The most radical XJ in history also turned out to be one of the best – here's how to buy a good one
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, January 24, 2021 / Loading comments
- Available from £15,000
- 5.0 litre V8 petrol supercharged, rear wheel drive
- Storming performance and surprisingly agile
- Great comfort and quality
- Post-2012 models have very few issues
- Hard to find any supercharged XJs for sale
Search for a used Jaguar XJ here
'All right then lads, pin back your ears, we've finalised the design of the new XJ.' We don't know if Jaguar made announcements like that to its workforce, but if they did there probably wouldn't have been much of a reaction when that one was made in 2005. After all, every new XJ since the first ground-breaker of 1968 had been an evolution of the one before, so the new XJ wouldn't be any different. Would it?
Yes it would. It had to be. Any car company expecting to stride boldly into a 21st century luxury market dominated by technological masterpieces like the Mercedes S-Class would need to turn up with something more inspiring than a warmed-over refugee from the late 1960s, no matter how well loved it was. Quite apart from the emissions and safety concerns, it would have been a tragic denial of the flair and expertise that JLR had at its disposal when the new XJ was on the drawing board. The 2007 replacement of the S-Type, the XF, had shown the engineering team's potential. Built on a modified Ford platform, the XF looked good and drove even better.
There was a lot of anticipation to see if the X351 could achieve the same sort of impact as the XF. The man tasked with the dangerous job of creating the first 'non-XJ XJ' was, as usual, Ian Callum. The press launch was in mid-2009 with cars going on sale in 2010. The celebs chosen to launch the car in the UK in 2009 were the beautiful supermodel Elle McPherson and the not quite so beautiful US comedian and car nut Jay Leno, a beauty and the beast pairing that some thought wryly apposite because anyone taking a picture of an X351 had to pick their angles carefully.
Visually it was no supermodel, but you did have to sympathise with Callum. He was on a hiding to nothing. Traditional XJ owners were going to hate anything that didn't look like an old XJ, and although the new car's lines were bold and slippery enough to be appreciated by potential conquest owners (the XJ had the same low drag coefficient as the XF), they didn't do a particularly good job of hiding the X351's bulk.
In terms of actual weight, the really big advances in weight-saving aluminium bodywork had already been made on the X350, so despite its blend of aluminium, magnesium and composite alloys making it the lightest body in its class, the new car with a body and floorpan based on the previous model's but with extra length and width in both normal and long-wheelbase formats was still heavier than its predecessor. In 270hp, 3.0 twin-turbo diesel form, it weighed just under 1,800kg compared to 1,660kg for the X350 2.7 TDVi.
The rest of the XJ range was petrol, reflecting the anti-diesel sniffiness that was and arguably still is a thing at the luxurious end of motoring. Some markets had a 240hp 2.0 four in their XJs, but in the UK the weediest petrol offering was the 340hp 3.0 litre supercharged AJ V6. There was also a normally aspirated 385hp 5.0 V8, that weighed 1,750kg against the X350 XJ8 4.2 equivalent's 1,615kg, plus a supercharged 470hp 5.0 V8 and a 510hp Supersport version that weighed in at nearly 1,900kg against the old XJR 4.2's 1,665kg. Despite that weight penalty, the Supersport's 114hp power advantage and more efficient transmission gave it a sub-5sec 0-62mph time that was a full second quicker than the previous model's. 4.9sec is sports car quick even by 2021 standards, and was freakishly so in a hefty 2010 saloon.
The 2013, 550hp R's 0-62mph time of 4.6sec was even more impressive, but even then the XJ was on borrowed time. By 2018, the market for five-seat luxury saloons was tiny. They were too single-purpose. The rate of new XJ registrations had become glacial. By December 2018 the company was only shifting 300 or so XJs a month compared to nearly 4,500 F-Pace SUVs. In early 2019 Jaguar revealed that production of the X351 would cease in July of that year, with unsold XJs continuing to be registered well in 2020. It went out with a bang, the XJR575 of 2018 injecting a final hit of interest by delivering 575hp/516lb ft, a 4.4sec 0-62 time and a 186mph top speed, but time was finally up for the big Jaguar saloon.
