Johannesburg - You have to feel a little sorry for Jaguar’s XJ. Even when it was fresh and new way back in 2010, it entered the South African luxury flagship battlefield with one hand tied behind its back. Anything without a BMW or Mercedes badge is forced to fight with a disadvantage in this ultra-premium neck of the woods, and along with Lexus’ LS, Maserati’s Quattroporte and even Audi’s A8, Jag’s largest sedan has been stuck fighting for scraps left behind by market dominant 7 Series and S-Class.

Seven years on, and things aren’t getting any easier for the big cat. Yes it’s been given sporadic updates here and facelifts there - the most recent and significant coming late last year - but fact is the XJ is an ageing model up against the highest-tech cars on the planet. While both the 7 and S have moved the gizmo game on with remote control parking, road-scanning suspension systems and cutting-edge self driving gadgets, the Jag is quite primitive by comparison.

But forget all that. When it comes to pure poshness the XJ has no problem holding its own. It might not be able to drive itself down a highway, and you can’t adjust the radio’s volume by twirling a finger in the air (does anyone really need this?), but it still rides as regally and pampers as plushly as anything this side of a Bentley.

On test here is the Jaguar XJ Autobiography model - flagship of the range. When the facelifted range was launched locally last year the Autobiography replaced the Supersport at the top of the lineup, with an extended wheelbase (denoted by an L badge on the boot), a back seat fit for royalty, and a supercharged V8 to move it all along.

Let’s start at the back. The Autobiography comes exclusively with individual rear bucket seats that recline, cool, heat and massage. In between is a giant centre console lined with deep purple velour which might sound ‘Vegas pimp’ but actually looks great. Here you’ll find seat controls, USB and HDMI ports and a removable remote control for two flip-up colour screens in the front seat backs. There are also removable footrests, a pair of Whitefire headphones, and each passenger gets a very solidly-made folding tray table.

Most XJ owners, outside of Buckhingham Palace anyway, will likely do the driving themselves, but the Autobiography is perfectly capable of genuine chauffeur drives. Rarely are these airline-style back seats in luxury cars actually usable as comfortable work or rest spaces, but the XJ’s second row is plenty spacious for a couple of workaholic execs or hungover celebs. The tray tables are big enough for average-sized laptops, and in full recline mode it’s possible to stretch out for a decent, knees-straight snooze.

Up front the ambience is just as dignified. Our test car was kitted with jet black diamond-quilted leather upholstery accented with ivory stitches, while dark oak veneers together with a black leather headliner made for a very moody atmosphere. Jaguar did well designing this interior almost a decade ago, and even if the aqua-coloured backlighting is looking a little dated, the generous use of glossy black and polished metal finishes keep the place feeling relatively current against much more modern rivals.

Last year’s facelift brought with it Jag’s latest InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, so now this eight-year old model gets the same pinch and swipe, tablet-like dashboard centrepiece as you get in much newer Jaguars and Range Rovers. New functionality includes a 60gig hard drive, wifi hotspot, smartphone app controls and splitview tech so driver sees one screen (such as nav) and passenger sees another (such as a movie). There’s also a digital instrument cluster which can show nav screens across its full 31.2cm width.

You sit deep inside an XJ, and while I personally like the enclosed sensation, it might be a bit claustrophobic for others. The side windows sit at shoulder height, the top of the dash rises directly into line-of-sight, and the yacht-inspired rear glass section seems very far away in the rear-view mirror. Outward visibility is compromised by the XJ’s unique body design, but in fairness it’s this very design which has prevented it from looking dated over the years.

Power. There’s plenty of it. The short-wheelbase only XJR takes the cake as the most powerful XJ derivative with 405kW/680Nm, but the Autobiography’s 375kW and 625Nm never come close to feeling inadequate. Mash the throttle and Big Bessie hikes her skirt, noses up, and charges forward like an overweight ballerina leaping off stage.

It sounds mean too. Under partial load there’s an unobtrusive gurgle at the back, but open her up and the 5-litre V8 shouts with a deep braaap not unlike its sister F-Type sportscar.

For such a huge machine it’s surprisingly easy to manoeuvre. The facelifted XJ ditched the old model’s hydraulic steering for a new speed-sensitive electric system, and now it’s possible to move the barge around parking lots with one finger on the wheel. The assistance then tightens up as velocity increases, though at highway speeds the steering did become a tad too heavy for my liking. Minor lane keeping corrections took a bit too much muscle, and the sensation felt a little too artificial.

But that’s your chauffeur’s problem.

VERDICT

It might be getting on in years, but Jag’s XJ is hardly showing any wrinkles. Sure it’s lacking in some latest gizmotronics, but as far as luxury, quality, elegance and style go, it still plays right at the sharp end of the pack. The Autobiography packs plenty of glam, and gets one of the best back seats in the business class sedan league.

Yours for R2 783 816.

FACTS: Jaguar XJ L 5.0 SC Autobiography

Engine: 5-litre, V8 supercharged petrol
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Power: 375kW @ 6000-6500rpm
Torque: 625Nm @ 2500-5500rpm
0-100km/h (Claimed): 4.9 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 250km/h
Price: R2 783 816
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

IOL Motoring

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