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The Jaguar XJ is the plus-size model in the British brand's lineup--but that doesn't make it hefty. Mostly made of aluminum body sections, the XJ has a lighter feel and nimble handling for such a large car--and the daring, charismatic styling to match its manners.
This latest XJ demands attention in a way it never had before its 2011 revamp. That at last makes it a solid rival to the likes of the S-Class, A8, and 7-Series.Last year, the XJ expanded its appeal with a new V-6 and available all-wheel drive; and now for 2014, a high-performance XJR model rejoins the lineup, for the first time in four model years.
Whereas the former XJ was stuck in an era of doilies and high tea, the current XJ drops the need for caffeine entirely. It starts with a fresh, contemporary design, including a drop-dead gorgeous roofline, a sail-away rear pillar, and runway-model sensibilities, from its embossed grille to its bugle-beaded LED taillamps. The rear-end styling can be polarizing; its tucked-in look can look either understyled or delightfully different, depending on your eye. And the endless rings of brightwork inside could have used some censoring--or an option to tone that down a bit.
At the base level, the 2014 Jaguar XJ now has a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 340 horsepower. With 0-60 mph times of 5.7 seconds, it's nearly as quick as the supercharged V-8, yet with much better gas mileage (up to 27 mpg on the highway). The long-wheelbase model starts with the 385-hp V-8, which is noticeably better to the ears. Otherwise if you jump for one of the upper models--in XJ Supercharged or XJ Supersport models, you'll step up to supercharged 470-hp or 510-hp supercharged V-8s, respectively (and 0-60 in 4.7 seconds for the XJ Supersport. Most V-8 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.
Newly slotted into the top of the lineup is the high-performance XJR, which gets the top-output, 550-horsepower supercharged V-8 from the XFR-S, as well as a stiffer suspension, a front aero splitter, subtle rear spoiler, and various upgrades inside. This model can reach 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and has noticeably sharper powertrain response, with a more rev-happy version of the V-8.
Throughout the model line, the engines are mated to eight-speed ZF automatics, and shift quality is quick and smooth (save for too much downshift delay in Drive), with a more performance-oriented shift program in 'S' mode as well as a Dynamic mode that provides sharper shifts and some rev-matching (along with other important changes to the adaptive damping system and stability control). There's also new all-wheel drive with a rear torque bias: it's offered only on the long-wheelbase six-cylinder car, and with a low weight penalty, pits the Jaguar XJ with the long-offered AWD models from Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti, and Lexus. Jaguar however notes that this system is oriented for foul weather, not top performance.The XJ feels almost shockingly lean and light from behind the wheel, and if you compare it to other German luxury flagships it weighs several hundred pounds less. With an all-aluminum structure, it builds in a deft handling edge, and with this generation, the long-storied ride isolation of Jaguar is history, replaced by an athletic, taut feel. Factor in the adaptive damping system, however, and the electronics manage to filter out minor road imperfections without spoiling any of the fun. 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.
Inside, 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. There's one significant letdown, though; that's the limited headroom in back, due to a roofline that's just a bit lower than perhaps it should be.
Standard safety equipment is respectable, with six airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; there's also a blind-spot alert system built into each XJ, and adaptive cruise control is optional. But items like lane-keep systems, head-up displays, and night-vision systems--optional on the German flagship models--aren't anywhere to be seen here.
The 2014 Jaguar XJ, like the competition from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, spans a wide pricing range, from about $75k up to more than $150k for some versions. If technology is one of the primary means by which you judge a luxury car, you should probably walk away from the XJ. It's missing the sorts of world-first tech options you'll find on those rivals--and its infotainment and navigation systems are upstaged by vehicles costing a small fraction as much. That said, the XJ lineup will wow you in traditional ways, with unparalleled comfort, plush interior appointments, and stunning trims. The supple semi-aniline leather and real wood veneers go a long way; meanwhile heated front and rear seats, ventilated and massaging front seats, and ventilated rear seats are available on most versions. And with Jaguar's service plan paying for everything except gas and tires for the first five years or 50,000 miles, erasing that worry is an added luxury.