Or was it? In that same year of 2018, it was announced that a Castle Bromwich-built XJ was going to reappear in all-electric form in 2020. For obvious reasons that hasn't happened, but it's still on the cards for late 2021, buoyed by Britishvolt's positive response to JLR boss Ralf Speth's plea for a Tesla-style battery gigafactory to be built in the UK. Whatever the future holds, the 2010-2019 XJ is almost certainly going to be the last conventionally-engined luxury Jaguar, which is quite a statement given the company's illustrious history founded on the maxim of 'grace, space and pace'.
Want to commemorate that fact by going against the grain and getting yourself into an X351? One good thing about Jaguars, from a buying perspective at least, has always been their reputation for depreciation. You can pick up a 2010 XJ diesel with 120,000 miles or so on it for as little as £8,000, quite a reduction from the £60k or so they cost new. Petrol 5.0s are more expensive and a lot rarer, but if you can find a supercharged one these still represent good value at around £18,000 for 50,000-mile cars and £15,000 for 100,000-mile dealer cars. For that money you get massive performance and a hell of a saving on new prices that for the Supersport started at nearly £90,000 and with the right boxes ticked could easily drift into six figures.
But is Jaguar's depreciation reputation actually justified in this model? Is a 5.0 V8 X351 going to be reliable, or will it leave you slumping low in your seat awaiting the AA man while passing motorists in Dacia Dusters titter cruelly at your predicament? Let's take a squint at how far your cash goes in an XJ Jag.
SPECIFICATION | JAGUAR XJ SUPERSPORT (2010-on)
Engine: 5,000cc, V8 32v supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed automatic (8-speed post-2012), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510@6,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 461@2,500-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.9 secs
Top speed: 155mph (limited) (2012 Speed Pack 174mph)
MPG: 23 (official combined)
Wheels: 9 x 20 (f), 10 x 20 (r)
Tyres: 245/40 (f), 275/35 (r)
On sale: 2010 – 2019
Price new: £87,455
Price now: from £15,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Before we talk about what drives these XJs let's quickly address that Jaguar reliability question, because that's something that will bug anyone thinking of moving into big cat country for the first time.
The great news is that, by and large, you've got very little to worry about. X351 owners as a band seem to be very pleased with their buying decisions. You might come up against the old electrical hitch, software blip, multimedia freeze or, more generically, some EGR nonsense, but there's nothing terminal to fret over.
Petrol XJs are vastly outnumbered by turbodiesels on the used market, but we're going to be concentrating on the Gen III V8 5.0 petrol models not just because they're the monster motors and this is PH, but also because this engine has an especially good track record and is very much worth seeking out, especially in supercharged guise.
The 385hp normally aspirated V8 had variable inlet manifold and cam profile switching. It was replaced in 2012 by the 335hp 3.0 AJ V6, but the twin-vortex Roots type supercharged 5.0 V8s ran on right to the end of the line. As noted earlier, there was a 'basic' 470hp model but we'll be focusing on the 510hp Supersport. The blown motors' torque characteristics were as you might expect. Peak twist was on tap from just 2,500rpm, but unlike turbocharging where peak power would come in at around the same point and carry on across roughly the same broad spread of revs as the torque, supercharged Jags didn't reach maximum power until 6,000rpm, by which time the torque curve was on the wane. It's a distinctly different driving experience that, once you get used to it, will be no better or worse than sitting behind a turbo for most.
The Supersport's top speed was limited to 155mph, but a Speed Pack came out in 2012 with enhanced aero parts and the top speed unlocked to 174mph. It added £3,495 to the price of a LWB Supersport or £3,700 to the normal Supersport.
Diesel XJs had a cambelt but the V8s had timing chains. These typically last for a long time but tensioners can start to wear after 100,000 miles, especially if oil maintenance routines haven't been rigorously followed. The warning noise to listen out for is a cold start rattle. Direct injection brings the usual caveats about carbon buildup so keep on top of and oil and spark plug replacement (6,000 and 35,000 miles respectively) and try to stick in posh petrol.
