From the Wall Street Journal
I clearly remember the moment nearly one year ago when I first laid eyes on Jaguar's new XJ sedan, and felt as though I'd been impaled on some gorgeous aluminum tusk. What a fantastic looking automobile. On any aesthetic scale you'd care to calibrate—modernity, chic, formal grace, raw carnality—this thing simply obliterates the competition, just grinds their bones. Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of Bavarians.
From that moment until this week, when I finally slid behind the wheel of the company's flagship sedan, I sort of held my breath. Recent Jaguars—the XK coupe and XF sedan—have been very decent cars but always felt as if they missed greatness by a few millimeters. The 2011 XJ couldn't possibly, as a machine, live up to all this sculptured sin.
WSJ's Rumble Seat columnist Dan Neil gives you a look at Jaguar's XJ, which he says could be bought on looks alone. But besides aesthetics, the XJ boasts technology and sophistication equal to its German counterparts.
It does. Actually, it's a monster. Hugely civilized, desperately fast, drenched in high-tech amenities and executed with the kind of spirit and joie de vivre than makes the competitive German products look positively Amish, the new Jag is now the presumptive favorite in the full-size premium sedan category. Put another way: If you buy anything else you need a dog and a white cane.
Of course, Jaguar—a relatively small firm and a veritable fountain of red ink, now owned by the Indian conglomerate Tata—does not have the engineering resources of Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. BMW probably has 100 engineers working on coin holders and glove-box dampers. The Jag doesn't offer the tomorrow tech of the Lexus LS600h hybrid. The XJ's lusty 5.0-liter V8s—naturally aspirated (385 horsepower) or supercharged (470 hp or 510 hp)—are not quite as highly evolved as BMW's twin-turbo powerplants, nor does the car offer as many forward gears as the eight-speed 7-series (the Jag has only six gears). I suppose in a five-way geek-off comparing the cars' navigation and multimedia consoles, the Jag's might not be quite as intuitive and refined.
If these small, technical matters are dispositive for you, then I urge you to get out of the house more often. The new XJ—I particularly like the long-wheelbase version (206.6 inches overall length, 5 inches longer than the standard-wheelbase car)—is a brilliant automobile and the rare example of a consumer item that reaches beyond design into art.
Here's a quick styling walkaround. The most pronounced element of the car is its rakish, coupe-like silhouette, which is a function of where the roofline lands on the rear deck. The car is almost a four-door fastback. The blacked-out rear pillars also have the effect of making the backlight, aka the rear window, look like a wraparound piece. The roof of the car is likewise almost completely black glass, flowing into the black surround of the windshield. And all of this provides a contrasting backdrop for the body-colored roof rails and the car's most heroic design flourish, the elongated chrome ellipse reaching around the side windows, a dramatic teardrop of mercury. There were moments I wanted to kiss this section of the car, or take it home and throw it in bed with me.
Inside the Jaguar XJ
Hugely civilized, desperately fast and drenched in high-tech amenities, the new Jaguar XJ is now the presumptive favorite in the full-size premium sedan category. Here's a closer look.
2011 JAGUAR XJ L SUPERCHARGED
Base price (and as tested): $90,500
Powertrain: Supercharged direct-injection 5.0-liter DOHC V8 with variable valve timing and variable inlet geometry; six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode; rear-wheel drive with electronic active rear differential
Horsepower/torque: 470 hp at 6,000-6,500/424 pound-feet at 2,500-5,500 rpm 0-60 mph: 4.9 seconds
Length/weight: 206.6 inches/4,323 pounds
Wheelbase: 124.3 inches
Cargo capacity: 18.4 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy: 17/21 mpg, city/highway
Jaguar yanks one out of the park with a car hugely beautiful, hugely sinister, just plain huge car. The reboot of the XJ is the most successful Jag design since the original E-Type, almost 50 years ago.
Electro-luxuries abound—an optional 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system, a glittering TFT virtual-driving-gauge display—but the most gratifying surfaces are organic: wood, leather, twill stitching.
Teardrop-Shaped, But Competitors Should Be Crying
Utterly distinctive, expressive, bold inside and out, the Jaguar renders previously provocative German cars such as the BMW 7-series, Audi A8 L and Mercedes S-class curiously inert. Lexus LS 460 L? How very, very droll.
Audacious taillights reach up over the rear fenders, on either side of the trunk opening. These are light-bar-style instruments, with a very cool yellow element in them for emergency flashers. From the rear-quarter angle the car sort of looks like the grand touring limousine that Citroën dared not build.
