Is there any auto company more right brained than Jaguar? How else to explain the absolute mastery of sensual details - how leather should smell, how a V-8 should sound and respond, how the steering should feel - and the absolute neglect of more logical areas like interior ergonomics and exterior panel gaps? Seriously, the panel gaps on this $82,075 XJ are about on par with the ten-year-old Pontiac sitting in my garage (don't judge). And three years after I first experienced Jaguar's climate, radio, and navigation interface, I find it as pokey as ever. Only now it's lost all novelty since even Kia Rios have touchscreens these days.
That said, I'm a right-brained person - messy desk and all - and I put the XJ atop the very impressive list of full-size luxury sedans. Its most amazing feat is the way it shrinks around the driver. Somehow, this long wheelbase wood and leather palace feels as nimble and eager as the midsize XF, which is itself exceptionally agile. Surely the aluminum construction helps - the XJL weighs some 500(!) pounds less than a BMW 750Li - as does the increasingly rare, lag-free normally aspirated engine. But the car's also been tuned in a way that's good bordering on magical. Take, for instance, the transmission. It's the same ZF automatic you see in many other luxury sedans, and yet in the Jaguar it's uniquely quick and adept at intuiting what the driver wants. And even in sport mode, where I tend to leave it, it's never jumpy or overaggressive. Same goes for the steering and suspension, which find a sport/comfort balance that seems to elude competitors including, oh, everyone. Really, this is the same company that can't figure out how to fit sheetmetal panels more closely together?
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Our test car had white paint over navy blue seats with light gray piping, and the effect was absolutely scrumptious. Jaguar designers have led the way in redefining what a luxury-sedan interior can look like, and more power to them, I say. There's nothing somber or businesslike about this interior; instead, it's joyful. It borders on outrageous, even, but it's still tasteful and lovely. It's like a bespoke Savile Row suit made of a colorful plaid fabric and lined with a bright swath of silk: meant to be noticed, but elegant and classy and welcome in the most rarefied company. Inside the XJ, huge panels of wood on the doors sweep into the big strip of wood just below the windshield: I love it. The car itself is refined, divine, with a particularly compelling combination of luxury, comfort, and athleticism. Body control is very good for such a big car. It's a beautifully crafted vehicle. The digital gauges are even quite charming. One wonders what they'll be like when the car is ten years old, but right now they're lovely. How many times am I going to say the word "lovely" about this car?'
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Whether I approached it from outside or letting my eyes inhale it from within the cabin, the XJ affirmed itself as the correct choice for our 2011 Design of the Year. The car is beautiful, and stands testament to everything that Jaguar was, and now is again. The instrument panel is intriguing on multiple levels. I agree with Joe, the color scheme of this test model was pure royalty. This is a big car -- no, it's a REALLY big car, but it did not feel like one from behind the wheel. The Portfolio badging I did not quite get. Rather, every time I saw it I thought, "I need to update my investments."
Kelly Murphy, Creative Director
Dynamically, the XJ is Jaguar's most impressive vehicle. It's an enormous car, but from behind the wheel it manages to feel light and nimble. It wafts down the road effortlessly -- power flows smoothly and prodigiously from the burly 5.0-liter V-8 -- and never loses composure even on rough surfaces or when pushed hard.
It may not be considered beautiful by everyone, but it has an undeniable presence that is imposing but not garish. And, despite looking thoroughly original, it manages to look undeniably like a Jaguar. The XJ's interior feels special, almost bespoke; so much so that I actually felt strangely underdressed in my jeans on my drive home.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
How can you not love a car like the XJ? Not only is it lovely to look at and lovely to sit in, it's no slouch when you're moving down the road. The XJ's exterior proportions are so spot on that they make what is actually a very large car (it barely fits nose to tail in my garage) look lithe and athletic. Sit in the interior, and you're enveloped by leather and wood that convey a feeling of utter decadence. There are more powerful engines in the XJ lineup, but the 385 horsepower produced by the 5.0-liter V-8 is more than sufficient to move this large sedan with elan. I have a real soft spot for the XJ because it has a way of reducing the stress level even after a long, taxing day.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor