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Jaguar's come a long way from its baroque recent past. Starting with the 2007 XJ and proceeding with the 2009 XF, its cars transformed from museum pieces into striking works of art. The big XJ sedan underwent the change in life in 2011, and this year it's back in all its glory.
The formerly frumpy XJ is now all about chic, and it's clear the do-or-die ethos inside Jaguar was the only thing that could have brought us the stunning, sexy XJ. Part Aston and part XF, the biggest Jaguar is now its boldest offering, with a prominent mesh grille, and a roofline that looks as strong and delicate as an arched bridge. Some of the details win, and some elude us: the blacked-out rear roof pillar should be brushed aluminum, which is what the XJ is made of. And the rear end is so elemental, it's almost understyled, with long, thin taillamps draped down the decklid in a fussy, arty way. Inside, the XJ's Hollywood all the way, with bubbly air vents, a pop-up transmission controller and wide panels of wood trim on concave door panels. It distills lots of current Jaguar themes, but sometimes the materials don't hold up as well to the touch as they do to the eyes.
With a six-speed automatic delivering power from a V-8 engine, with or without supercharging, the rear-drive XJ has a lightness and a dynamic edge compared to its rivals, mostly stemming from the actual light weight of its aluminum architecture. We're entertained as hell by its demeanor, even if it's the base 385-horsepower V-8 in the XJ and XJL. Throw on the supercharger, and let the good times whine to 470 hp or even 510 hp in the Supersport, and we're all in. The base car cuts down 0-60 mph runs in 5.4 seconds; with the supercharged 470-hp engine, it's down to 4.9 seconds. The Supersport nails them flat at 4.7 seconds. All versions are limited to a top speed of 155 mph, but new Sport and Speed packs with new aero tweaks are allowed to venture up to 174 mph, where you'll find unlimited Audis and BMWs and Benzes, not coincidentally.
That aluminum structure builds in a deft handling edge that's purer than in some other luxury cars. The XJ lacks some of the endless electronic modulations that bedevil some German sedans, though there are sport buttons for both the electronic shocks and the engine/transmission/steering combination. The Brit's better for it, as the XJ has more predictable reflexes, without the wild handling tangents of its competition.Big ventilated disc brakes with anti-lock, brake drying and good pedal feel match the XJ's crisp new feel, and Z-rated tires of up to 20 inches stick tenaciously. The long-storied ride isolation of Jaguar is history, replaced by an athletic, taut feel.
Even the XJ's seats play a role in that feel, and so does the daring roofline. Together, the physical closeness of the XJ's interior makes it feel more sporting. The seats are firmer and flatter, with more adjustments and heating and ventilation, but there's less head and leg room in front and, especially, in back. It's tight at the knees on either side of the front console, but leg room is lavish, especially on long-wheelbase cars. The sunroof slims down headroom in front, and in back, the XJ really isn't comfortable for adults six feet tall or more. Trunk space is the largest in the class, but smaller than the bin in the Ford Taurus.Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the new sedan. The new car also sports six airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, as before. There's a blind-spot alert system built into each XJ, and adaptive cruise control is option. A rearview camera is standard.
The 2012 Jaguar XJ comes in four versions: base 385-hp trim, in either short- or long-wheelbase bodies; with a supercharger, 470 hp, and a long wheelbase; and as an XJ Supersport, with 510 horsepower and a $3000 surcharge if you want to supersize into the long-wheelbase version. All cars come with a panoramic 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. We'd demand the thrillingly clear 1200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audiophile system, but wonder if its bass is enough for today's listeners. Best of all the features--and standard--is Jaguar's service plan, which pays for everything except gas and tires for the first five years or 50,000 miles of use.
- Glam new look
- Muscular drivetrains
- More LCDs than Best Buy
- Relatively light, and feels like it
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- Standout roofline has sore-thumb D-pillar
- Rear headroom not so regal
- Some trim is glitzy, not luxurious