For years, it appeared that the chaps at Jaguar and Land Rover were having a contest to see which design could last longer, the Jaguar XJ or the Land Rover Range Rover. Fortunately (for both iconic vehicles), Ian Callum came along and transformed Jaguar’s flagship sedan from an aging artifact into a timeless beauty. Although the term “luxury sedan” seems to be used pretty loosely around the industry these days, the reinvented Jaguar XJ is a stunning display of lavish luxury mixed in with a sexy design and exhilarating performance.
The 2011 Jaguar XJ is essentially offered in six flavors (three trim levels and two wheelbase lengths) ranging from the “base” XJ which starts at $72,700 up to the XJL Supersport that tips the price scales at $113,200. Right in the middle is the XJ Supercharged that was used for this review with its $87,700 starting price; after factoring options and the destination charge, this car had an as-tested price of $88,950. Buying a car like the Jaguar XJ doesn’t come cheap, but Jaguar has priced the XJ Supercharged competitively enough that it undercuts some cars in this class that are far less sporty and can’t compete with the sexy styling. Jaguar tossed us the keys to its sleek new XJ to show us what life is like when a car delivers as much beauty and as it does brawn.
The styling of recent Jaguar XJ models could easily be called “stagnant retro” as the exterior design changed little since the car was introduced back to 1968, but Ian Callum, Jaguar’s lead designer also responsible for the XK and XF, started with a clean slate to deliver a new Jaguar flagship that looks as elegant as it does aggressive. One of the key design elements ditched from the previous XJ models was the quad headlight look that has become a staple of the XJ, and in place of this signature cue, Callum went to a recent concept vehicle for inspiration in this new model’s design. The front end of the new XJ is based largely 2007 Jaguar C-XF Concept and it helps build a new family resemblance with the Jaguar XF starting with the scowling headlights that give the car a mean attitude. Another signature cue on the 2011 XJ is a grille that is about twice the size of the outgoing model with a large Jaguar badge prominently displayed against a background of chrome mesh. As many changes that were made for this new design, one of the most notable is the fact that Jaguar’s iconic “Leaper” no longer graces the hood, but it can be found on the decklid.
While the old XJ designs were defined by their classic styling, the new Jaguar XJ is defined by its subtle body lines and the sleek, coupe-like roofline. One cue that has proven to be one of the most controversial elements on the XJ is the blacked-out C-pillars, but with such a swept roofline, these accents actually help make the narrow rear window appear to be larger giving the car less of a tank-like look from the rear. Getting the XJ in a black color eliminates the discussion about the C-pillars, but this car came in Jaguar’s Vapour Grey which helped complement the car’s sexy body lines. This test vehicle was a standard-wheelbase model, but even on the long-wheelbase XJL model, which stretches the wheelbase from 119.4 inches to 124.3 inches, the sleekness and sexiness of the car’s roofline is not lost.
While the exterior design gives the 2011 Jaguar XJ a sport sedan look, the interior is all about luxury and technology. The 2011 Jaguar XJ gives occupants a warm welcome with an abundance of leather surfaces, wood accent trims and even soft, suede-like Alcantara on the headliner and pillar trim. For the driver, starting the XJ is almost as fun as driving the car with the push-button starter bringing Jaguar’s leaping logo up on to the virtual gauges at the same time the engine lets out a deep, throaty growl. Matching the high-quality materials, the new XJ also features plenty of comfort and cabin tech that helps make this car just as much fun for the passengers as it is for the driver such as the heated, cooled and massaging seats available to the front passengers and heated and cooled seats for the rear, outboard passengers. Even on this standard-wheelbase XJ there is plenty of space for rear passengers, but the stretched-wheelbase XJL model is still available for added luxury which puts an additional 4.9 inches between the front and rear wheels giving rear-seat occupants a little more than five inches of extra legroom. All 2011 XJ models feature laminated windshield and door glass to make the cabin surprisingly quiet even at high speeds.
