First Drive: 2011 Jaguar XJ

In terms of size and price, the XJ competes with the BMW 7-series, the Mercedes-Benz S-class, and the Lexus LS. And even though the XJ is priced near the bottom of that group, it looks and feels as though it should be at the expensive end. That's an incredible accomplishment, especially considering the expense of aluminum construction. Moreover, from behind the wheel, the Jaguar XJ is reminiscent of the significantly more expensive Maserati Quattroporte.

Jaguar has always been a luxury brand in the United States, but talk to the engineers, and you'll hear a crystal-clear emphasis on speed and handling. Jaguar realized some time ago that most drivers actually mean "steering" when they talk about a car's "handling," and the resulting obsession with steering precision makes for an interesting phenomenon: The XJ's luxury had better come from beautiful materials and exquisite styling, because traditional luxury cues - excess cushiness and isolation - are unacceptable.

What makes the XJ so positively brilliant to drive is that it doesn't try to be sporty - that word implies a contrived connection between man and machine; that the sport was somehow added back in after it was isolated out. Engine intake noise aside, the XJ doesn't partake of that particular sin. This Jaguar is better described as lean, lithe, and athletic - the connection is baked-in, partially due to the lightweight, stiff structure, but mostly because of its creators' fanatical obsession with suspension tuning and steering calibration.

The XJ is luxury without the excess plush. It's performance without being abrasive. Elegant without being derivative. Modern without being ostentatious. Sinful without being illegal. And now, finally, it's wrapped in a cover that tells exactly the story of what's inside.

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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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