First Drive: 2011 Jaguar XJ

#Jaguar, #XJ

That sounds vaguely like cheating, especially from a company whose engineers use the word "honest" in describing their cars' performance. Fact is, though, that the cabin of the XJ is so quiet that the missing engine note would be obvious. One suspects that the engine compartment is so well isolated because of the XJ's base European engine: a 271-hp, 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. That engine - chosen by an astonishing nine out of ten XJ buyers in the U.K. - is almost completely inaudible in the cabin. What you do hear is a pleasant, distant whir absent of almost all vibration, even when the diesel XJ is knocking off a six-second-flat drag-race run to 60 mph. That's a half-second faster than last year's gas-powered 4.2-liter V-8, and the diesel gets 42 mpg on European highway fuel economy tests! That this oil-burner isn't offered in the U.S. is a travesty, an unfortunate consequence of our diesel-unfriendly emissions standards.

Oh well, we'll have to drown our sorrows in horsepower and console our deprived selves with wheel spin. Engage Dynamic mode and the computer sharpens throttle response, reduces steering boost, firms up the suspension and - ooh la la! - pulls the slack out of your seatbelt. Throttle pinned to the plush carpet, the supercharged car lights off the rear tires, making sure it leaves not one but two dark skid marks off the line, courtesy of the computer-controlled mechanical limited slip differential. You bad, bad boy.

Behavior like that will not land you in heaven - which, one imagines, might be lined with some of the materials you'll find in the XJ's cabin. Gorgeous wood, supple leather, rich piano black plastics. Well, there is purgatory-grade cheap plastic shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, which has a beautiful, but uncomfortable, seam on the front face. The XJ's touch-screen interface, though, is truly hellish. Its eight-inch screen is generously proportioned, but like the last-generation system, it's slow to react to inputs. And worse, the menus and buttons were clearly designed by someone with fingertips the size of an embroidery needle.

Also from the frustration department: there is no button to permanently disable the parking sensors, which, on our test drive, decided that France is too small a country for this seventeen-foot-long luxury sedan. Each time we were foolish enough to engage reverse, we were blasted with a warning tone loud enough to send running for the hills any Frenchman old enough to remember air-raid sirens from the Second World War.

The parking sensor volume can be turned down using the touch screen - vehicle settings. The touch screen makes a good guess at where you are pressing - wrong presses are rare. It would be better if it reacted faster.

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