If the auto industry were a college literature course, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi would be those tight-pony-tailed girls who sit right up front taking color coded notes and organizing study groups for every chapter. Jaguar would be that guy who walks in late with Cheetos on his sweatshirt, apologizes for bringing the wrong novel, and then scores the highest on the final exam.
Yes, Jaguar has a spotty track record. Yes, it faces some serious challenges. And, yes, it builds a luxury sedan that absolutely betters its German rivals. Let there be no doubt: our editors drove the Jaguar XJ back-to-back with the excellent new Audi A8 during last year’s All-Star testing. The Jaguar made the list; the Audi did not. It wasn’t that close.
The XJ manages this feat by oozing style, charm, and presence from every pore. The much-discussed new sheetmetal absolutely grabs your attention. I find myself studying it, thinking about it. I still hesitate to call it beautiful, especially in long-wheelbase form, but this is one case where I can certainly cede that there’s more to a car design than mere prettiness. Car reviewers have a habit of calling every luxury car interior gorgeous and stunning, but the XJ’s cabin truly is. It integrates a healthy helping of technology – an LCD instrument panel and touch screen controls – into a very organic and warm environment rich with leather and wood. The Jag’s interface scored last in our recent four-way comparison (“Interface-off,” January 2011, page 14) but is by no means a terrible system. It’s reasonably user friendly, if a bit slow, and synchs painlessly with an iPhone. One example of how Jaguar simply “gets it” is the driver’s seat. Whereas others in this segment employ all sorts of adjustability and active bolstering, the XJ’s thin and elegant seat fits like a glove with few adjustments required.
Jaguar has long mastered the black art of suspension tuning and continues to do so here. The XJ rides better than the softly sprung Mercedes S-Class and yet handles as well as the BMW 7-Series. Same deal with the steering: it’s almost as effortless as in a Toyota Camry but is as accurate and communicative as that in just about any sport sedan. And those trying to wean themselves off of fossil fuel should avoid getting within earshot of this 5.0-liter V-8. It serves up its 385 hp more smoothly than any turbocharged engine could and sounds like a 1960s American big-block that’s been to finishing school. The automatic shifts smartly even in regular drive mode, but I mostly left it in Sport to hear the engine snap into lower gears.
For all this acclaim, the XJ still isn’t perfect. Some of the body panel gaps, for instance, wouldn’t make it out of the Honda Civic manufacturing plant. And although Jaguar does seem to be getting its act together, there’s no guarantee this relatively tiny, Indian-owned automaker will survive in an industry dependent on economies of scale.
I’d buy an XJ, anyway.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Jaguar is the best example today of a mainstream car company catering to the needs and desires of enthusiasts. I suppose Lotus makes more enthusiast-focused cars, but none of them are really viable as daily drivers. What Jaguar does with its incredible V-8 engines and chassis and suspension tuning is exactly what enthusiasts dream of, so we are willing to tolerate the spotty reliability and so-so touchscreen navigation unit. Each time I drive a modern Jaguar I want to ignore the severe reliability problems our departed Four Seasons Jaguar XF had and keep the keys. But I couldn’t put down my own money for a vehicle so similar to the one that lunched a steering rack and rear differential under normal use in less than a year. There were also a variety of smaller problems that would just be annoying to address under warranty service.
Perhaps Jaguar has raised its quality levels to match the competition since we experienced the XF a few years ago. I’d love to spend another year in a new Jaguar of any sort to see how well it holds up these days. I want to believe they have sorted out the manufacturing process, but I’m more than a little wary. Perhaps these short blasts with a Jag are best. Each night I drive a Jaguar and nothing breaks, I just think about how well the car drives and how much fun I have behind the wheel. Which is what I expect all of the time.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
A lovely, lovely car, and one that seems like a relative bargain for its as-tested price of $84K. I know, I know, how can a car costing $84K be called a bargain? Because most of the time when I get inside a car this big and luxurious and well-appointed from one of the upmarket brands, I emerge shellshocked by a six-figure sticker price. Everything’s relative, I guess.
I would venture that David Zenlea’s analogy, wherein Jaguar is like the smart but slovenly and lazy college student who still aces the exam, is inaccurate, because it implies that Jaguar hasn’t been working hard, which is of course not at all true. The designers and engineers and product planners at Jaguar have done a tremendous job of remaking this company, and the very splendid XJ is one of the results.
I do agree, though, with all of Zenlea’s effusive praise for the Jaguar XJ, yet also with Phil Floraday’s skepticism about its long-term reliability.
To their comments I would add the minor but important detail that the XJ has superb headlamps with an excellent automatic high/low beam function. If I seem to regular readers like a man obsessed with headlamp performance, it’s because I live in the countryside and traverse very dark roads that are lined year-round with wandering deer, and I like headlamps that might pick them out in the surrounding cornfields and ditches before they leap out in front of the XJ’s leaper hood ornament.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
After working late the other night, you’d think my first priority would be to head straight home to unwind. Not so. Instead, I found myself taking this XJL through the winding back roads, doubling my commute time yet doubling my fun.
We’ve already proclaimed the new Jaguar XJ to be a revolution in terms of design, but let it be noted that the car is not all show and no go. Without a doubt, this XJ caters as much to the driver as it does to the passengers.
This does not drive like a large, 206.6-inch long vehicle; keep your eyes forward of the B-pillars, and you could easily believe you’re piloting a smaller sport sedan, or even an XK coupe. Engineers have given the new XJL the same handling characteristics that endeared us to the XF — nicely weighted steering, quick turn-in, great body control – as well as the same powertrain.
