Jaguar representatives insist it was dumb luck that landed the brand a starring role on the latest season of Mad Men, the hit cable television drama that’s re-popularized everything from narrow ties to Lucky Strike cigarettes. Even if it is mere coincidence, we credit the latest Jaguar products for creating a lot of their own luck. Don Draper, Mad Men’s central character, would never want a cheap X-Type or a fusty S-Type, but one can certainly picture him working through some deep inner turmoil from behind the wheel of a new XJ or a 510-hp XF-R.
The only problem is that while there’s no shortage of people who aspire to be Don Draper — spontaneous, rich, handsome, creative — very few actually are. Most can’t smoke and drink at work; most don’t have beautiful wives whom they cheat on; most don’t even have an inexhaustible supply of perfectly pressed white dress shirts to turn to after a night of debauchery. And most — as in more than ninety percent of luxury car buyers — don’t drive rear-wheel-drive, V-8-powered luxury sedans, which is bad news for Jaguar since that’s the only kind it currently sells.
That changes for 2013 with a slew of new variants for both the mid-size XF and the flagship XJ. Both models will now be available with a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 that can be had with all-wheel drive. The XF goes one step further with a new base model powered by the same 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder found in the Range Rover Evoque.
We packed our narrow-lapel suit and flew to Henley-on-Thames, England to determine if these new variants can broaden Jaguar’s reach without spoiling what has made these cars so appealing in the first place.
Not so much sound, plenty of fury
More than perhaps any other brand, Jaguar has created a unique and comprehensive sensory experience for its cars. That experience remains. Climbing into a V-6, rear-wheel-drive XJ, we’re immediately struck by the strong smell of its opulent leather and the warmth of its wood trim, which together offset the modernity of the digital gauges and center touch screen. With a deliberate press of the starter button — you need to hold it for a heartbeat — the rotary shifter rises dramatically from its resting position. This would normally be accompanied by the first blip of Jaguar’s soulful, 5.0-liter V-8. Alas, muscular-sounding 90-degree V-8 engines can bequeath course and unrefined V-6s, so Jaguar fitted this engine with harmonic balancers at both the front and rear of the block. The result is an engine that’s almost too refined. At full throttle one can just about make out a muted growl and the whine of the supercharger.
What the new engine lacks in character, it more than makes up for in pure power. Jaguar says the V-6 model can hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, an impressive number that nevertheless fails to relate how good the actual experience is. The 340 hp comes on quickly and stays strong all the way to its redline, at which point the new ZF eight-speed automatic — now standard across all XFs and XJs — ticks off a lighting quick and smooth shift. Some automakers have struggled to properly tune this transmission, but Jaguar seems to have found the right combination of smoothness, sportiness, and economy. The payoff is an estimated 28-mpg highway for rear-wheel-drive variants of the V-6 XJ and XF. That said, when you floor the accelerator from cruising speeds, there is a perceptible pause as the transmission kicks down four or five gears.
Just like the V-8 XJs, the V-6 model feels nimbler and livelier than many smaller, supposedly sportier cars. That’s a credit to both its lightweight aluminum construction and the masterful chassis tuning Jaguar seems to do better than anyone else. The steering is light yet communicative, and the suspension holds tight in sharp corners without exacting a harsh price over bumps. Only when the roads narrow to oh-my-gosh-there’s -a-car-coming-from-the-other-direction-and-its-about-to-shear-off-my-right-mirror width does the XJ feel like a large car.
If six works why not four?
Having given us the morning to be convinced that a V-6 provides more than enough motivation, Jaguar took away two more cylinders after lunch. The particular model we drove, an XJ with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, will not be coming to the United States — it exists to skirt Chinese-market taxes on engine displacement. However, it does provide us a reasonable approximation of what we can expect from the XF, which, due to its steel chassis and body, weighs about the same as its larger sibling.
Like sister brand Land Rover, Jaguar has turned to Ford for its four-cylinder needs. The 2.0-liter turbo is essentially a longitudinally mounted version of the 240-hp Ecoboost engine that powers everything from the Range Rover Evoque to the Ford Escape. We mention the origins only to make sure that Ford gets its fair share of credit for its engineering work here. We’ll admit it’s difficult to wrap our American senses around a luxury barge that howls like a Volkswagen GTI, but it is a pleasant howl. Jaguar estimates the 0-to-60 for the four-cylinder XJ and XFs at 7.0 seconds and 7.5 seconds, respectively. That’s pretty slow in the modern enthusiast’s parlance and, more important, falls short of the claimed performance of the four-cylinder BMW 5-Series. Once you accept that you’re no longer in an English muscle car, however, it all feels just fine. The eight-speed automatic again is quick and silky, and makes the most of the turbo’s power band. Jaguar expects the four-cylinder XF to achieve 29 mpg on the highway, which is actually a bit disappointing, since the aforementioned BMW 528i is rated at 34 mpg.
Conclusion: Powertrains for the rational-minded Mad Man.
The challenge for Jaguar — and any luxury brand, for that matter — is to look like it builds cars for cool, devil-may-care types like Don Draper even as it appeals to the pragmatism that drives most car buyers. The new XJ and XF variants achieve that end. Make no mistake: the Don Drapers of the world will still prefer the authority of a V-8 Jaguar, fuel economy be damned. And they’ll still be able to get one. (The normally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 disappears from the 2013 XF, leaving only the supercharged version, but both engines remain available in the XJ).
Just about everyone else, including many Lexus, Audi, and BMW drivers, will appreciate the V-6’s reasonable fuel economy. We’ll reserve final judgment on the four-cylinder until we test it in the XF, but we will note that its $47,850 base price — $6000 cheaper than last year’s entry-level V-8 — should be plenty tempting to a whole new group of mid-size luxury car buyers. Most important, the cars we sampled still felt, drove, and smelled like Jaguars.
2013 Jaguar XJ V-6
Base price: $74,075
On sale: Now
Engine: 3.0L supercharged V-6; 335 hp, 332 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 21 mpg combined