When compared with cars such as the Audi A8 and Lexus LS500, this latest iteration of Jaguar’s classic XJ sedan is something of a “cat among the pigeons,” because it’s not brimming with the latest in-car technology like the others, it doesn’t feature any ingenious suspension systems, it’s nowhere near “self-driving” and it certainly doesn’t pretend to be an eco-friendly hybrid. Just the opposite, in fact, because the “575” in the title refers to the output of its highly
tuned, five-liter V8 engine. Jaguar Land Rover has developed a habit of spicing-up models such as the F-Type, Range Rover Sport and even, most recently, a “special edition” of the otherwise defunct Defender with this mighty powerhouse — and the somewhat elderly XJ is the latest to get the treatment. What makes the car worthy of inclusion here is that it might well represent the last opportunity to own an “old school” XJ before the arrival of an all-new model for 2019 which, if rumors are to be believed, could feature a class-leading, all-electric powertrain. Available in
the U.S. in long wheelbase form only, the XJR575 offers lots of legroom and more than adequate comfort for rear seat passengers while simultaneously providing unparalleled driving fun for the person behind the wheel thanks to that punchy V8 engine and the upgraded suspension and brakes that the car has been fitted with to make the power usable. And, despite the XJ’s limousine status, Jaguar’s interior designers have not held back in highlighting the 575’s sporting nature with racy, diamond-quilted leather seat coverings, carbon fiber veneers, colored stitching and plenty of “575” logos. The exterior, meanwhile, gets twin bonnet louvres, 20-inch split rim alloy wheels in black and a paint job in either “Velocity Blue” or stealthy “Satin Corris Grey.” Performance-wise, this is the swiftest road-going Jaguar XJ ever built — it can sprint from standstill to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds and tops out at 186mph.
Like some of its rivals, Audi’s range-topping A8 sedan is bristling with future technologies that, while not yet fully integrated, can gradually be introduced through software upgrades when the systems are perfected. Perhaps the most significant of these is the “piloted driving” that makes the A8 the first production car to have been developed especially to be highly automated. When local laws permit, the AI “traffic jam pilot” takes control of driving in slow-moving traffic up to 37mph on highways separated by a physical barrier. It uses images of the car’s surroundings, together with radars, ultrasonic sensors and a laser scanner to monitor the driving area and manage starting, acceleration, steering and braking accordingly — leaving the driver to “focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the onboard TV.” Once the system reaches it limits, it is programmed to alert the driver so he or she can take back the controls. There’s a good chance, however, that the occupants might have drifted off into a blissful sleep, such is the car’s level of interior comfort. Smooth and minimalist throughout, the cabin features electrically closing air vents and virtually no traditional switchgear with functions and settings being controlled from a 10.1-inch touchscreen display that, when not in use, becomes virtually invisible in a gloss black surround.
There’s also a fully digital “virtual cockpit” with high-definition, head-up display, wireless smartphone charging and the now “de rigueur” Wi-Fi connectivity — while rear-seat passengers each get their own tablets that can be removed from the car and used remotely, a phone operating system that’s independent from the one in the front of the car and a range of lighting options designed to cover everything from reading to relaxing. And relaxing in this car is decidedly easy — not least because of its adaptive air suspension, which also can be had as a “fully active” system that automatically raises or lowers each wheel separately and works in conjunction with the car’s all-wheelsteering to create a true “magic carpet” ride. Engine-wise, the new A8 can be equipped with V6, three-liter turbo diesel or petrol engines, a V8, four-liter diesel, or a range-topping six-liter W12. All four units operate in conjunction with so-called “mild-hybrid” technology that enables the car to coast with the engine switched off and seamlessly restart when required. An A8 L e-tron plug-in hybrid, which can cover up to 31 miles in pure electric mode also is set to join the lineup.
