Twin test 2019 Jaguar XJ 3.0D vs. 2019 Tesla Model S 100D With the next generation of XJ rumoured to be all-electric, we compare its current iteration alongside the car it will compete with: the Tesla Model S. With the next generation of XJ rumoured to be an all-electric luxury saloon, we compare a current 3.0-litre diesel with what will be its toughest, most established rival – the Tesla Model S. Words & Photography Paul Walton.
ELECTRIC DREAMS CAN A 3.0D COMPETE WITH THE ALL-ELECTRIC SALOON?
It is difficult to believe that the current XJ is coming up to a decade old. It doesn’t seem ten years have past since we were all stunned by the car’s svelte, modern, coupe-like shape. With previous generations of XJ being bastions of society due to their old-fashioned design – as British as red telephone boxes, the Houses of Parliament and talking about the weather – the X351’s modern shape was a huge surprise, despite echoing elements of the XF that had arrived two years earlier. It was like The Ritz serving fish finger sandwiches.
And there could be an even bigger change on the way. It’s rumoured that the next generation of XJ is to be an all-electric luxury saloon which, if true, will be a bigger shift in the car’s personality than the current model’s shape.
This also means the next XJ’s main rival won’t be an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz (although there’s little doubt they’re working on their own cars), but rather the Tesla Model S. With its good looks, high performance and luxury interior, this American electric saloon is exactly the sort of car the next XJ needs to be.
But how does it compare against the car that for five decades has defined the traditional luxury saloon? To learn more about the breed and gain an insight into the luxury electric market that Jaguar will face, I’m looking at Tesla’s Model S 100D alongside Jaguar’s most luxurious car and the most economical of the range, making it a natural rival to the Tesla.
The XJ might have gone on sale before Instagram was started and fake news still meant your kids were lying, but its design remains remarkably modern. I know many of you reading this aren’t fans of the car and that you prefer its predecessor, the more traditional X350, but there’s no denying the current XJ has genuine presence, especially this example, its Loire Blue paint offering the same low-key discretion as a hit man’s tailored suit. Long, low and sleek, the XJ – internally known at Jaguar as the X351 – might not be a traditional Jaguar, but it still defines what a Jaguar should be.
However, even though design director Ian Callum wanted to create something more forward-thinking when he and his team were developing the X351, they were still constrained by old-fashioned parameters, mainly needing a large space at the front for the engine, plus room underneath for the drivetrain and fuel tank. This wasn’t something the American designer Franz von Holzhausen had to worry about when he was creating the Model S in the late-2000s.
With the compact electric motor located at the rear (a second motor was later added to the front) and the lithium ion batteries laid flat in the floor, Holzhausen was able to create a very squat, compact shape, its broad hips and short, low nose creating even more of a coupe appearance than the XJ. This illusion is assisted by the Tesla being a hatchback – which is unusual for a luxury saloon; the XJ, for all its coupe-pretensions, is still a traditional three-box design.
Despite the Tesla being 152mm shorter than the standard-wheelbase XJ (4,978mm compared to 5,130mm), thanks to some clever packaging and the lack of drivetrain, it actually offers more interior room, especially in the rear. And, while the LWB XJ offers almost 1,220mm of rear legroom, the gearbox tunnel is huge and obtrusive in both. Its absence in Tesla’s Model S offers private jet levels of spaciousness.
But, what the Tesla’s interior doesn’t have is as much class as the XJ. Its dash is very flat, very black and very soulless, dominated by a huge, 17in touchscreen that controls most of the car’s functions and incredibly accurate Google-map satellite navigation (which I found too distracting on the move). Directly in front of the driver, a single digital binnacle provides more data than a space ship’s control panel, including an avatar of the Tesla in the centre and representations of all the cars currently around it on the road.
Conversely, the XJ’s complicated, button led layout of its interior is already clearly dated compared to more recent rivals, such as the Audi A8 and Volvo S90, yet it still offers plenty of charm – and this example doesn’t even have any wood veneer (although it’s still available). It lies in its design. The torpedo-shaped air vents in the centre of the console, for example, and the jewel-like chromed rotary selector all come together to make the XJ’s cabin unique. The quality of the materials is better than the Tesla’s, the plastics nicer to touch, the leather upholstery a slightly higher grade.
We’ve chosen an XJ with Jaguar’s 3.0-litre diesel for this comparison because it is the most economical of the family (returning 47.9mpg) and offers a similar range to the Tesla. According to Tesla’s website, a Model S 100D like the one featured can travel 389 miles with the air conditioning on (424 with it off) on a full charge, one of the best ranges of any electric car currently produced. One massive difference between the two cars, though, is that while the Tesla’s emissions are obviously zero, the Jaguar’s is 155g/km. That’s clean by big diesel standards, but with waivers on road and company car tax for electric cars, it is also why drivers who want to make a positive impact on the environment are coming out of oil-powered cars for alternatively powered vehicles, and is why Jaguar is entering the market.