Base XJLs like our test car use Jaguar Land Rover’s new direct-injection 5.0-liter V-8, which is rated at 385 horsepower. That may not sound like much, but it’s more than enough to smoothly and effortlessly rocket the 4100-pound sedan to extra-legal speeds, while emitting a delectable growl. Those who somehow find this power insufficient can always opt for a supercharged variant of the same engine, which cranks out 470 horsepower or 510 in Supersport guise.
Perhaps the only area in which the new XJL doesn’t depart from its predecessors is in its interior appointments. Per Jaguar tradition, the big cat’s cabin is trimmed with flawless leather hides, supple suede, and rich veneers, although they’re incorporated into an atmosphere that is as dramatic as the XJ’s exterior. XJL models give rear-seat occupants an extra five inches of legroom, along with flip-down tray tables and a panoramic sunroof.
There is, however, a price to be paid for placing such an emphasis on style. The dramatically raked rear window looks great, particularly when viewed from the side, but it does hinder rearward visibility and also restrict the size of the trunk’s opening (on a subjective note, I’m still not fond of those quirky D-pillar accents). Jaguar’s also big on moving most controls to its touchscreen as a means of cleaning up the instrument panel’s appearance, but the system is infuriatingly lethargic to respond to inputs.
Still, the XJ blends the grace of a luxury car with the pace and tractability of a sports car, and does so at a price point that’s considerably lower than some of its established competitors. If reliability proves better than previous Jaguars, there’s good reason to consider the XJ or XJL if the Audi A8, BMW 7-series, or Mercedes S-class are already on your shopping list.
Evan McCausland, Web Editor
Count me as one who didn’t vote for the Jaguar XJ as an All-Star (I voted for the new Audi A8 instead), but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate this car’s many positive attributes.
Having finally shrugged off the classic XJ profile that had been little changed in decades, the exterior styling now clearly reflects the look of twenty-first century Jaguars (see the XK and the XF). The car is still unmistakably a Jaguar, but it now looks like a modern car, with clean lines and a more flowing profile. And it definitely garners attention. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work, and the guy parked next to me had to tell me how beautiful it looked. And then he told me again. And a third time.
Once you get inside, the opulence of the cabin envelops you. All the materials feel rich – soft leather, silky suede headliner, solid controls. One thing I’d do without, however, is the “Jaguar” badge on the center of the thin wood strip that runs the width of the cabin underneath the windshield. It looks like it was tacked on as an afterthought and is completely gratuitous. In addition, Jaguar’s touchscreen system is slow to react and actually seems less intuitive to use than it did when it was first introduced several years ago.
The powertrain is silky smooth, and anyone who opts for this “base” 385-hp V-8 should not feel shortchanged. It’s odd how quickly our perception of horsepower levels has changed. To think that just ten short years ago, the optional supercharged engine in the XJ made 370 hp, 15 hp less than today’s normally aspirated V-8.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I’m going to be echoing Phil more than anyone with my comments… The XJ-L is a fun date, but I wouldn’t want to go steady, much less marry one.
It is indeed a car that drives and behaves unlike a vehicle of its heft and size, and it’s more fun on a rolling country road than the offerings from Germany. It has a sportier attitude and the exclusivity of being rare by comparison.
But the history of poor reliability cannot be erased, and new ownership in India is hardly confidence-inspiring. Add to that the fact that the interior-while beautiful and impressive-is already maddeningly outdated in terms of usability and ergonomics. The over dependence on a poorly executed touchscreen system for just about every possible function would drive me crazy if I had to deal with it every day. Contrast that to cars like the Audi A8 and the BMW 7-series, which are excellent in this regard.
I was strongly opposed to this car’s winning Design of the Year, but I admit the car’s styling has grown on me. But the sum of the Jag’s long, flowing lines is better than the details of its parts. For each great touch such as the taillights, there is an equal and opposite awkward detail such as the headlamps or the abominable plastic cladding on the D-pillars. Still, it’s an impressive car and offers a style unique among its competitors.
If what you want is a sportier, stylish sedan that makes a statement about the owner as they rocket off into the countryside for a weekend jaunt, than by all means order up an XJ. But for commuting into the city every morning, I’d pick one of the more buttoned-down German rivals.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
2011 Jaguar XJL
Base price (with destination): $80,575
Price as tested: $84,100
5.0-liter V-8 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Dynamic stability control
Xenon front and rear lights
Tire pressure monitoring system
Panoramic glass roof
Smartkey keyless entry and start
Blind spot monitor
iPod & USB connection
Navigation system with 30GB hard drive
8-inch HD touch screen
Options on this vehicle:
Bowers & Wilkins 1200-watt sound system — $2300
Dolby Pro-Logic IIx and DTS
Visibility package — $850
Adaptive front lighting
Intelligent high beams
Heated front windshield — $375
Key options not on vehicle:
XJL Supersports model — $33,500
XJL Supercharged model — $11,000
Adaptive cruise control — $2300
Rear entertainment system — $2200
Heated wood/leather steering wheel — $500
15 / 22 / 18 mpg
Size: 5.0L 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 385 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 380 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Curb weight: 4131 lb
Wheels/tires: 19-inch alloy wheels
245/40R19 Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 winter tires
Competitors: Audi A8L, BMW 750iL, Mercedes-Benz S-class