Leaking water pumps weren't restricted to pre-2012 cars. There's no harm in replacing them before they break, which is usually between the 30,000 and 40,000-mile marks. The pumps did improve to a reliable level after 2015. Complicated cars like this need to have their batteries in tip-top shape or else things will start to go wrong. If you're not using the car as your daily, you should think about investing in a conditioner.
As part of an important revision in 2012 which included more use of aluminium to trim the XJ's overall weight and improved suspension, the eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic gearbox from the Range Rover and the XF was fitted to all XJs to do away with the odd reliability issues of the old six-speeder that some models started off with. It's smart to change the oil in these transmissions every 35,000 miles or so, or immediately on a car you've just bought if there's nothing in the paperwork to suggest it's been done. The diff oil should be changed every 55,000 miles.
The eight-speed auto somehow feels more together and less fussy in the Jag than it does in the Range Rover. The Jaguar Drive Control provided two modes: Dynamic mode with later gearshift points, stiffer suspension and an instrument colour change, and Winter where the transmission would start off in second gear for better traction in bad conditions.
Air rear suspension was carried over from the old car, and technologies pioneered on XFR and XKR like continuously variable damping, an electronically controlled rear differential and a quick-ratio power steering system were included, but the big news for the X351 was a return to steel springing at the front, as per the XF.
Body control was deemed to be hugely important for the XJ, and this was achieved with active damping, to the extent that Autocar rated it more highly than the vaunted Mercedes S-Cass, but even with two damping settings available there was more erosion of the legendary 'magic carpet' ride comfort of earlier XJs. You do wonder what could have been achieved with the X351 if real owners' needs and desires could have been prioritised over the legislative needs of safe handling at the sort of speeds most of those owners would never explore. Still, the positive aspect of the lightweight construction is that the XJ doesn't feel anywhere near as big when you're driving it as you might expect it to be before you get in it. Even an LWB XJL feels far more wieldy than a 7 Series or a Lexus LS, and you may also get the impression that the LWB rides better than the SWB, so don't discount the long 'un just because you think they're only for dignitaries. To drive, all XJs feel about a quarter of a ton lighter than they actually are.
Air suspension can be another way of saying 'trouble', and that can go for high-falutin' German cars as well as anything else. As mentioned, these XJs only have it at the rear end, so that's good news, but the air struts can start to leak typically after around 10 years. New one will be over £1,000. Clonking at the front usually means the front control arm bushes are tired. The XJ's steering provided more assistance at lower speeds so don't be surprised by that.
18in wheels were on offer in some markets, but 19in and 20in options in six designs were the normal choice. The 19s became standard on 2012MY refresh cars. Sporting derivatives like the Supersports always had 20s.
The X351 was very different to the X350, so there was always going to be a strong reaction to its styling, but the passage of time seems to have softened its impact; now you might easily consider it to be a handsome car, especially in more sober dark colours.
The wrap-around rear screen, working in cahoots with blacked-out C-pillars to reduce the visual weight and give the impression of a 'floating' roof, definitely helps to give the car presence. The back end may look bulbous but that means a generous 520 litres of luggage space. Soft-close doors are a nice touch when you're arriving back at your Chelsea mews at 4am after a night out at Annabel's with the stereo on full blast. Oh dear, we appear to have gone back to the 1980s, sorry.
The front sunroof sunshade can get stuck in the open position. You can hear the cogs moving but nothing happens, but we've all met people like that, especially at Annabel's, so it shouldn't impair your enjoyment of the car. More annoyingly the tracks for the pano sunroof were made of steel and are alarmingly susceptible to corrosion, especially in pre-2012 cars. Drying and siliconing these tracks after washing is a very good idea as the rusting can become quite unsightly. Sometimes the bits you can see will have been repainted by the dealer, but that's only a patchup and they won't have done the inaccessible parts of the assembly. When things get bad you will need to remove and replace the whole unit, and they're over £3k a shot without the labour.
There were a few spec levels to pick from in both short and long-wheelbase models. None of them were anything short of opulent. Even the base model was not over-claiming with its 'Luxury' tag, and there were Premium Luxury, Portfolio, Autobiography and Ultimate levels above that.
