Jaguar XJ: Large and light in the lap of luxury
If you can raise your brow high enough, you could consider the rarefied world of super-luxury vehicles a commercial microcosm of the New Zealand new-car market.
Potential buyers of the all-new Range Rover are climbing over rocks and splashing through rivers to get to Land Rover's showroom door. Local importer Motor Distributors Ltd (MDL) expects to sell 100 of them this year.
Early adopting Range Rover enthusiasts make a serious contribution to the tally of course, but part of the reason for the Range Rover's success is that it's not just one of the world's finest off-road vehicles, it also competes directly with super-luxury sedans.
In fact, it competes directly with another car made by the very same company, the Jaguar XJ.
Now, the XJ was the second-biggest-selling top-line luxury sedan in New Zealand last year, partly fuelled by MDL's decision to embrace currency advantage and battle the parallel importers by slashing XJ prices - the supercharged XJ Portfolio tested here dropped $40,000 to a nice round $200,000.
Second in this segment equates to precisely 16 registrations. Granted, the XJ is no longer the latest thing and it does come under huge pressure from used-import vehicles, but the sales situation still illustrates that Kiwi buyers prefer off-road style vehicles over most others: as much in the ultra-luxury segment as they do among mid-price, mid-size family machines.
I'd argue it's got a lot more to do with personal taste than actually wanting that off-road ability. Astonishing as the Range Rover is in tough conditions, even its maker admits than only 15 per cent of buyers take their vehicles properly off road. Whereas 100 per cent of XJ owners probably waft around and feel awesome, so you could argue it fulfils its purpose far better.
It's a great car, the XJ. All-aluminium (like the Range Rover in fact), which means our XJ Portfolio V8 supercharged weighs exactly the same (well, there's 1kg in it) as the XF with the same engine - a much smaller car, but with conventional steel construction.
The XJ's exterior is idiosyncratic to some but it's unmistakably Jaguar, very modern and boasts a huge amount of presence. You could say the same of the cabin, which is configured around sweeping lines, top-quality leather and clever technology like a completely digital instrument panel (which simulates old-school dials but can change form when required) and a dual-view centre screen, which can show the driver and passenger different things because they're looking at it from different angles. Yes, this stuff is also offered on the Range Rover.
Here's something you won't get with a Range Rover: superb steering feel, an astonishingly nimble chassis and the temptation to drive your luxury car like a performance coupe. The XJ rides beautifully on all roads, but shrugs off its physical size when you start to drive it enthusiastically. It sounds good, too. The 346kW/575Nm 5.0-litre supercharged V8 doesn't have as much power as the top Range Rover with the same base engine (you'll need the $245,000 XJ Supersport for that), but it sounds better.
Jaguar has allowed the XJ a distinctive supercharger soundtrack, whereas the characterful whirring is kept to more polite levels in the Range Rover.
Make sure you order the eight-speed automatic, though.
Our 2012-model XJ test car had a six-speed gearbox, which is really out of step with the seven and eight-speed competition. And yet is still highly effective.
It's kind of weird to think that a vehicle like the Range Rover, which is designed around such a broad range of dynamic abilities, succeeds so well as a luxury car. The XJ, which is intended to be primarily a luxury sedan, succeeds comprehensively as a driver-focused machine.
They are both magnificent of course, so what's to lose? It's just that sedans are simply not as desirable as off-roaders in New Zealand, at whatever price.
The tiny size of the luxury-sedan segment is certainly a problem for the XJ, but it must be nice for MDL to also have one of the solutions.