New & Used Jaguar XJ: In Depth
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Jaguar’s XJ sedan is a full-size luxury four-door with a performance-bred pedigree. It’s Jaguar’s largest and most luxurious vehicle, and one of its most high-impact designs, with an aggressive fastback profile and a rakish front end.
Along with the earlier mid-size XF, the radically restyled XJ reset expectations for what had come to be seen as an aging and irrelevant brand overshadowed by its Land Rover and Range Rover siblings.
The Jaguar XJ is a large four-door sedan that was redesigned in 2011 and given new drivetrain choices for 2013. For the 2013 model year the XJ received both optional all-wheel drive and a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine--features it desperately needed to broaden its appeal to buyers in cold climates, not to mention those who didn't necessarily feel the need for a V-8 in their large luxury sedan. The new V-6 offers 340 horsepower and up to 28 miles per gallon highway fuel economy. As it has for many years, the Jaguar XJ competes with the Audi A8, the BMW 7-Series, and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Jaguar has added special editions of the current XJ, such as the Portfolio. For the 2013 model year, the limited-edition, long-wheelbase XJL Ultimate, priced from $155,875, also entered the U.S. Only 30 examples were imported, and Jaguar called the model a “high-performance bespoke limousine.” An actual high-performance model was made available for the 2014 model year, the Jaguar XJR.
But to understand the Jaguar XJ and its place among large luxury sedans, a little history is required. Since 1968, there have been five generations of the Jaguar XJ. Over time they have ranged from avant garde, to stuffy traditional, back to avant garde with the XJ just released in the 2011 model year.
The first generation was a very long-lived model that debuted in 1968 and ran all the way through to 1986. The "Series III" of 1979 might be considered a second generation by itself, or perhaps a very heavily edited first, with a new roofline and sheetmetal, and changes to virtually every other component. Six- and twelve-cylinder models, and a distinct Daimler version were made, as well as a two-door coupe.
The original and classic XJ design was updated to poor effect, in 1973, then again more comprehensively in 1979. The underlying vehicle had a very long shelf life, despite poorly executed additions, but those weren't the XJ's biggest problems. Despite its lovely ride and compact size, the XJ's meager interior space and electrical problems made it temperamental at best--which makes used XJs an absolute handful and remarkably expensive to maintain in their original state. Some of the mechanical problems, if not the electrical ones, were solved in the day with popular kits that allowed the adaptation of a small-block Chevy V-8 engine to replace the sixes or V-12s originally fitted.
With the second generation, developed under the code name XJ40, Jaguar tried to correct the flaws while preserving the XJ's leaner shape, lower stance and swinging image. Square headlamps didn't help, but this XJ soldiered on through 1994, with V-12 and long-wheelbase versions emerging toward the end of its life.
In 1989, Jaguar had been acquired by the Ford Motor Company, and Ford's influence showed up in a revised version of the second-generation XJ in 1994. The XJ reverted to a circular-headlamp theme, returning a bit of heritage to its style. More important were dramatic changes to the manufacturing process at Jaguar HQ; a noticeable improvement in quality came with the new version, and quality continued to improve under Ford ownership. Jaguar also added its first supercharged car, the XJ6R, in this time frame. In a final touch-up before its dramatic reinvention in 2004, Jaguar retouched the XJ in 1997, adding its first V-8 engine and a five-speed automatic to supercharged versions, as well as a new interior.
The third-generation Jaguar XJ emerged in the 2004 model year, completely reworked with new aluminum construction techniques--bonded and riveted like airplane fuselages--that transformed the car's structural quality. Strangely, Jaguar gave the 2004-2010 XJ an even more traditional look than its predecessor, and it virtually fell off the radar among luxury-car buyers faced with avant garde new mdoels of the BMW 7-Series and the Audi A8. Still, the XJ's performance never was better, with V-8 and supercharged V-8 engines mated with one of the first six-speed automatics ever built. Reliability was so improved, Jaguar leaped to the top of quality ratings from J.D. Power; rear-seat room was so improved, adults found ample space in back. In all, the switch to aluminum gave the Jaguar some of the lightness it desperately needed to distinguish itself.
With the fundamentals in place, Jaguar set out on a radical path for the fourth-generation 2011 XJ. Ditching the formal look, the newest four-door looks utterly modern, from its rakish front end to the sexy kicked-up tail. The cabin wears lots of gloss piano-black trim, leather, wood and chrome--and though it sacrifices some space for the roofline, it's still a usefully roomy sedan. Handling and steering are superb, deft, light to the touch. And with a choice of a 385-horsepower V-8 or a 510-hp supercharged V-8, straight-line performance is thrilling.
In 2013, the XJR joined the range, offering a 550-horsepwoer version of the supercharged V-8, as well as suspension, styling, and interior upgrades.