Few manufacturers offer genuine luxury saloons - the kind of cars heads of state, company directors and celebrities travel in. Usually it's a Mercedes S-Class you'll see transporting such types, but the Jaguar XJ, originally launched in 1968, is another. Long a part of British upper-middle class life and an occasional TV star too, the XJ is Britain's staple luxury car. But Jaguar's small size and its occasional flirtations with bankruptcy have prevented the company marketing the XJ on anything like the scale of Mercedes, even if the XJ is a favourite in the US. Ford ownership, and the transformation of a disastrous reliability record into something to be proud of, has provided the Coventry company with the resources to properly take on BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Audi, and develop a new XJ as convincing as the ground-breaking Series 1.
This seventh edition owes much in look, style and character to the original, but it's a world away in terms of technology. An advanced, lightweight aluminium bodyshell affords the new XJ a performance, economy and emissions advantage that rivals struggle to match, while Ford's desire to make Jaguar a technology leader provides the car with a mass of electronic aids, though not so many that will confuse you - relevant technology is the key, it reckons.
Advanced technology saturates the car to its core, what with air suspension, the aluminium body structure and sophisticated powertrains, yet it is entirely traditional in style, inside and out. Regular XJ riders will be pleased to hear that Jaguar has attempted to provide plenty of room for passengers and luggage, in contrast to XJs past, and that the character of the car has not only been preserved, but improved on.
The XJ is available with a 3.0-litre V6 - prompting the return of the well-known XJ6 name - 3.5 and 4.2 V8s and a 4.2 supercharged V8 of 400bhp. There is no diesel yet, however.
Price: £39,000 - £68,500
On Sale: April 2003