In 2014, Tesla introduced a second electric motor, which fits beneath the deep storage compartment at the front (which Tesla calls the ‘frunk’ for front trunk). Not only does this positioning give the car all-wheel-drive, but the two motors together create a huge 603bhp. That’s a huge amount of power but then it needs to be; despite the Tesla being constructed from aluminium, it weighs a hefty 2241kg, 400kg more than the XJ. Yet it still offers an awesome performance, much harder than the Jaguar’s.
After pushing the steering-column-mounted stalk down to drive and gently squeezing the throttle, there is an instant surge of power that never wants to end. Its power delivery is akin to the XJR575 that I took to Le Mans: violent, immediate and requiring every ounce of concentration to control. Unlike the big Jaguar, with its ever-present deep baritone growl from its 5.0-litre V8, the Tesla builds up speed almost silently, which means it is easy to venture into licence-losing territory. It also achieves speed very smoothly without the interruption of changing gears, making driving the Model S like riding a rollercoaster: its speed building in one long continuous and highly addictable stream of thrust.
Meanwhile, the steering is sharp and perfectly weighted, enabling the car to scythe through corners with the efficiency of a blue-blooded sports car. Even on the greasy roads on this wet late autumnal day, the Tesla’s all-wheel-drive grip is incredible, and even manhandling the car through a series of fast corners fails to produce any evidence that it might slip away. Thanks to its composed chassis and a low centre of gravity (due to the batteries’ location low in its frame), the Tesla is lighter, more agile and quicker to react than the diesel Jaguar.
On the downside, the Model S’ ride isn’t as supple as the XJ’s. Despite coming with air suspension, I can feel every bump in the road, and while this heightens its performance-car personality it makes it less of a luxury limousine. But I do like the Model S. It has quickly defined what an electric luxury saloon should be: fast, refined and good looking. Add the personality cult around Tesla’s co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk, and it’s easy to understand why the car is so popular – 250,000 have been produced since its introduction in 2012.
Despite the X351 coming towards the end of its life, I still get a tingle of anticipation when I get behind the wheel of this Portfolio. Admittedly, the 3.0-litre diesel is the steam engine to Tesla’s pair of futuristic electric motors, but with 300PS (296bhp) it pulls strongly and confidently. The power arrives instantly, yet smoothly, and even under heavy acceleration I’d say it’s as refined and quiet as the Tesla (which isn’t, of course, silent as there are road noises).
The XJ isn’t as fast to 60mph (6.2 seconds compared to 4.4 seconds), lacking the Model S’ face-peeling urgency, but when I give the throttle the beans, the car can still boast a muscular swagger.
It might not dance on its tyres through corners like the Model S, but its aluminium construction means it has a surprising amount of agility for such a large car, remaining remarkably composed through a series of bends, its steering fast and precise. Yet there’s no denying that time has caught up with the XJ; its chassis is so old it was designed on parchment, and I’m always aware of the car’s bulk and size.
Where the XJ wins hands down over the Tesla is its ride. With its air suspension at a more supple setting than the Tesla’s, it is more forgiving. Whether it’s whispering down a motorway or barrelling along a B-road the interior remains calm, the harshness of the outside world remaining there.
There’s no arguing that the Tesla is the better car. Not being shackled to the past has allowed Tesla to create something aimed totally at the future – fast yet clean, luxurious and good looking, one day all cars will be like this. But I’d still take the Jaguar.
That’s not just because, at £70,500, this XJ Portfolio 3.0 is a huge 22k cheaper than this Model S 100D (before the UK Government’s current Plug-in Car Grant – or PICG – that pays 35 percent of an electric vehicle’s purchase price, to a maximum of £4,500. It’s also worth noting there’s also a lesser-powered Model S 75D that’s a little over £70k). No, I’d choose it because the Jaguar has the bigger personality.
The electric car is like my wife’s Apple Watch: very clever, very modern but also coldly functional. As a result, she has little emotional attachment to it, and when the batteries start to lose their efficiency she will simply replace it. The XJ is, instead, the TAG Heuer Carrera I’ve owned for years. It is basic compared to the Apple Watch since all it does is tell the time, but the very fact it is old fashioned gives it a charm denied to a modern smart watch. I’d be devastated if anything catastrophic happened to it. In the same manner, you drive the Tesla, but you own the Jaguar.
We’ll have to wait until 2020 to see what Jaguar’s take on an all-electric luxury car will be, but after driving the I-PACE, I already know Jaguar can make a fabulous electric car. If it can build on that, if it can mix the performance and cleverness demonstrated by the Tesla Model S with the XJ’s famed old-fashioned charm and charisma, then it will result in something very special, no matter what it’s powered by.
“A Model S 100D like the one featured can travel 389 miles with the air conditioning on … one of the best ranges of any electric car currently produced”