Quintessential Jaguar is thoroughly modern

For many people, the Jaguar brand epitomizes style, luxury and sophistication.

  • Jan. 20, 2011 4:00 p.m.

The 2011 Jaguar XJ has a bold new face with a wide front track. The large mesh grille and slim xenon headlights are meant to create a strong road presence.

For many people, the Jaguar brand epitomizes style, luxury and sophistication.

I’ve mentioned before, that over the years when people learned I was an automotive journalist, many of them said to me, ‘if I could own, or even drive in one car, it would be a Jaguar.’

That’s quite a compliment for a marque that had seen its fortunes decline. Quality issues and a sense that the firm had lost its way and fallen behind the pack in the luxury car market conspired to take some of the luster off the Jaguar brand a few years ago.

But, despite that, Jaguar still had that ‘bling’ and it was a car people admired and lusted after. Those quality issues are now largely a thing of the past as the Jaguar brand has been rated at or near the top in recent vehicle initial quality studies.

And now, under the ownership of India’s Tata Motors, the cat is back and in a big way with a revamped lineup, including significant changes to its flagship sedan, the XJ for 2011.

Since its debut in 1968, the XJ has been the centerpiece of the Jaguar line.

The four-door, rear-wheel-drive sedan had a six-cylinder engine under the hood that first year. In later years, the car would boast the only 12-cylinder engine on the market. Today, a 5.0-litre DOHC V8 engine powers the base 2011 XJ, with a twin-scroll supercharger added to the top two models in the lineup.

A sleek new exterior design for 2011 makes the XJ a car that luxury buyers will now shop against the Audi A8, Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7-Series and the Lexus LS460.

In the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Car of the Year competition for 2011, the fourth-generation of the XJ is in the running for the Best New Design of the Year. The winner will be announced in mid-February at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto from a group including the XJ, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and the Audi R8 Spyder.

The flowing design with elongated teardrop-shaped side windows gives the XJ a coupe-like silhouette and makes it the most aerodynamic Jaguar ever along with the current XF sedan. Both have a drag coefficient of 0.29.

The goal of the new design was to take the XJ back to its roots as a style leader, but still retain the sporty nature Jaguars have developed over the years. Design chief Ian Callum and his crew have succeeded as the XJ is clearly the best looking sedan in the segment and Callum says the XJ is the boldest interpretation yet of his vision for Jaguar in the 21st century and he calls it a ‘thoroughly modern interpretation of the quintessential Jaguar.’

The XJ not only looks fast, it is fastã particularly the supercharged variant. And a major reason is the weight it has shed over the years.

Through the extensive use of aluminum, along with magnesium and composite alloys, the body is now significantly lighter (136 kg lighter than a comparable steel body), but at the same time stiffer.

Three engine choices are available in the 2011 XJ; a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 making 385 hp, a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 making 470 hp and a limited production XJ Supersport with 510 hp. There are also regular and long-wheelbase versions with the long-wheelbase models designed with an ‘L’. The long wheelbase provides more interior room, including an extra 127 mm of legroom for rear-seat passengers.

My tester was the mid-level XJL Supercharged, priced at $107,000. Add the optional heated windshield ($300) and freight and PDI and the as-tested price topped out at $108,650. The base XJ starts at $88,000, while the XJL is $95,500.

The Supercharged models are $104,000 and $107,000, while the Supersport versions are $128,000 and $131,000.

While these prices are way out of my range and that of the majority of our readers, for anyone shopping in this segment, I believe the XJ could be considered a bargain compared with the competition. And, to top it off, Jaguar offers something called Platinum Coverage for all cars it sells. Over and above the standard five year, 80,000 km warranty, Jaguar provides complimentary scheduled service including no-cost replacement of wear and tear items like windshield wipers etc.

As sleek and elegant as the XJ is on the outside, inside is where it truly shines. The leather is as soft and supple as you’ll ever find in an automobile and Jaguar uses wood accents to give it a ‘homey’ feeling.

My test car had a tan interior with burl oak wood trim making for a luxurious-looking combination. Of course, befitting a luxury car like this, the front seats have heating, cooling and massaging features.

A panoramic glass sunroof is part of the new XJ design, allowing for a lower, more streamlined roofline. The expanse of glass adds to feeling of light and space inside as well.

But the coolest part of the cabin is 12.5-inch screen containing a ‘virtual instruments’ gauge cluster, replacing your standard speedometer and tachometer.

To the right of that is an eight-inch touch screen for the navigation system, audio controls, vehicle set-up and the like.

Climb in, sit down in the nicely bolstered seat, push the start button and the cat roars more than it purrs.

As Jaguar literature describes it, the virtual dials ‘build before your eyes.’ The center dial has a speedometer flanked on either side by a rev counter and an information window with fuel and temperature gauges.

To make it easier to read, the display uses sort of spotlight effect to show off the most important information like speed or engine revs.

However, if fuel is running low or the driver is changing the audio system, the tach fades away temporarily as the warning message or menu is displayed.

Also top drawer is the 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system (standard on my tester) that has 20 speakers, producing a sound as good as good as I’ve ever encountered in an automobile.

Rather than a traditional gearshift lever, a round dial on the center console elevates when the engine is started. Simply twist the dial to the desired gear and you’re ready to hit the road. Of course, you can also tailor your driving experience with JaguarDrive Control to one of three different transmission modes: normal, Dynamic and Winter.

In Dynamic mode, shift times are extended, the suspension is stiffened and the colour of the main instrument dial changes. In Winter mode, the car starts in second gear to provide better traction in low-grip conditions.

The XJ uses an air suspension to keep the ride height level despite the load as well as an Adaptive Dynamics active damping system that automatically tailors the damper settings to suit both road conditions and the way the car is being driven. In essence, it delivers just the right balance of body control and ride comfort.

The XJL gets off the line in a real hurry, scampering from 0-100 km/h in about 5.2 seconds for the Supercharged (4.9 seconds for the Supersport model) with its six-speed automatic.

Even the base car does the 0-100 run in about 5.7 seconds. Not bad for a big car that actually feels much smaller than it is on the road.

While it scoots up to speed in nice time, the brakes on the XJL are also very efficient. During AJAC Car of the Year testing last fall, the XJL took just 37.7m to come to a stop from 100 km/h.

So much like its namesake in the animal world, this Jaguar is bold and beautiful, but at the same time feisty and ferocious when required.

This XJ cat is back and ‘purrfectly’ poised to take on all comers in the prestige sedan market.

Jaguar XJL Supercharged 2011

Body Style: four-door luxury sedan.

Drive Method: front engine, rear-wheel drive.

Engine: 5.0-litre DOHC naturally aspirated V8 (385 hp, 380 lb/ft of torque), (as tested) 5.0-litre supercharged V8 (470 hp, 424 lb/ft of torque), 5.0-litre limited production Supersport V8 (510 hp, 461 lb/ft of torque).

Fuel Economy: 5.0L: 13.1L/100 km (22 mpg) city, 8.5L/100 km (34 mpg) highway; (as tested) XJL Supercharged: 14.1L/100 km (20 mpg) city, 9.3L/100 km (30 mpg) highway.

Price: $88,000 to $131,000. As tested $108,300.

Web: www.jaguar.ca

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