to ferry them about, choosing to take the wheel themselves.

The Supersport is, quite simply, a sensational car to drive. Driven sensibly it is quiet, refined and surprisingly economical delivering a little over 23mpg in everyday use. Gear changes are imperceptible so you can waft around in comfort listening to the 1200W Bowers & Wilkins sound system concentrating on whatever it is you need to concentrate on. The Jaguar will quietly do your bidding in the most unobtrusive way imaginable.

But, prod the throttle further and the growl that precedes the acceleration prepares you for inter-stellar performance. There are few cars that can live with the XJ in real-world conditions – and none that do it in so accomplished a fashion.

The steering is light but never vague. The Jaguar can be placed with inch-perfect precision thanks in no small part to the firm, well-damped suspension. When you hit a pothole you realise that Jaguar’s engineers have clearly biased it towards performance rather than luxury, but the handling remains solidly neutral long after you would have expected it to start to under-steer. Lurid power slides are there for the asking, of course, but you need to be driving insanely to provoke them accidentally.

High-speed stability and refinement are impeccable. The high-speed bowl at Millbrook was circled in lane 4 at the 100mph speed limit in near silence – and, of course, was barely getting into its stride. The top speed is limited to 155mph and 62mph comes up in 6.9 seconds but it’s the mid-range speeds that impress. Overtaking is safe and accomplished quickly, which is how it should be done.

But figures don’t mean a thing with a car like this. The important thing, the raison d’etre, is how it makes you feel.

The Supersport made me feel involved.

It helped me concentrate on what I was doing in a way that few cars have done previously. The Jaguar felt lithe and taut, thanks in no doubt to the lightweight aluminium body (saving an average of 150kgs over its rivals Jaguar claim) and all the benefits that this brings. Responsivity is greatly enhanced with less weight, and the low centre of gravity helps the handling and turn-in tremendously.

If you want change gear manually then you can, using the slightly cheap-looking paddles behind the steering wheel. I tried them, and whilst the big Jag made a chilling howl on the down changes, I ended up leaving it in ‘Drive’ relying on the ‘Dynamic’ button to put the Supersport in the mood for fun. If you do this (and you will) then the dials glow red, the seatbelt tensioners tighten, and as a consequence, your adrenaline levels soar in anticipation.

The Jaguar XJ Supersport is a breathtaking combination of limousine and sports car. It cossets and pampers you with the best of them but will also deliver levels of street-scorching performance that you’ll never explore on a public road. If you have £100,000 to buy on a Jekyll and Hyde super-saloon then I can’t think of a better car to spend your money on.

Like: Power, handling, cabin

Dislike: Cheap paddles – everything else is wonderful

Summary: If we had the money we’d buy one today

Images: Manufacturer

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