Britons sometimes struggle with their cultural identity as the country assimilates immigrants from its former colonies Ironically, the acquisition of two iconic British auto brands—Jaguar and Land Rover—by Tata Motors of India, has allowed both carmakers to rediscover that special something that made them 20th-century icons.
Both brands had languished under the tutelage of their previous owner, Ford Motor Company, producing vehicles that seemed more suited for the British Museum than the open road. Since the 2008 purchase, Tata Motors has wisely adopted a hands-off approach, giving free rein to in-house engineers and designers. The results are positively inspiring.
This is particularly true of Jaguar, which had been producing cars marred by mass-market, copycat design. That’s all changed now. While hints of the coming transformation were evident in the XF and XK models introduced over the past few years, the 2011 Jaguar XJ is solid confirmation of a new direction. This is a luxury four-door sedan with a look that clearly distinguishes the car from its German and Asian competition.
While other colors are available, the XJ looks best dressed in black for a night on the town. Like many objects of desire, the XJ’s initial appeal is best appreciated from a slight distance. Follow it from an adjacent lane and you’ll note how the elongated shape of the side windows establishes a feeling of fluidity, even as the car’s wide stance imbues it with a sense of power. Three vertical strips on the rear LED brake lights curve up and over the trunk line like cat’s claws. That’s not to say the current XJ is not without controversy—you’ll love or hate the black C-pillar panels that are most questionable on lighter-colored models. For safety reasons, the old iconic leaping cat hood ornament is no longer standard equipment, but the emblem clearly has regained its distinctive character.
There is a tremendous feeling of light and space inside the cabin thanks to a panoramic glass roof that’s integrated into the roofline. A dark tint and a reflective coating keep the interior from overheating, and electric blinds add another level of protection and privacy.
Design touches like a sweeping instrument panel, a pop-up rotary shifter on the center console, a leather interior and deliberately indulgent oversized retro vents all contribute to a level of sumptuousness that puts you in the enviable position of contemplating your feelings about the leather stitching on the three-spoke steering wheel while listening to the exquisite 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system. The rear seats are comfortable, but the long wheelbase version adds five inches of extra legroom at a relatively modest increase in cost.
As befits its name, the Jaguar XJ is quick and quiet, even as the ride remains smooth and stable through the tightest of turns. The chassis is made predominantly with high-tensile strength aluminum, a much harder material to work with than steel, but one that makes the XJ the lightest vehicle in its class. Half of that aluminum is from recycled material, so the car has a green story to tell. Three engine variants are available: a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 with 385 hp, a supercharged 470 hp model and a limited-edition Supersport with 510 hp that growls to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. Mileage is generally 18 or 19 mpg, depending on the wheelbase length. Prices range from $72,500 to $112,000, depending primarily on engine size and wheelbase length. Instrument displays have been replaced by a high-definition virtual one that adds a bit of theater to the driving experience.%new_page%
Meanwhile, over at Land Rover, the company has produced a 2010 Range Rover Sport model (from $60,495) luxurious enough to be the SUV parked alongside the Bentley. The more mainstream LR3 Land Rover has been replaced by the more powerful LR4 (from $48,100), whose interior is so much more comfortable and well-appointed that its predecessor seems like an agricultural vehicle by comparison. Both vehicles have retained their superb off-road handling characteristics. A very cool option is a camera setup that provides 360-degree outside views from a center console screen that even lets drivers see what’s underwater while fording a stream. Particularly impressive is a new confidence-building adaptive dynamics system on the Range Rover Sport that remaps steering, throttle and gearbox settings for safer passage over steep terrain.
Land Rover plans to introduce a smaller, turbo-charged four-cylinder Range Rover called the Evoque (available in a coupe or a five-door version) in 2011 that will sell for around $45,000. And at Jaguar, managing director Mike O’Driscoll says the XJ marks only the end of the first stage of Jaguar’s transformation. If the unveiling of the exciting electric C-X75 supercar concept at the Paris Auto Show is any indication, then O’Driscoll’s word is as good as gold. Both brands have gotten their groove back. Suddenly it’s time to keep your eyes on the UK for breathtaking new cars.