How opulent were they? Let's take the popular Portfolio spec as an example. On top of all the normal stuff like HDD audio and sat-nav, cruise, rain sensors, digital radio, two USB ports, Bluetooth audio streaming and an aux input with connectivity to iPods, iPhones, laptops and Blackberries, this included – but was by no means limited to – double-glazed windows, a Meridian 825w sound system (or the 20-speaker, Bower and Wilkins 1200w setup if you're lucky in your used car purchase), a reasonably easy to use dual-view 8in multimedia touchscreen, virtual instrumentation, panoramic sunroof, massage front seats with memory, heated and ventilated seats all round, heated steering wheel, heated windscreen, keyless start and entry, adaptive auto headlights, rear view camera and parking sensors all round, suedecloth headliner (leather on the Supersport), four-zone air con, lane departure warning and modernised old-school trinketry like LED rear reading lights. New buyers could also spec auxiliary heating that, via an app, would pre-warm or pre-cool the cabin. The multimedia screen progressively easier to use after the 2012 and 2015 refreshes.
You'll struggle to see any plastic in an X351 cabin. It was real materials all the way with a choice of nine mirror-matched wood veneers and double-stitched leather that was claimed to be the most sumptuous ever used on a Jaguar. There have been instances of the odd cabin rattle in pre-2012 cars, and of sticky/'melting' console buttons and door switches, but overall the quality, fit and finish were top notch. The seats were extremely comfy, the pannier-style door storage compartments suggested a designer briefcase and the central analogue clock was a thing of rare beauty. R trim (on short wheelbase cars only) had trim inlays in piano black and carbonfibre and the 20in alloys were in gloss black.
The long-wheelbase only Autobiography version was even more luxurious. Besides ridiculous amounts of legroom (an extra 125mm), these LWB cars came with TV screens front and rear and picnic tables. Picnicking in the car seems like an odd sort of idea in 2021 but it was all the rage in the middle of the last century don't ye know. Another interesting XJ option was adaptive cruise control with queue assist. Intended for use in lines of traffic on major roads where minimal steering was required, an AAC with QA car would precisely follow the vehicle ahead to a standstill. If you had nothing better to do you could set it and see where you ended up at the end of the day.
Who buys big saloons anymore? If you need to carry two or three people about in a degree of luxury, you'll have no trouble finding a far more practical SUV with a premium manufacturer's badge on it, Jaguar included. Even chauffered owners are happy to travel in SUVs these days. Eeeh, we said they'd never last. Well, some of us hoped they would never last, but they're still here and showing no signs of going away.
For those who like going their own way and owning what modern tastes now oblige us to call an old-fashioned large saloon, but one that also handles well and happens to go like the hammers of hell, then there really isn't much to rival a supercharged XJ. It comes from a company with a chequered history in the area of reliability, but the XJ is remarkably free of common problems. Few owners will have driven supercharged ones anywhere near the limits of their performance, and there's a lot of engineering headroom built into these things, so the chances of finding a knackered used one are pretty low. Just take the usual precautions – full service history and evidence of regular oil changes – and you should be laughing. Plus you'll feel very special while you're driving it.
We said earlier that XJ owners appear to be very happy people and that's reflected in the number of petrol models in particular that are for sale. Or rather, the number that aren't on sale. At the time of writing there were sixty XJs in PH classifieds – all but four were 3.0 diesels. Two of the four petrols on offer were supercharged 3.0 V6s: the other two were fully historied normally aspirated 385hp 5.0 V8s, specifically this gorgeous 2010 35,000-mile Portfolio (wrongly captioned as an X350) in indigo blue with tan leather, burr walnut, B&W sound and 20in alloys at £17,995 and this equally spiffy Portfolio, also with B&W and 20in alloys and a few more miles (79k) but very temptingly priced at £13,595. Neither of these V8s are improved post-2012 cars, so the few cautionary comments made above will apply. No forced induction 5.0 cars of any vintage were available. The absence from the PH Classifieds of either type of XJ, improved or supercharged, should be telling you something.
Search for a used Jaguar XJ here
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