The (literally) agelessly elegant XJ sedan, for example, evolved over the years but was still recognizably the same car for almost 40 years.
But, times change – and so has Jaguar.
This time, though, with a twist.
The new XJ is strikingly modern in appearance – leaping like the big cat it’s named after over its suddenly old fogey-looking competition. But Jaguar did a very smart thing, in addition to creating a very beautiful thing. The latest tech features – including streaming Bluetooth audio Adaptive Cruise Control and a Blind Spot Warning System – are all there, but they’re in the background, muted – not your face, harassing you with chimes and flashing lights that demand your obedience right now. The 2011 XJ is not just an easy car to drive – it is a car that relaxes you as you drive.
That’s not a common thing among high-end luxury cars anymore.
And it’s one of the key attributes that makes the 2011 XJ a Jaguar.
WHAT IT IS
The XJ is Jaguar’s ultra-premium large sedan. It is available in both regular and long wheelbase versions, with (or without) a supercharged engine. Base price is $72,700 for the standard wheelbase XJ with 5 liter V-8. An extended wheelbase XJL SuperSport with a supercharged, 510 hp version of the 5 liter V-8 has a sticker price of $113,200.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
The 2011 XJ receives a major makeover for 2011, including a completely new body and interior.
Stunning from the side, front – and inside.
Your choice of powerful or super-powerful V-8s.
Not fussy; has all the latest bells and whistles – but they operate in the background without calling attention to themselves – like a good manservant.
A deal compared with a BMW 7; a steal compared with a Benz S-Class.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
All-digital instrument display isn’t quite as rich-looking as the rest of the car.
Buyers looking for AWD will have to look elsewhere.
UNDER THE HOOD
Both standard wheelbase and long wheelbase versions of the XJ come with an aluminum 5 liter V-8 engine – available with or without supercharging. A six-speed manual transmission is also standard and includes a driver-selectable Sport mode with more aggressive shift characteristics.
All XJs are rear wheel drive.
The non-supercharged version of the 5 liter V-8 engine produces 385 hp – making it just about the most powerful standard engine in a high-end luxury sedan without a six-figure MSRP. The optional supercharged version delivers 470-510 hp (in Supersport configuration) making it one of the most powerful engines you can get – period.
The BMW 7 series comes standard with a mere 3 liter six and a paltry 315 hp. For a car with a $70k starting price, that’s pretty depressing ($26k Camrys are pushing 280 hp these days). The BMW’s optional twin-turbocharged 4.4 liter V-8 edges out the Jag’s standard engine by 15 hp, but it also pushes the price tag of the BMW to $82,500 – almost $10k more than the base price of the V-8 powered XJ.
Another competitor – the Mercedes S-Class – likewise comes up two cylinders short (in base trim) and charges you a lot more to upgrade to a V-8. The standard version of the 2011 S-Class has a hybrid powertrain that combines a 3.5 liter V-6 with a booster battery/electic motor to produce a combined 295 hp – almost 100 hp less than you get in the Jag – without the supercharger. The hybrid combo in the big Benz is neither especially fuel efficient (19 city, 21 highway vs. the Jag’s 16/23) nor appropriate-performing for a car that carries a base price of – hold onto yer helmet – $91,100.
The slow-moving (for an almost-six-figure-car) S400 hybrid needs nearly 8 seconds to reach 60 MPH.
A V-6 Camry is quicker. That’s sad.
So much for Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles….
The Jag gets to 60 in just 5.4 seconds with its standard engine – and does it for $20,000 less. The soopah-charged version gets there even quicker – and its entry price point of $87,700 is still thousands less than the base price of the asthmatic Benz S400.
You can move up to a 5.5 liter V-8 in the S-Class that notches the power up to a more respectable 382 hp – but the Jag’s standard engine is still stronger than what you get in the $93,000 S550. Mercedes offers a twin-turbo 5.5 liter V-12 in the S600 that – finally – outmuscles the Jaguar. Well, the standard (non-supercharged) Jaguar. The S600 also starts at $158,050.
That’s not a fair fight – or a fair comparison.
For the Mercedes.
Another XJ competitor is the Audi A8 – which carries a $78,050 base price, comes standard with a comparably potent V-8 (4.2 liters, 372 hp) and comes standard with all-wheel-drive, which Jaguar has chosen not to offer at all.
But the Audi doesn’t offer a performance upgrade; it’s the 4.2 liter, 372 hp V-8 – period. Certainly respectable – just not stupendous. The A8 is also heavier – and so, slower – than the Jaguar, needing a so-so (for a car in this price range) 6.2 seconds to reach 60.
There’s also the Lexus LS – which likewise offers a standard V-8 (and for a lower MSRP) as well as standard AWD and offers both regular wheelbase and long-wheelbase bodies. It’s worth looking at if your primary consideration is getting into something in this league for the least amount of money. Just don’t expect others to notice what you just bought.
In this vein you might also look at the Hyundai Equus and possibly also the Cadillac DTS.
Just don’t park either next to the XJ.
ON THE ROAD
Here’s where you discover what separates a high-end car from other cars.