Since the launch of the original L400 in 1989, Toyota’s luxury sub-brand Lexus has been a huge seller in the United States thanks to its range of cars that offer a level of performance, comfort, ride and reliability that has traditionally been a cut above the home-grown competition. The fifth-generation of the LS flagship model has now arrived in the form of the LS500, which includes an “h” version with hybrid power. Chief Designer Kouichi Suga has managed to combine a sporty, ground-hugging stance with an elegant, semi-coupe body that is defined from the front by the signature Lexus grille, a large, lattice-work structure that extends from the lip of the hood to the lower edge of the car’s aerodynamic nose. Six windows give a feeling of light and space to the supremely luxurious interior that features a flowing, minimalist fascia centered on an eight-inch screen that displays all of the important driver information in conjunction with a full-color, head-up display. But, with such technology now being regarded as standard in most luxury cars, manufacturers had to find their own ways of standing out. The Lexus approach has been to create a range of special interior finishes using what it calls “Takumi craftsmanship,” a blend of traditional Japanese aesthetics with modern design and technology. All of the work is carried out by just a dozen qualified “Takumi” who, to maintain their status, have to demonstrate their manual dexterity on a daily basis by creating an origami cat in 90 seconds flat…using only their non-dominant hand. After that, they get down to business creating interior finishes for the LS500h that include doors inset with Kiriko glass, panels covered in hand-pleated leather and “art wood” veneers.
The interior is further inspired, say Lexus bosses, by the traditional Japanese hospitality principles of “Omotenashi” — meaning occupants of the car are made to feel welcome thanks to features such as automatically lowering suspension to ease ingress, a “climate concierge” system that uses infrared technology to maintain the perfect temperature, bespoke Mark Levinson 3D surround Hi-Fi, and aircraft-style seating with 28-way adjustment as well as a “shiatsu” massage function. The hybrid version of the marque’s new flagship combines a 3.5-liter, V6 engine with two electric motors to provide 354 horsepower — but it is surprisingly unrefined for such a luxurious car. Fortunately for U.S. buyers, there’s the more pleasing option of a twin-turbo, all-petrol engine which feels very much more “Lexus.”
Thought by many to be the world’s best-looking sedan, the Rapide has entered the final phase of its life as a petrol engine mile-muncher because its silky smooth, six-liter V12 is set to give way to all-electric power later this year. So those who might appreciate the current model’s ability to travel up to 400 miles on a tank of gas might like to take a last chance to buy.
Highlighted in our piece about high-tech automobiles in the last issue of Navigator, BMW’s 760Li xDrive is claimed to be one of the most advanced combustion engine cars on the market thanks to its hugely powerful, but smooth and efficient V12 motor, intelligent four-wheel-drive and ultra-sophisticated infotainment systems.
Although Maserati has upped production considerably in recent years, its cars still carry the kudos of individuality. And, unlike Masers of old, they are reliable and economical, too. The latest Quattroporte sedan can be had in GranSport guise (for the more enthusiastic driver) or GranLusso form for those primarily concerned with creature comforts. The latter includes the option of seats and door panels trimmed in Ermenegildo Zegna jersey silk.
The Panamera represented Porsche’s first foray into the four-door sedan segment when it launched in 2009 — and its styling met with mixed reactions. The Panamera has since been heavily remodeled (and become available in shooting brake body style as the Sport Turismo), with the latest Turbo SE Hybrid combining great looks and performance with class-leading comfort and a sophisticated hybrid drivetrain that makes for a near 200mph sedan.
Straddling the boundary between mere “luxury sedan” and “premium luxury supercar,” the Mercedes-Maybach S560 is almost eight inches longer than its standard Mercedes- Benz counterpart. The fact that options include a rear-mounted refrigerator and a set of $3,200 silver champagne flutes reinforce the impression that this is a car for those who are driven, rather than those who drive.
Cadillac’s latest luxury sedan challenges the best from Europe and Japan in its range-topping, $84,295 “Platinum” guise. The three-liter, twin turbocharged engine punches out 404 horsepower and technologies include the advanced SuperCruise hands-free driving system for use on the freeway. Inside, there’s a 34-speaker Bose sound system and the rear seats offer a multifunction massage function.