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XJ6 is back with a bang

The car boasts the same generous list of standard features as its naturally aspirated XJ8 stablemates.

That means it comes with satellite navigation, television, car phone, premium sound, park distance control, two rear-seat DVD screens, 18in alloy wheels and rain-sensing wipers, plus the usual lavish leather and burr walnut fit-out.

And, naturally, it loses none of the stability and traction control equipment and other safety items introduced in the latest-generation XJ.

Yet the XJ6 comes to market at $149,990 – $20,000 cheaper than the 3.5-litre V8 and a wholesome $40,000 less than the 4.2-litre.

Jaguar needed the price-leading three-litre V6 to match competition from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus.

In any event, it is the brand's tried and tested strategy to introduce the powerbrokers of each model first then come in later with smaller engine options.

The brand's new V6 delivers 179kW of power via a six-speed ZF automatic in a smooth, sophisticated and swift manner which is very sporty and very Jaguar.

The AJ-V6 uses variable valve timing to get optimal output at both ends of the rev bands.

The six matches the power output of the former 3.2-litre XJ8, with peak torque only 16Nm inferior to the larger engine. So the XJ6 by no means is a stripped-down, gutless version.

And, remember, the XJ features a monocoque body made mainly from aluminium panels joined by rivets and adhesives.

That knocks 200kg, or 40 per cent, off the all-up weight of the shell, with torsional rigidity 60 per cent stiffer than before.

Therefore, the power-to-weight ratio is highly favourable, leading to major performance gains.

While Jaguar has always traded in shameless luxury, the great British marque – now owned by Ford Motor Company – also places great emphasis on sports motoring befitting the prancing cat emblem.

The lightweight body architecture and new powertrain are joined by many features finely tuned and rated to meet buyers' expectations.

The V6 engine is a powerful but smooth unit that revs out freely and makes good use of the flexibility of the six-speed auto. The XJ6 accelerates from zero to 100km/h in a handy 8.1 seconds on its way to a claimed top speed of 233km/h.

The gearbox goes about its business in stepless fashion and the engine always gives the feeling there is something in reserve.

Critics of cars with performance engines should realise that the less time one spends in the path of oncoming traffic during overtaking manoeuvres, the safer the car is – albeit in prudent hands.

In these days of strict policing of speed limits, the real-life difference between a V8 and a well-sorted V6 is minimal. And with petrol prices nudging $1 a litre, the 10.5 litres/100km achieved by the XJ6 – in laboratory conditions – makes a better environmental statement. The chassis setup works well for excellent road holding and the level of ride comfort one expects from a Jaguar.

Unlike Jaguars of old – this writer owned a 3.4 Mark II and a 4.2 E-Type which would both swap ends under brakes – the XJ6 is really sure and predictable. Dynamic stability control and traction control ensure that the car retains its line in wet or slippery conditions.

And, again contrary to Cats of the past, the XJ6's anti-lock brakes work first time and every time, with good pedal feel. Jaguar aficionados were surprised to find how little the latest XJ had changed from the former model. That was until the old was parked alongside the new.

Chief designer Ian Callum points out that Jaguar owners want evolution not dramatic change. Once the longer rear doors, additional shoulder and leg room, and boot space for four full-size golf bags, plus refinements at the front are pointed out, changes are obvious and marked.

The list of features is remarkable. The XJ6 gets Ford's electrically adjustable pedals to tailor seating position. Four-zone airconditioning is an option, along with adaptive cruise control which automatically maintains the distance from the car in front. The sports seats can be optioned up for 12-way adjustment. The list goes on.

At a glance

JAGUAR'S XJ6 is back and the brand may just have kept the best until last.

While the XJ8 – particularly the R and supercharged models – are high-output motors of outstanding qualities, the Six is an awful lot of car for your dollars.

The lightweight body and the beefed-up three-litre motor perform right up to expectations. And the ZF six-speed automatic is one of the highlights of this remarkably good sports sedan – although this writer will resist maligning Jaguar's J-gate shift level.

In sum, a truly great car at a competitive price.

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