From a company steeped in tradition the 2011 Jaguar XJ line marks the biggest departure in Jaguar's flagship luxury sedan in half a century, returning to its legacy of sporting, stylish cars. The 2011 XJ is a new car from top to bottom, sharing nothing more with its predecessor than the name, an occasional piece of hardware, or a seatbelt buckle.
Sleek in profile, the XJ abandons the box-on-box shape but keeps the delicate roof pillars of the previous century in favor of a single flowing line from windshield to tail lamps without the drawbacks of many of the so-called four-door coupes. The Jaguar XJ is longer than a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S-Class. The new Jaguar is sexy and won't be mistaken for anything else.
Leather and wood feature prominently in the saloon, now an enveloping shape filled with conveniences in a blending of Acura-esque low-cowl and technology, Italian shapes, and English materials. You may think English materials mean only flat wood planks, leather seats and wool carpet, yet the English make a majority of the world's racing cars so they know advanced materials and processes as well.
The XJ is made of a rigid aluminum structure that keeps weight to a minimum. This weight advantage of roughly 10 percent over the competition pays dividends in economy, acceleration, handling precision, ride comfort, and longevity with no detriment to strength or added cost.
Jaguar's newest engine is a 5.0-liter V8, with 385 horsepower in standard versions and 470-510 hp in supercharged cars. They've been powering Range Rovers for nearly a year and, with almost a ton less weight to haul around, give the XJ more than satisfactory performance. Propulsion is always smooth and satisfying, the supercharged models are merely faster than the normally aspirated version. Supercharged come with 20-inch wheels, optional on other models, and a Supercharged badge added to the front fender trim.
Each of three Jaguar XJ models is available as a standard or long-wheelbase car. The long-wheelbase XJL models are nearly 5 inches longer in overall length and have an additional five inches of additional leg room in the rear seats, matching cars that appear substantially larger. XJL models have longer rear side doors and glass, and an L badge on the trunk.
The Jaguar XJ competes with the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Lexus LS, Maserati Quattroporte, Aston Martin Rapide, and Porsche Panamera.
Jaguar XJ ($71,650), XJL ($78,650); XJ Supercharged ($86,650), XJL Supercharged ($89,650); XJ Supersport ($109,150), XJL Supersport ($112,150)
The Jaguar XJ expands the work done with the mid-sized XF by bringing a more sporting, sleeker look to Jaguar's flagship that just oozes style. Central to this are lots of glass and no building-size pillars for a roofline that seamlessly blends into the trunk.
At more than 200 inches long the XJ is not a small car but it disguises its size well, much like the smallest Learjet more than three times the length of an XJL, and the XJ doesn't look nearly as imposing as a BMW 7 Series or Audi A8. The Lexus LS looks rather plain next to the Jaguar.
Surprisingly, the XJ design works as well on the standard wheelbase as it does on the long-wheelbase XJL. A larger rear door and side glass are the only way to differentiate them.
Pulling the lower door sheetmetal inward toward the rear wheel enhances the hips covering the rear tires. The only design element that incites any controversy is the black polycarbonate panel between the rear doors and rear window, a pillar normally body-colored on other cars. From dead astern it looks merely a wider rear window, but from any other angle it tends to look better on cars with dark paint or deeply tinted rear windows.
Exterior ornamentation is kept to a minimum with the requisite mesh chrome grilles and chrome spats in the outer lower nostrils, a badge behind the front wheel which includes supercharged if it applies, bright window trim, the trunk badge, Jag's leaper in the middle, chrome strip across the rear bumper and dual quadrangle tailpipes. Apart from larger standard wheels and the front fender badge there is no trim distinction between XJ and XJL or standard or supercharged cars.
With 152 light emitting diodes outside, the lighting elements take up where chrome leaves off. Front light housings carry two large and two small circular lights, with a strip of LED running lights below. The tail lamps are arranged as three vertical columns to mimic a cat's claws, and cleverly concealed in plain sight at the top of the rear light housing is a clear bump, like an animal's eye, that hides five red LEDs for side marker light duty to meet regulations without spoiling the flowing body lines.
Flagship is an easy term to use in the 2011 XJ, a car filled with fine leather and wood but in an environment more Scandinavian chic than English club traditional. It is stylish, luxurious and sporty all together, as you might say of the cockpit of a Sunseeker or Riva sports cruiser. Generous vents rise from dash center like torpedo tubes or recent Ferrari taillights, and a horizontal, low-cowl dashboard adds to the feeling of spaciousness.
Only the least expensive XJ is limited to regular leather, mere heated and cooled front seats, and dual-zone climate control. Long-wheelbase and supercharged models add piped leather upholstery and comparably trimmed floor mats, massage front seats with 20-way adjustment and four-zone climate control. The five upholstery choices include contrasting cabin trim, stitching and piping; the Ivory alone can be paired with four colors.
A hand-wide vertical band of wood trim or carbon fiber runs near the top of the doors to the base of the windshield like a gunwale on the sports cruiser, framed by chrome on the doors so it looks part of the structure and joined at the center of the dash by a trim plate. The center console has considerable chrome to various covers which don't cause reflection glare but do show fingerprints. Most XJ have suede headliners. Supersport models get a unique leather color, four unique woods or piano black trim and a leather headliner. Perhaps not quite a Bentley Mulsanne or Rolls Royce Ghost, but at one-third the price no one is likely to find the XJ interior less than impressive.
With all the adjustments virtually anyone can get comfortable in front though you'll need hours to verify you have the right spot and don't need massage just yet. Seat contouring seems appropriate to the car's luxury-at-speed mission, and the driver's seat adjustable bolstering comes in handy exploring less-straight roads.
Rear seats are equally comfortable and heated. XJL models add more than five inches to rear accommodation for more than 44 inches of rear legroom total, and they are downright spacious. Given the $3000 premium and less than 100 pounds added we can't see buying a short one. XJL models add business trays to the front seatbacks which work best with a slight recline to the front, while reading lights, glass overhead, and venting maximize comfort. We might be even more comfortable with a wee more recline angle and a wedge-type footrest given the expansive nature of the rear seat.
A heated power tilt/telescope steering wheel linked to driver memory is standard across the board; a wood-and-leather wheel is a no-charge option with some cabin wood choices. The three-spoke wheel has redundant controls at 9 and 3 o'clock, less-commonly used thumb controls below, and shift buttons (right upshift, left downshift) behind but the real news is what you see through the wheel.
The instrument panel is a 12.3-inch screen with renditions of analog gauges on it. The numerals near the gauge needles illuminate brighter than the remainder, drawing your eye for quick recognition and since it's a screen any number of messages, maps, gear selected and other information can appear on it. We noted the tachometer indication doesn't move as quickly as the engine revs.
Above the pop-up, rotary dial shifter are most-oft used audio and climate controls, the remainder of those, and navigation operation are run through the 8-inch touch-screen. The options are near limitless and the basics we managed, though we did have to consult the manual on a few items and could do just as well with cool air, no screen and more buttons. Naturally iPod and similar-device inputs are included, and the hard drive has enough space to rip 10 CDs uncompressed, a good thing as the available Bowers & Wilkins 20-speaker, 1.2-kilowatt sound system will clearly reproduce any fault in your source material.
Outward visibility is very good given the narrow pillars, expanses of glass and bi-Xenon headlamps, but should you miss something standard blind-spot warning will alert you. Close-in aids include parking sensors and a predictive rear camera so you can put this big cat into a spot only inches bigger.
Trunk space is about average for the class and impeccably finished down to the aluminum runners in the floor. Unlike some competitors with run-flat tires the Jaguar carries a spare under the floor (deleting the spare adds 3 cubic feet). The power trunk lid can be programmed for opening height lest you or your garage overhead is petite.
The Jaguar XJ is designed to be a performance luxury sedan; the words are nearly synonymous in European markets. It aims to simultaneously appease and coddle the luxury buyer and provide excellent performance for the more enthusiastic driver.
The 385-hp V8 offers output similar to the competitors, but the XJ weighs 300-400 pounds less than its competitors, a benefit of its aluminum structure and rear-wheel drive layout. Less weight benefits acceleration, fuel economy, and cost because a seven- or eight-speed transmission isn't needed. After spending time with it, we deem the standard 385-hp V8 more than adequate for any occasion on any North American road.
But you can go faster. The Supercharged model adds 85 horsepower and 40 foot-pounds of torque and shaves one second off the 0-60 mph benchmark (to less than 5 seconds). Unlike many supercharged cars it doesn't add a lot of low-end torque so you seldom feel much difference unless you've booted the gas pedal. The special-order Supersport adds another 40 horsepower and 40 foot-pounds of torque.
We found all three V8s smooth as a bottler's private label, quiet at cruise or loping around town, and bring a welcome throated purr under heavier throttle. The supercharger is absent any of the characteristic whine and can't be heard even with the stereo off and any of the dual-pane windows down.
The XJ uses fully independent suspension adapted but not copied from the XF with steel springs in front for precision and air springs in back for the best and level ride among varying loads. Ride quality and bump absorption is very good as even on 20-inch wheels pock-marked roads and expansion joints didn't come jarring through. Full air-suspended cars like the S-Class have a slight edge in ultimate ride cushiness but haven't the steering precision of the Jag, while others have multiple electronic chassis controls to help deal with the weight but impart a sense of artificiality to the drive.
The XJ doesn't have such artificiality. Steering is light but firms up, as does the suspension damping, with the touch of a button. It may not post the ultimate handling numbers of an Aston Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte or Porsche Panamera, but the handling is balanced, the ride quality competitive, the look clearly better in one case, and the cost at least $20,000 less. Decades ago Jaguar developed a reputation for building low-slung sedans that made a marriage of handling and comfort few could match, and the XJ suggests they've re-acquainted themselves.
Big brakes, bigger on supercharged cars, are up to any North American roadway and backed up by the full suite of electronic controls. Although you can switch off the stability control we never found the need while testing the limits because the system is not intrusive at all.
A standard-wheelbase XJ Supersport will be the quickest model and, depending on tires fitted, should be the best-handling as well. The most pampering ride comes from a long-wheelbase non-supercharged XJL with 19-inch wheels. Cars this long aren't meant to be canyon carvers or autocross warriors, where the XJ managed just fine thank you, so think of the Supersport as the XJ to have if you think you want to drive a racetrack. If you think you want to get to a racetrack comfortably in minimum time, any XJ will do the job.
The 2011 Jaguar XJ does everything you expect in a luxury sedan, with room, amenities, quiet and thrust, with a sporty side always in the background that offers more driver interaction but one that never changes the car's personality. Eye-catching lines and serene cabins that marry contemporary design with both traditional and modern materials convey a sense of style that more antiseptic modern conveyances can only wish for?and that the XJ has the performance to back up.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after his test drive of the Jaguar XJ models near Malibu, California.