In the brash environs of London's Saatchi Gallery – where commerce and culture happily rub shoulders – the unveiling of the new Jaguar XJ saw art and design types mix with the capital's smart set. The end result was just the right kind of buzz for the Indian-owned luxury car maker, a designer dressed throng that clustered about the bodywork of the new car.
See more of the new XJ
Once again, Jaguar is trying something different. Just as 2007's XF heralded Jaguar's triumphant ascension to the top of the ranks of the medium saloon car sector, the new XJ marks a major departure for Jaguar's flagship model. Although in its current guise it is a supremely capable, aluminium-bodied saloon that rides, steers and cossets with the very best in its class, the car's visual language harked back to the 70s. All that has changed.
Now that the images have been flashed around the world (see our selection here: LINK), the digital bickering has begun, with on-line forums humming with unsolicited opinion. In the flesh, the XJ isn't quite as controversial as the pictures might imply. Nonetheless, the car walks a fine line between cultural expectations and innovation.
Always a big machine, the XJ's high flowing beltline and raised boot stand in mark contrast to the low, straight flanks of its predecessor. There's a hint of Americana about the tail end, but perhaps the most marked influence is that of Italian car design, old and new. It's almost as if the company is firmly planting its flag in a separate stylistic camp, the more emotional and evocative design language practiced by Maserati and Lancia, rather than sober German modernism, where even expressionism appears granite-hewn.
The interior, as we'd hoped, is a tour de force, an explicit acknowledgement that sometimes there's simply no need to forge ahead with fancy technology and funky colours. Instead, the harmonious application of wood, leather and a sympathetic scattering of chromed dials summon up one of the best interior experiences we've sampled in years, with ambient dark blue backlighting throughout and the welcome retention of walnut picnic tables in the rear.
The first new XJ's will reach customers at the start of next year, with prices for the most 'basic' V6 diesel starting at £52,500. At the top end there's a new supercharged Supersport model – a sporting stablemate for the XKR and XFR. A hybrid, we are assured, is in the works. We'll have to wait a few months to sample the behind the wheel experience. Watch this space.