Compared to the cabin tech offered in the Lexus LS, the XJ is obviously at a disadvantage, but the lack of self-parking systems is quickly forgotten the first time the 20-speaker, 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system comes to life. This audio system is standard on the XJ Supercharged as is the dual panel panoramic sunroof with electronic shades that can be closed individually. 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. One of the best tech features on the new XJ is the 12.3-inch virtual gauges that also house displays for the audio system, navigation system and Jaguar’s Interactive Voice control. This unique feature allows the car to have more of a personality especially when in the different modes of the JaguarDrive Control system; in Dynamic mode, the gauges add a little red to the background while the Winter mode turns blue.
Many critics have panned the XJ for its virtual gauges, but my issues with the interior had to do with some of the quirky features of the cabin such as the touch sensitive glove box button and the rising gear selector which seem out of place in this otherwise flawlessly elegant cabin. Another gripe I had with the interior were the glare-inducing heating elements embedded into the windshield. For people living in cold-weather climates where a quickly de-iced windshield is a luxury, this feature will most likely offset this minor inconvenience, and fortunately, this is an a la carte option ($375) so those buying a new XJ can choose as they see fit.
The 2011 Jaguar XJ has yet to be tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it still comes standard with plenty of safety features. All 2011 Jaguar XJ models include six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, cornering brake control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system, Electronic Traction Control (ETC) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC).
All 2011 Jaguar XJ models use the same 5.0-liter V-8, but the XJ Supercharged uses a twin vortex supercharger and water-cooled intercoolers to deliver stunning performance practically unheard of among sub-$100,000 luxury sedans. This engine not only produces 470 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque, but it also puts out a wonderful sound when reaching its peak power band. Speaking of sounds, when the Sport mode is chosen on the gear selector and the Dynamic mode is engaged, the exhaust emits a glorious exhaust note that is throaty and grumbly – even better during deceleration. An even more enjoyable aspect of this particular selection is that the XJ is at its quickest with Jaguar stating an acceleration time from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 4.9 seconds to go with a top speed of 155 mph. With all this power, the 2011 XJ Supercharged still manages to be competitive in terms of fuel economy with official EPA estimates of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.
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. Weighing in at 4,172 pounds, this XJ Supercharged is no lightweight, but it is significantly lighter than the comparable BMW 760i (by 392 pounds), Mercedes-Benz S500 (by 283 pounds) and Audi A8 (by 237 pounds). That kind of weight advantage is noticeable in cornering as well as acceleration where the two-ton Jag feels surprisingly agile. 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.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jaguar also tuned the XJ to provide a soft, plush ride for those who will be less concerned about handling and acceleration as much as they are about comfortable rides on long trips. As fun as the XJ is to treat like a sports sedan, the car can be equally enjoyable as a daily driver thanks to the Adaptive Dynamics active damping suspension system. This allows drivers to set the cars responsiveness to varying levels based on the driving situation. Steering is also a crucial element in the XJ’s unique tuning allowing for effortless low-speed steering maneuvers while providing quicker, more responsive steering feedback at higher speeds.
Jaguar had a lot riding on its redesign of the fourth-generation Jaguar XJ, and the British automaker has definitely delivered a car with the expected levels of sophistication while doing so with a more modern package. Every aspect of the 2011 Jaguar XJ Supercharged is designed to offer a unique balance of performance and elegance including its styling, powertrain and even the interior, which allows this car to engage demanding drivers without alienating those looking for a big, comfortable sedan to be driven around in.
Not only is the new Jaguar XJ going up against mainstream rivals like the Lexus LS, BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Audi A8, but it is also likely to be cross-shopped against a more upscale breed of luxury sedans like the Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Rapide and the Maserati Quattroporte. Although it is hard to think that a modern design could replicate the elegance that the Jaguar XJ did in 1968, the all-new look and feel of Jaguar’s luxury flagship has perfectly managed to do so.
– modern, elegant exterior design; powerful supercharged engine; stylish, luxurious interior with plenty of cabin tech
– blacked-out C-pillar appliqué; heated windshield causes light distortions during nighttime driving; quirky interior features like touch sensitive glove box button and rising gear selector
Jaguar provided the vehicle this road test review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross