2012 Jaguar XJ Styling

9.0
Styling

If you're truly a fan of dowdy lines and frumpy cabins, the new Jaguar XJ must seem like an affront, compared to the last-generation car. The previous XJ had some of the most advanced technology in the world under its skin, but the skin itself seemed dated the day it launched.

With the 2011 redesign, the Jaguar XJ completely breaks with the recent past, and reclaims its heritage as an avant-garde piece of style. Part Jaguar XF, part Aston Rapide, it sculpts and tapers its way into an intriguing look that's about 99 percent flawless. The roofline is low, and sleek. Fenders swell around the wheels, turning them into visual punctuation. An embossed Jaguar grille pushes the brand in your face a little more emphatically, and LEDs on the rear end make the unaware enlightened that this is something new, and very distinctive.

Minus a wrong turn or two, the Jaguar XJ's styling moves smartly in the right direction.

Three details keep us coming back to dissect the XJ's styling. The massive glass sunroof drenches the cabin in sunlight, playing up its square feet of wood and chrome. The taillamps look jarring on the under-detailed rear end at first, but after time they lend the XJ a sort of French sensibility that pitches cachet above cliche. Lastly, there's the blacked-out roof pillar in back. If it were up to us, we'd call out the XJ's aluminum body and polish off the paint to expose the bare aluminum, but Jaguar prefers a smoky eye to a glamorous one, we guess.

The XJ's new interior looks modern and informed of the latest design trends, but here, more of the details leave us unimpressed. 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.)

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