The other styling element—though it's really nothing so trivial—is the car's massiveness, its devastating width and stance. Forget teardrops and chrome bows. From a low side angle this thing is a torpedo, a hollow-point bullet scattering shards of moonbeams, a blunt hypodermic of adrenaline. It's completely bad-ass.
Jag's design team, led by Ian Callum, aimed for a total reboot of the car and of the brand with the XJ. No more blathering about headlight eyebrows and leaper hood ornaments, elements of the XJ that reach back for decades. They wanted to create an utterly new visual idiom for Jaguar. Mission accomplished. Honestly, as I sit here now I can't even remember what the old XJ looked like.
Not since the Cadillac CTS has a design team dared so much and won so much in the daring.
The XJ's interior is just as persuasive. The first thing you'll notice is the outrageous and elegant demi-luna of wood veneer that encircles the forward cabin, reaching above the leather dash in what the designers call a "Riva" line, a reference to the Italian luxury boat builders. Spot in the center, just below the windshield, is a small badge that says "Jaguar." The badge is intended to be personalized by owners, with laser-engraved versions of their signatures—or their spouse's name. You can even have designer Ian Callum's autograph there. Better check with the spouse first, though.
In the center of the dash is a prominent leather binnacle where two plated-aluminum climate outlets live, a very old-school, analog touch. Meanwhile, the conventional three-gauge instrument cluster has been replaced by a wonderfully high-tech 12.3-inch TFT (thin-film transistor) display offering what might be called gauge avatars. This display is packed with useful graphics and no small sense of humor. When the car is in its Sport Dynamic mode—stiffer suspension, higher shift points, more direct-feeling steering and throttle response—the gauges display a rosy nimbus. The "red mist," the Jag designers call it.
Suede-like Alcantara trims the ceiling all the way down the roof pillars, where it meets a very handsome loop carpet. There's not a inch of plastic evident in the car. Everything is handsomely wrapped in French-stitched leather, plated aluminum (such as the distinctive rotary-style gear selector), a piano-black finish—yes, I know it's really plastic!—or wood.
Put it all together, put the key fob in your pocket and push the Start button. How's it drive? Well, to answer that we need to go back to the cabin a moment. You'll note that for a big car the cabin isn't wildly spacious, and there's a reason. The XJ is built on an aerospace-style glued and riveted aluminum chassis, not steel. The benefit of aluminum is that it's quite light; the downside is that to carry similar loads as steel, aluminum-alloy pieces need to be bigger, to have a larger cross section. That cheats on cabin space a bit.
But you won't miss a couple of square inches when you're throwing the XJ around on back roads. The car I tested—the long-wheelbase supercharged version—weighs a relatively feathery 4,323 pounds, nearly 250 pounds lighter than the BMW 750 Li and a startling 800 pounds lighter than the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, which might be smuggling Fort Knox in the trunk.
And so, sure, while the Jag doesn't have four-corner air suspension (only in the rear) and lacks the BMW's ultra-smart multisetting chassis-control system, the Jag has something for which no amount of silicon can compensate: lightness. The lighter the car, the more honest the handling, the more predictable and secure its transitional behavior, the more satisfying it is to drive hard. The heavier the car, the more unappeasable mass there is to pivot around the roll axis, the more ugly rebound. Ugh. I hate heavy cars.
The XJ L S/C, on the other hand, is a howling riot to throw around, with tremendously assured cornering and high-speed grip, powerful and fade-free braking, and general willingness to answer the helm without a lot of intervening computers grabbing the wheel. "Yar," I think Katharine Hepburn called it. Jag figures the naturally aspirated V8 is enough to send the standard-wheelbase car to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. The S/C can get there in under five seconds. Jag will also sell a few set-to-kill XJ's with a peakier supercharged engine—the SuperSport model—and that car will motor to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, on the strength of 510 hp.
It's no secret Jag is climbing back into this segment of the market after years of nearly criminal neglect. The XJ is a tremendous car, but it seems clear management isn't quite sure it can count on virtue alone. And so the seriously aggressive price: $72,500 for the base car (standard wheelbase, naturally aspirated). In the U.S. market, the volume car will be the long-wheelbase car, the XJ L, with the base V8. That goes out the door handsomely equipped at a mere $79,500—and Jag is getting it in the neck when it comes to currency exchange. The car I tested, the XJ L S/C, is grand theft auto at $90,500. There are plenty of options to be had, and a choice of 14 paint and 14 leather colors, as well as a selection of nine wood veneers and five headliner colors.
I couldn't be happier. I was fully prepared to shovel dirt on the big cat but it seems, proverbially, another life has come round for Jaguar. Meow.
Write to Dan Neil at firstname.lastname@example.org
Labels: 2011 jaguar xj, merritt island jaguar, review, test drive, wall street journal