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2010 Jaguar XJ

Wheelbase Media

For the past 40 years, the Jaguar XJ closely guarded its old-boy heritage and old-school styling. For 2010 we can unequivocally report that school’s out.Jaguar’s quintessential flagship model has broken free of its design parameters that dated back to the late 1960s. Maintaining an original look can be appealing with some judicious and evolutionary updating. The Porsche 911 is an excellent example of this process. But over the last few years, the once graceful XJ had lost much of its regal bearing, especially when fitted with a set of oversized 21st-century alloy wheels that made the car appear rather cartoonish. Perhaps the big cat was caught napping.

Not anymore.

In terms of styling, the biggest feline in the fleet has now become a larger offshoot of the XF sedan that arrived for the 2009 model year. Both share a similar mesh-style grille, although the XJ’s snout and hood extends well forward of the front wheels and the windshield appears more steeply raked. The standard panoramic glass roof and rear window seamlessly transition into a trunk lid that’s flanked by a pair of curved taillights mounted flush to the fenders. The exciting bodywork represents high-fashion of the first order and sets the Jag defiantly apart from its European and Asian rivals.

The haute couture approach extends inside the Jag’s sumptuous first-class state room. Here, up to five passengers are treated to a confluence of sumptuous leather seat cushions, genuine wood trim and crisp metallic brightwork, all of which smacks of old-world British craftsmanship.

In contrast, the dashboard features a console-mounted shifter knob that pops up from its base when the driver enters the cabin, along with eight-inch touch-screen that’s used to operate a variety of environmental, communication and navigation functions. Finally, a high-definition screen replaces the traditional speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges. The screen projects the images of analog-style instruments that appear when the push-button ignition is, well . . . pushed.

As it turns out, however, not everything about the new XJ is completely new. The car’s platform is based on the previous model, but has been substantially reworked and stiffened to improve ride control and steering precision. Also returning is a body structure made entirely of aluminum, 50 percent of which is recycled. The extensive use of this lightweight metal also contributes to car’s astonishing sub-4,000-pound base curb weight. The XJ is nearly 500 pounds lighter than a Lexus LS460.

As before, the XJ can be ordered in either short- or long-wheelbase versions, with the latter providing an additional five inches of rear-seat leg room.

Both sizes of XJ can also be ordered with your choice of three V8 powerplant strengths that originate with the smaller XF. The starting point is a 385-horsepower 5.0-liter unit. Optional is a supercharged 5.0 that slingshots output to 470 horsepower. At the top is a 510-horsepower version of the 5.0 that belongs to the XJ Supersport. This is good for a leap to 60 mph from a standstill in a claimed 4.7-seconds, which is 0.2 seconds quicker than the 470-horse 5.0 and 0.7 seconds better than the base engine.

A six-speed automatic transmission is standard across the line. More gears (Lexus has eight) would likely improve fuel economy well beyond the base-engine rating of 16/23 mpg, city highway.

The Jag won’t be outdone when it comes to amenities, however. Even the least expensive ($72,500) XJ arrives with an impressive array of content that would rival even more expensive luxury conveyances.

At the top end of the scale are the $110,000-$113,000 Supersports. Available by special order only, these short- and long-wheelbase (L) chauffeur’s delights pamper their passengers with heated and cooled front and rear seats (20-way adjustable in front) with upgraded leather coverings, four-zone climate control with a sensor that automatically recycles stale air and a 1,200-watt audio package from British experts Bowers and Wilkins. Additionally, the L version adds both side and rear sunshades.

The new XJ’s slinky silhouette, upscale amenities and blow-you-away performance should do wonders to restore this once-proud marque at or near the top of luxo-car field.

Now that the catnap is over, there’s plenty of purring to do.