Very rarely are vehicle designers recognized for saving a brand, but Ian Callum may have single-handedly put Jaguar back on the map with his designing abilities. Although Callum joined Jaguar in 1999 when it was still a division of Ford Motor Company, his design presence wasn't truly felt until the debut of the 2006 Jaguar XK coupe and convertible followed by the Jaguar XF mid-size luxury sedan. Now, Callum is responsible for penning the 2011 Jaguar XJ which finally gives Jaguar a proper flagship to compete against a growing number of full-size luxury sedans. I recently had the chance to drive the mid-level 2011 Jaguar XJ Supercharged, and while its power and luxury are dead on for the competition, the styling is what will make this flagship sedan stand apart from the competition.
Not only is the new Jaguar XJ going up against mainstream rivals like the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Audi A8, but it is also going to be cross-shopped against a more upscale breed of luxury sedans like the Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Rapide and the Maserati Quattroporte. While the base 2011 XJ has a starting price of $71,650 that puts in inline with the 7 Series and the Lexus LS, stepping up to the $86,650 price tag of the XJ Supercharged delivers stunning performance practically unheard of among sub-$100,000 luxury sedans.
The overall shape and design of the XJ has been the same essentially since the car was introduced back in 1968. Much like the classic styling of the Land Rover Range Rover, the XJ has evolved only slightly over the first three generations, but Callum threw all that out the window by using the 2007 Jaguar C-XF Concept as inspiration for the totally new design. One of the best elements of the car that is instantly recognizable is the sleek, coupe-like roofline, but every aspect of the car is stunning and in some way makes the car better as a whole. Up front, the narrow headlamps and large, upright grille give the XJ a more aggressive face while subtle body lines and creases help punctuate the elegant styling. Even the rear of the car is a stark departure from past XJ designs with a short decklid and vertical taillights. All Jaguar XJ models blacked-out C-pillars, but since this test car came in Ultimate Black Metallic (very close to Ford's Tuxedo black), this somewhat controversial design element was negated. Like the previous XJ, the 2011 model is available with a standard 119.4-inch wheelbase on the XJ or a stretched 124.3-inch wheelbase on the XJL.
The new design of the XJ finally gives Jaguar a modern-looking flagship, but the true test for any full-size luxury sedan is the interior. Just about every inch of the cabin is either lined with a rich leather, wood accent or sturdy metallic finish with this car coming in black leather with contrasting ivory-colored stitching and piping and Burl walnut trim with a cream-colored Alcantara headliner. Other wood veneer options include the choice of satin elm, figured ebony and rich oak, but a carbon fiber trim is also available for an additional $1,500. Our car also had the dual panel sunroof and the 20-speaker, 1200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system with HD radio and Dolby Pro Logic IIx.
Matching the high-quality materials, the new XJ also features a stylish design and plenty of cabin tech that helps make this car just as much fun for the passengers as it is for the driver. The front passengers benefit from heated, cooled and massaging seats, while the rear occupants get up to 44.1 inches of rear legroom on the XJL. One of the coolest features inside the car is the digital instrument cluster that is blank when the car is off and features three clear gauges and a small information display screen. All XJ models come standard with a 30-gigabyte hard drive system, navigation, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming and a media hub that offers two USB ports, an aux jack and a power outlet in the center console storage area. Available later this fall, the XJ will also offer Jaguar's Interactive Voice system that allows the driver to make voice commands for most of the car's functions including the navigation and Bluetooth systems. The design, materials and cabin tech inside the XJ will all put some real heat on the 7 Series and S-Class.
Base XJ models offer plenty of luxury with a competitive price, but drivers looking for a little more excitement will want to check out the XJ Supercharged (as a starting point). This supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 produces 470 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque that are sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Yes, some of the competitors are offering seven- and even eight-speed automatics in this segment, but the XJ's gearbox helps add to the overall sportiness. The EPA has not yet released its official fuel economy estimates for the 2011 Jaguar XJ Supercharged, but Jaguar claims that it will get a respectable 18 miles per gallon in combined driving. Unlike Mercedes-Benz and BMW, Jaguar doesn't appear to have any plans of offering a hybrid version of its flagship.
When it comes to full-size luxury sedans, performance isn't much if the car doesn't handle properly, and the XJ handles surprisingly well due to a relatively low curb weight. Thanks to its aluminum construction, this XJ Supercharged tips the scales at 4,172 pounds which is significantly lighter than the comparable Mercedes-Benz S600 (by 778 pounds), BMW 760i (by 392 pounds) and the Aston Martin Rapide (by 127 pounds). That kind of weight advantage is noticeable in cornering as well as acceleration. Jaguar claims the XJ Supercharged can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 4.9 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph. For a sportier ride, the XJ's Sport Dynamic mode changes many of the car's driving characteristics by tightening up the shift points, throttle response and suspension tuning. The attitude of the XJ changes as well with the digital gauges adding a red background for a meaner look and slight automatic tightening of the driver's seat belt.
If this kind of performance isn't enough for XJ drivers, Jaguar also offers the new XJ Supersport as the top model to compete against performance-tuned versions of its competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG and the Porsche Panamera Turbo. This souped-up XJ comes with the same supercharged V-8 as the Jaguar XFR and XKR, which produces 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. The XJ Supersport also improves acceleration from zero to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds.
So what else do Jaguar and Callum have up their sleeves after a trio of beautiful cars over the last four years? Recent rumors indicate that Jaguar might be on the verge of introducing a sports coupe smaller than the XK that could go up against cars such as the Porsche 911 and the Audi R8. Nothing has been officially confirmed by Tata Motors (current owner of Jaguar and Land Rover), but some are indicating that the new model could be similar to the 2000 Jaguar F-Type Concept.
Matheny Imports, Inc. provided the vehicle for this road test review.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross