Jaguar XJ 2010

Jaguar XJ Review & Road Test

Rating: 8.0
$198,800 Mrlp
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A new breed to power the rebuild
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Update: Jaguar XJ Review

A new breed to power the rebuild

West Hollywood, California—At the recent launch event for the 2011 Jaguar XJ, held in the heart of the rock ‘n’ roll district of greater Los Angeles, Jaguar Cars Managing Director Mike O’Driscoll proposed that the company’s latest offering was a bit rock ‘n’ roll itself.

More to the point: “Jaguar made its name in the 1950s and ‘60s as a sporting brand, but then lost touch with our soul: building beautiful, fast and sporting cars—cars that have a lot to say about a great driving experience.”

True enough: The British marque spent plenty of time over the past three decades battling a stodgy reputation and reliability problems that made them the butt of more than a few jokes. Offerings such as the retro-styled S-Type and the “downmarket” X-Type—which both debuted and died within the same decade—didn’t really help matters all that much.

Adding fuel to the fire was Jaguar’s ill-fated attempt at Formula One racing, an expensive foray that produced little in the way of real results, but likely helped push the Ford Motor Company into selling the brand in 2008. But in a strange twist of fate, the Jaguar brand has been largely reborn over the past two years, in much the same way that Aston Martin has since they were also cut loose by Ford.

O’Driscoll claims that their new owners, Tata Motors, have given the company a renewed sense of spirit and independence. The X-Type is gone. S-Type is gone, replaced by the ultra-desirable Jaguar XF. The Jaguar XK has transformed into a very worthy grand touring machine with no small amount of performance and style. And the brand new XJ is considered by Jaguar management to represent “the end of phase one of the rebuilding process”.

Take a look at the pictures here and one thing becomes immediately clear: The 2011 Jaguar XJ, a clear relative to the XF, is also a bold departure from all XJs past. This is even more significant when you consider that the XJ has remained largely unchanged from a visual standpoint for decades—and it’s the company’s flagship vehicle.

“The XJ, for 40 years, has been the quintessential Jaguar,” explained O’Driscoll. “But it created the perception that the company was not moving forward. We recognized that there had to be a fundamental shift for the XJ, a massive change, both in the interior and exterior design.”

Also true. While this writer isn’t 100% sold on the styling of the new XJ—it’s a bit too broad in the beam for my liking, the blacked-out C-pillars are polarizing and the tail lights are too reminiscent of the Lincoln MKS, a very mild American saloon of no particular distinction—I can certainly admit that it took some brass ones to go in such a radical new direction. The question is: How will the new XJ resonate with traditional Jag customers and those the company wants to lure away from other automakers?

For these answers, we took to the streets of Los Angeles and the canyon roads of Malibu. In an attempt to prove that the XJ is a genuinely sporting car, the drive route was an inspired mix of open freeways and curvaceous country roads with plenty of elevation changes and less than perfect pavement.

But let’s step back a bit and talk about the XJ line-up, which features no fewer than four different engines (everywhere but North America) and two different body configurations (everywhere). The base model, dubbed the XJ Premium for the Australian market, is powered by one of two engines: a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 diesel (202 kW, 600 Nm) or a 5.0-litre normally aspirated V8 petrol engine (283 kW, 515 Nm).

Stepping up to the next level, we have the XJ Portfolio with a supercharged version of the Premium’s V8 producing 346 kW and 575 Nm of torque. Finally, there’s the XJ Supersport, also with a supercharged version of the self-same V8, albeit in this instance creating even more power (375 kW) and more torque (625 Nm).

All versions of the XJ come in standard-or long-wheelbase form; the latter adds 135 mm to the car’s wheelbase and 125 mm to its overall length. All other dimensions, including width, height, front track and rear track are the same for both body styles. The two versions were developed at the same time, so the extra millimetres don’t look tacked on and out of place. Both XJs have a fairly sleek profile, although it’s clear that the roofline and rear doors on the long-wheelbase version are differently shaped.

For the drive experience, I had the chance to sample two different cars: the base XJ with the V8 and the Portfolio, which is referred to as the XJ Supercharged in certain markets, both in long-wheelbase form. First on the docket was the base car and, given the manufacturer’s aim of taking on the likes of the Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte, the experience was underwhelming.

The issue was not the power of V8, which is good enough, but rather the handling and road-holding capabilities of the car. While the Premium model has the same rear air suspension and continuously variable damping system, there are differences when compared to the higher-end versions. The base car rides on 19-inch wheels and the damping system is, apparently, tuned less aggressively than on the supercharged models, but to what degree was unclear.

This car, I also learned, does not come equipped with active differential control, which is standard on the supercharged versions. These differences combined to give the base XJ a nervous ride on undulating roads and less-than-confident stance when traversing uneven pavement. The steering also had a vague on-centre feeling, something that also didn’t inspire much trust.

Now, make no mistake: The roads we were driving on could highlight weaknesses in almost any car. But this Jaguar certainly felt on the soft side, a bit “floaty”, and it also struck me that the combination of some ripples in the pavement and a moderately fast approach to a tight turn could lead to some heart-stopping moments.

That was the base XJ. The XJ Portfolio was another story altogether. Driving along the very same kind of roads, the upmarket Jag proved its mettle with a ride that represented a superb balance between comfort and control, handling that displayed a very surprising lack of over-or under-steer, and brakes that were more than a match for the most extreme downhill sections the canyon roads had to offer.

The brakes on the Portfolio, it’s worth noting, are bigger than those fitted to the Premium model. Specifically, the less powerful car receives 355 mm discs up front and 326 mm discs at the back, while the Portfolio employs twin-piston floating callipers gripping 380 mm front discs, as well as 376 mm rear discs. All brake discs are ventilated.

In discussing the difference between the two cars with Ian Hoban, Director of Product Development, the consensus was that the larger tires on the Portfolio edition (20-inch numbers), combined with the slightly heavier curb weight and the active rear differential were the difference-makers. There was little doubt: The supercharged XJ delivered a more involving and satisfying experience behind the wheel.

While the extra rubber helped to absorb imperfections in the road, the computer-controlled differential kicked in by expertly varying the amount of torque to apply to each rear wheel according to traction conditions. A nice set-up, to be sure. (Rumour has it that an all-wheel drive XJ will be coming eventually, something that should give the big cat’s claws even more grip.)

The XJ comes equipped with a three-stage stability control system: fully on, fully off and an intermediate setting that allows for some slippage before the electronic aid makes its presence felt. In his introduction just prior to the drive, Hoban claimed that the Jag was tuned to allow for a less obtrusive level of intervention from the stability control system and he was not lying. The system is very well-sorted and definitely does not kill the power at the first sign of the back end stepping out a degree or two.

In terms of engine performance, there was a marked difference between the two versions, but the base 5.0-litre V8 is no slouch. In fact, under most circumstances, the gas-powered XJ Premium will be enough performance for most drivers out there. The supercharged XJ does possess that extra bit of oomph that always brings a smile to any enthusiast’s face. Certainly, it showed more kick coming out of tight corners, but given this saloon’s likely customer, it almost seems like a bit of overkill. (Of course, the brain trust at Jaguar did say they wanted to bring a more sporting image to the brand.)

The manufacturer claims 0-100 kph times of 5.7 seconds for the naturally aspirated XJ and 5.2 seconds for the XJ Portfolio. (For the record, the diesel clocks in at an estimated 6.4 seconds, while the Supersport registers a time of 4.9 seconds.) All models are electronically limited to 250 kph.

All versions of the XJ also come equipped with a ZF 6-speed automatic transmission that is operated through the rotary gear selector (which first appeared on the XF) or via paddle shifters. Three different shift modes are available to choose: “normal” for leisurely driving, “dynamic” for more sporting performance and “winter” for more control in low-grip situations. The transmission was certainly up to the task, delivering quick shifts with no shock whatsoever.

