2011 Jaguar XJ Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 7, 2010

The 2011 Jaguar XJ severs ties with its past, and rocks a mod new look that suits its dynamic personality.

Scratch those ideas and notions you've been harboring about Jaguar as past its prime. It's only just coming into it. The XK? Fantastic on all fronts. The XF? A stunner, and a true challenger to the E-Class and 5-Series, at long last.

But what about the big, frumpy XJ? Ah, that's the best hook of the story. Jaguar's ditched the XJ's old hoop skirts and semi-Victorian garb for some ultra-chic evening wear, convincingly evoking swinging London and hipster L.A. more than anything you've ever seen wearing its initials.

Frankly, it's long overdue--the XJ felt completely modern when it switched to an aluminum body in 2004--but now it's at long last a stunning, sexy sedan true to the current Jaguar form. And with the sheen of performance layered on by a marvelous 5.0-liter V-8, it's at the very top of any luxury sedan shopper's must-drive list.

Review continues below
9

2011 Jaguar XJ

Styling

The XJ's exciting new styling direction only takes one or two wrong turns.

There’s not much to prepare the unprepared for the 2011 Jaguar XJ’s new avant-garde silhouette.

The last time around, Jaguar played it too safe. The 2004 XJ bore a striking resemblance to, of all things, a Buick LeSabre. The new version’s part Aston Rapide, part Jaguar XF, with some kinky details highlighting (or spoiling) its drawn-long shape.

All the old XJ's upright lines are discarded for a low, sleek roofline. Fenders swell along curvaceous lines like the 2007 XK coupe and convertible and vertical taillamps get LED lighting. It’s a bold reimagination—and a clever one too, since the car sits on an identical wheelbase and is only marginally longer and wider.

Three details stand out: the D-pillar is blacked out to create a floating-roof look, but it jars the eye, disturbing the XJ's elegance more than it enhances it. Maybe if it’s eventually stripped bare and polished smooth down to its aluminum substrate, it’ll make sense. The second detail is a massive glass sunroof that opens the XJ cabin to light--and glare from its gauges and flashy trim. Third, those distinctive hockey-stick taillamps. Most dislike them on first glance, but they lift the XJ's tail and do more to evoke a sort of French sensibility that trumps the same influences in the sleek Mercedes-Benz CLS. Tally them up and there's real visual interest, and mostly, home runs.

Inside, Jaguar promises all that sunroof transparency gives the transformed interior a modern, informed look. The bubbled-up air vents, the pop-up transmission controller and wide bands of wood on the doors and dash neatly distill the themes of the other Jaguar cars, with notable side adventures. A leather headliner, upgraded leather seats and laser-inlaid wood trim and new custom trim options bring nouveau opulence to the game. In all it's a decadent place to sit--but the liberal use of piano-black plastic and metallic trim is one of those taste borderlines that might have been tripped over. The stuff's a fingerprint magnet, for sure. Then again, so's an Apple iPad.

While we're picking nits, the XJ's dash clearly saved time by keeping the former car's structure. We'll admire the efficiency and maybe even swallow the styling line about the big band of wood on the dash echoing the lines of a luxury speedboat, but we're just as inclined to see a lot of Nissan Maxima in the way it's carved out a lot of the old dash's visual heft.

You should also be a technophile if you plan on savoring the XJ's electronic platter of delights. The gauges and secondary controls all but abandon real dials for a large high-definition LCD screen that displays all the usual functions, while also changing colors subtly to indicate performance driving modes with a soft red glow. There's also an LCD touchscreen that interfaces driver and climate, audio and navigation functions without using buttons. It's all very Starship: Enterprise, not at all Jefferson Starship in the way the old XJ might have handled the same cues. (Still you have to know, as they say on Delta Air Lines, that it's a touchscreen, not a punch-screen.)

9

2011 Jaguar XJ

Performance

Amazing acceleration and nimble handling come with almost no penalty.

In the XJ, Jaguar pairs its latest V-8 engines with a six-speed paddle-shifted automatic, a relatively lightweight body and an independent suspension -- and entertains the hell out of drivers with the resulting mechanical symphony.

The engines are all derived from the new 5.0-liter V-8 also found in the 2010 Jaguar XF and the XK. There’s a base version with 385 horsepower in the XJ and XJL; a supercharged version with 470 horsepower in either body style; and a supercharged 510-horsepower flavor for the built-to-order XJ Supersport. As the XJ is elsewhere, the engine's far more upfront about its intentions: it's not syrupy or quiet, but quite direct and mechanical in its sound and in its ass-whomping ability. The base car will execute 0-60 mph runs in 5.4 seconds; with the supercharged 470-hp engine, it'll take only 4.9 seconds; and in the Supersport it's estimated at just 4.7 seconds. All versions are limited to a top speed of 155 mph.

The best information gleaned from the official press information: there's no performance penalty whatsoever from the long-wheelbase car and its 50 additional pounds of weight. It's longer, so the very fast and very light power steering (donated by the XFR) gets some tamping-down. Otherwise, it's a win-win-win, if you count acceleration, ride and handling all in a trio.