It used to be things like climate control AC, leather, GPS, a great audio system – but of course now almost every car – even $20k cars – either offers or can be ordered with such features. They are No Big Deal.
Step into a car like the XJ and discover what a Big Deal is.
First, the magnificence of the materials. Yes, leather is common. But not this kind of leather. The pliability, the give – and each section apparently hand-fitted to whatever surface it covers. You won’t find stuff like this in a Camry. Or any car in that price range. Or twice that price range.
Settle in. Grasp the smooth (and real) wood steering wheel; turn on the Shiatsu seat massagers (standard in extended wheelbase L versions – along with Bentley-like lunch trays for the backseat passengers).
Up comes the shifter knob, rising to meet your hand. Choose Drive or maybe Sport, also engaging the Dynamic suspension setting by depressing the checkered flag button on the console. The dash background lighting fades from bluish to red.
All systems, go!
Now, this is a big liner and not really meant for high-speed hustling but that doesn’t mean it can’t. Despite its size, the XJ – even long wheelbase versions – doesn’t feel ponderous. You can credit the lightweight aluminum skin and chassis components for that. An XJ is about 500 pounds lighter than an S-Class sedan, about 400 less than a Audi A8 and about 350 less than a BMW 7-Series. That’s a huge difference in unsprung mass, which the XJ’s competitors have to modulate with stiffer suspension calibrations to keep everything from sloshing around too much in the corners. The much lighter XJ, in contrast, can be softer in a straight line more easily – without risking unseemly lurching in the corners. And having much more power along with much lower weight makes it much more responsive when you accelerate out of those corners.
That’s a key point worth reiterating: The XJ’s standard V-8 delivers the commanding thrust a car in this league ought to deliver without needing to resort to (and pay for) an optional engine upgrade – as is necessary to achieve similar power/performance in the BMW 7, the Benz S and even the ostensibly “high-performance” Porsche Panamera, which like the others just mentioned comes standard with only a so-so six for the same money Jaguar charges for its V-8.
A car with almost 400 hp is going to get the job done and then some. With the supercharger, “then some” takes on a whole new meaning. The poor Benz S400. The cringing BMW 7. A 90 hp advantage for the non-supercharged Jaguar relative to the $18,400 more expensive Mercedes. Seventy extra hp (with the 470 hp supercharged engine) to lord it over the price-equivalent V-8 powered BMW 7. Ditto the poor ol’Panamera.
AT THE CURB
Previous XJ’s were stately, dignified things. The new XJ is simply stunning. It looks very much like a scaled-up four-door version of the XK coupe: Low roofline, fastback rear glass, subtly cowled hood, suggestively voluptuous through the hips. A knockout. It makes the Benz S and BMW 7 look like Grampawagons; six-figure starter caskets for people who still have fading McCain-Palin stickers on the bumper. Jaguar stylists have sliced probably 20 years off the buyer demographic for this car. The only thing similarly sexy is the Porsche Panamera. And the $74k to start Panamera comes standard with a measly 3.6 liter, 300 hp six. If you want a V-8, Porsche will want almost $90k. It’s a very nice car, but c’mon.
Inside the XJ it’s equally exotic – even erotic. The leather (with contrast piping on the seats and contrast stitching on the door sections ) is that nice. The side panels curve upward as if to embrace you; a handsome band of fitted wood defines the perimeter. Really all that’smissing is a gentle waterfall and they’ll probably figure out a way to install that next year.
Jaguar also offers some unique features you won’t find in other cars in this segment, like a defroster grid for the front windshield. This is a very handy item to have in the winter time, even if the XJ doesn’t offer AWD. (A car this pretty should not be made to suffer slush anyhow.)
The extended wheelbase L version offers limo-like backseat accommodations: 44.1 inches of legroom vs. 38.9 inches in the standard wheelbase XJ. This about the same legroom as the long-wheelbase version of the BMW 7 but about two inches more than the Benz S-Class provides and about an inch more than you’d get in the Audi A8L.
The XJ’s 15.2 cubic foot trunk is a little on the small side – a problem that afflicts many cars in this class. You’d expect such a big car to have a big trunk, but few do – including the XJ. Its 15.2 cubic feet is however a bit larger than the downright tiny 13.2 cubic foot trunk in the A8 and only slightly smaller than the 16.4 cubic trunk in the Benz S-class.
Just for perspective, a mid-sized Honda Accord has a 14.7 cubic foot trunk.
One of the especially pleasing aspects of the XJ is the ease with which it can be driven – and that includes the operation of its secondary controls. The “rising knob” transmission selector, for instance, is much less fussy than the weird little toggle thing BMW uses in the 7. And adjusting the climate controls requires no frustrating futzing with multiple LCD menus and mouse (or other) “inputs” as in the Benz and Audi. To raise or lower the temperature settings, merely rotate a knob. A larger knob controls the fan speed. A mere brush of your finger in the vicinity of a small sensor opens the glovebox.
It is all exceptionally relaxing – which is precisely what a luxury car ought to be.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Looking at this car, driving this car – and pricing this car – it’s hard to see how anyone in the market for a car like this could say no to this car.
Throw it in the Woods?