Although the automaker is pushing the car’s performance angle, the Jaguar XJ is, in my mind, still more of a luxury story. The evidence supporting this theory is found in the interior where, very clearly, a lot of attention has been paid. The cabin is an interesting blend of very modern touches combined with old-school opulence.

On the modern side, there is the very slick TFT gauge cluster, a 12.3-inch display that houses the central speedometer flanked by a rev counter to the right, and a fuel and temperature readout to the left. But this is just the start of the trickery.

The gauges are hit by a spotlight that serves to highlight only the most relevant information, such as your speed and how fast the engine is turning over. When an urgent matter arises—such as a perilously low level of fuel—the tachometer fades away and is replaced by a warning message. In addition, when you engage the car’s dynamic mode, a red mist borders all the gauges and the readout becomes dominated by a large gear indicator.

While this technology is certainly cool—and the red effect is very racy—the way the information appears and disappears according to the Jag’s settings and/or status can be distracting. Further, when dynamic mode is engaged, the trip odometer disappears so your ability to drive in a sporting manner while making that right-hander at, say, mile maker 10.5 is not possible. On the plus side, the new XJ steering wheel has a wide central opening, making it dead easy to read all the gauges at a glance.

Of course, the XJ adopts the rotary gear selector from the XF—some people don’t like this design, but I do. As long as there’s some way to shift gears manually—cue the paddle shifters—than any type of switch that engages park, drive or reverse is fine by me. The fact that the rotary dial is more elegant than most gear selectors out there is, to me, definitely a plus for Jaguar.

All versions of the XJ also feature a central, 8-inch HD touch screen, which is used to control the audio system, dual-zone climate control and navigation system. The screen is crisp and clear and very intuitive. Further, the Jag comes standard with a media hub, so you can hook your iPod right into the system and search for music by artist name, song name or musical style. The dual-view screen also enables the front-seat passenger to watch TV, even while the XJ is in motion.

Speaking of music, the Jag comes standard with a 600-watt audio system complete with 14 speakers and a single DVD player. For true audiophiles, though, there’s only one way to go: the optional Bowers & Wilkins 1200-watt system and its 20 speakers. I’m no sound system expert, but with the B&W at full tilt, it seemed capable of shattering glass.

Under the heading of “old-school opulence,” the new XJ comes with any number of slick leather and wood treatments with all the expected amenities, such as power seats and power-adjustable steering wheel. All versions come with a truly great panoramic glass roof with individual openings above the front and rear seats.

Step up to the Portfolio and you gain heated/cooled front seats that also have a massage feature; this particular feature was very impressive. All long-wheelbase cars gain four-zone climate control and rear sunshades, while business trays made of hand-crafted veneer are standard on Supersport models and optional on Premium models.

In terms of design, the interior is much like the exterior of the XJ: a mix of the inspired and the slightly odd. Most of the cabin looks fantastic, but the nautical-themed ring of wood set just below the windows was a strange choice and the Jaguar wordmark placed within the ring at the centre of the windscreen looks cheap. Similarly, the round air vents, which are meant to be sporting, simply look out of place, particularly when compared to the fantastic vents found on the XF.

All in all, the 2011 Jaguar XJ is a very interesting saloon and it represents a fascinating new direction for the automaker. While it’s not my cup of tea—I prefer the XFR from both a style and a performance standpoint—it certainly has a very long list of merits. But perhaps the most compelling story about the XJ could be its pricing. In key markets, the XJ will be priced very competitively compared to executive saloons from Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes, and well below its intended targets, Maserati and Porsche.

In addition, Jaguar has introduced a very aggressive warranty package that is designed to forever dispel the notion that these cars aren’t reliable. In the U.S., for example, this warranty extends for five years or 50,000 miles, covers all scheduled maintenance, and takes care of the replacement of all wear and tear items apart from tires.

While pricing for Australia has yet to be set, look for the XJ to be a very attractive option for those in need of a luxury saloon that is more than just a bit different from all the rest.

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