On most all performance fronts, the 2011 XJ is blessedly innocent of the worst electronic crimes against ride and handling. You've seen other luxury sedans crippled by too many sensors, too many variables, too much engineering attention. Here's it's more simple: the XJ gets an independent suspension with coils up front and links in back, electronically adjustable air springs in back, and an electronically controlled rear differential on supercharged cars. To fine-tune these settings, JaguarDrive Control allows owners to choose Normal, Dynamic and Winter settings to adjust throttle, steering, transmission and ride quality. Limiting their scope is an enlightened move by a small company that can't pour on the transistors like, say, Lexus. The XJ's better for it: its reflexes are more pure, more predictable, and like Aston Martin's minimal electronic adjustments, there's no wild tangential feel to the individual modes. They're related way more closely than, say, the settings programmed into Audi's chuck-it-now Drive Select system.

Big ventilated disc brakes with anti-lock, brake drying and good pedal feel match the XJ's crisp new feel. And Z-rated tires on 19- or 20-inch wheels stick admirably--though you'll certainly notice the long, storied reputation of Jaguar ride has also been ditched for a taut, athletic feel. The air mattress is gone; long live the Tempur-Pedic precision.

 

 

8

2011 Jaguar XJ

Comfort & Quality

Room abounds, but the rear seat and trunk are a bit tight, and there's plenty of "piano-black" plastic to go around in the 2011 XJ.

With aluminum body panels bonded and riveted to an aluminum space frame, the 2011 Jaguar XJ is substantially lighter than the competition—though with new features, the difference is diminished somewhat. The XJ weighs in at roughly 4300 pounds, which the company claims is 250 pounds less than its lightest competitor, the BMW 750Li--and hundreds less than the big Benz S-Class. There's about 12,000 aluminum cans' worth of recycled metal in the XJ's body structure, which sounds like a long weekend of tailgating NASCAR to us. 

The XJ also has a little less room inside than you might expect, since its roofline and aluminum body dictate some leaner proportions than vertically inclined, steel-bodied cars like the Lexus LS. The interior has roughly the same cubic feet as before, but it's shallower than other luxury liners. Front-seat passengers will notice it less, but the XJ does get a bit tight at the knees. Leg room isn't the issue in front, nor in back--especially on long-wheelbase versions, which get 5 inches more rear legroom. It's in headroom where the packaging draws attention to itself; if you're tall of torso and short of leg, you might connect with the headliner in the rear seat at all times, like I did. The seats themselves are flatter and less cushy than in the past, too--though up front there are 20-way power adjustments, and front and back, Jaguar offers massaging and heating functions.

Jaguar says the 18.4-cubic-foot trunk is the biggest in its class, and has a power-closing decklid. Ford's newest Taurus has more interior room and shorter overall length, but its trunk is bigger. That skimpy Jag tail exacts a bit of a penalty.

You'd never mistake the XJ for the Taurus in any other way, particularly inside. Thicker glass and a stouter body damp out noise even more than before, with just the bare ripple of road and engine noise evident. They're practically smothered by all the leather, wood and chrome surfaces. We're not sure, again, that the black trim and glitzy chrome conveys as much evanescent "quality" feel as it should, but in our two test cars, the XJ seemed to have the fit and finish of an $80,000 sedan. If the stock finishes aren't enough, Jaguar will install a leather headliner and semi-aniline leather seats--among the nine wood and interior colors you can choose, along with aluminum or gloss trim.

9

2011 Jaguar XJ

Safety

Neither crash-test group has checked in, but the XJ has a sturdy aluminum body.

It's too early to tell if the 2011 Jaguar XJ will sport a perfect safety record. So far, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the new sedan.

We're giving credit here to the XJ's stout aluminum construction, which is essentially the same as the structure of the Boeing 767 we flew to Los Angeles to drive the new XJ. Bonded and riveted aluminum makes for a very, very strong passenger cell.

The structure's basic goodness is amplified by a good complement of safety equipment. The new car also sports six airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, as before. The new XJ’s stability control loosens its apron strings a bit when the car’s Dynamic mode is chosen.

There's a blind-spot alert system built into each XJ--a blinking light in the side mirrors that alerts you when cars approach in side lanes. Adaptive cruise control is option. However, Jaguar doesn't frip around with electronics that steer you back in your lane, or e-spresso cups that grab your attention when you wander on the road in a tired stupor. Each car does have a rearview camera, though--which helps mitigate the XJ's somewhat dodgy visibility to the rear.

9

2011 Jaguar XJ

Features

iPhone connections, Bluetooth and distinct wood and leather trims make up for some cutting-edge tech left on the cutting-room floor.

Jaguar offers the 2011 XJ in four versions: as a base $72,500 XJ; as the $79,500 XJL; as the $90,500 XJL Supercharged; and as the luscious $112,000 XJ Supersport (with a $3000 surcharge for the long-wheelbase Supersport.)

Among the standard features in the new 2011 XJ are the big panorama sunroof; an AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3/HD/Sirius/30GB hard drive audio system; USB connectivity and Bluetooth stereo audio; a navigation system with voice control; and automatic climate control. The XJL versions add a four-zone climate control; all cars get ventilated front and heated rear seats, while massaging front seats and ventilated rear seats are standard or available on all versions.

The most impressive option—aside from custom trim options for the interior—likely will be the 1200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audiophile system. It's an orgy for technophiles--and superior in its class, up with the Bang & Olufsen system in the Aston Martin Rapide for its sonic and visual impact.

Maybe the most important feature is Jaguar's new premium owner care. The company pays for everything you'll use except gas and tires for the first five years or 50,000 miles--and extends the same coverage to buyers of other new Jaguars, too.

 

 

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Styling 9.0
Performance 9.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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