Jaguar might be a renowned name in the pantheon of luxury brands, but it's also an automaker that sells a very, very small number of cars on the global stage when compared to some of its competitors. While some of the blame for lower sales figures has to do with the company's more modest production capabilities, Jaguar has also recognized that by operating exclusively in the eight-cylinder, rear-wheel drive sedan and coupe/convertible space it has locked itself out of some very lucrative premium demographics.
It is to this end that Jaguar is on the verge of introducing not just all-wheel drive versions of two of its key sedans - the Jaguar XF and the Jaguar XJ - but also a range of smaller, more fuel efficient drivetrains to be sold in North America. We were recently given the chance to pilot the new 2013 Jaguar XJ and XJ L featuring a supercharged V-6 engine and all-wheel drive and came away suitably impressed with the brand's fresh direction.
In order to demonstrate just how effective the new Jaguar XJ and XJ L's all-wheel drive system is in low-traction situations, Jaguar took us to the Laurentians, the mountainous region of Quebec just an hour and a half north of Montreal. We were set loose on the twisting two-lane roads that wind from Mont-Tremblant to Mecaglisse, a winter driving and rally school where we would put the new system to the ultimate test.
Throughout the entire weekend, Jaguar engineers and managers stressed to us that the all-wheel drive system fitted to the XJ and the upcoming XF AWD had been designed from the ground up to preserve the rear-wheel drive feel of the two four-door automobiles. In fact, while operating on dry roads virtually all engine torque is routed to the back axle, with the front wheels engaging as wheel spin is detected, and although the front wheels receive a small amount of motivation when pulling away from a stop regardless of road conditions the effect is transparent and completely undetectable to the driver. Up to a 50/50 steady split is possible, a scenario that can occur rather quickly when the throttle is mashed on a slippery surface from a standing start, and even 100 percent of power can be sent for a few milliseconds to the front wheels if all other drivers are spinning in futility.
Jaguar Drive Control adds a few wrinkles to the all-wheel drive system's operation. Selecting Winter Mode (achieved by holding down on the center console-mounted button) makes second gear starting the default for the XJ and XF's eight-speed automatic transmission and achieves a more even torque split right from the beginning in order to facilitate negotiating snowy roads. Dynamic mode provides better throttle response and more aggressive shifting from the tranny without affecting all-wheel drive parameters, and unlike some of its competitors, it's also possible to turn off all of the electronic nannies and rely entirely on one's own wits (and the mechanical capabilities of the all-wheel drive feature) to stay out of the ditch.
A healthy dumping of snow awaited us both on the roads leading to Mecaglisse and at the driving facility itself when we set out Sunday morning to see just how competent the 2013 Jaguar XJ 3.0 AWD truly was in the white stuff. The range of obstacles that awaited us in both short and long-wheelbase versions of the car were formidable, but the XJ was up to the challenge in every area. Lane avoidance maneuvers, hustling down tight slaloms, and a skid pad that was completely coated in ice were all braved by the Jaguar sedan, which not only lived to tell the tale but demonstrated sparkling composure in the face of very little grip.
In fact, the use of Winter Mode tamed the Jaguar's dynamic response to such a degree that it might as well have been labeled 'No Fun Mode,' as it locked out the throttle upon detection of the type of opposite-lock steering inputs. Switching the nannies to off, however, had us drifting around the ice ring in the lap of luxury, and the car's ability to mechanically re-distribute torque without the use of electronic stability control was refined to the degree that stopping in the middle of a hill covered in a mix of snow and soft sand posed no particular challenge to re-establishing forward momentum.
Jaguar's claim that the new all-wheel drive system does not dilute the sporting, rear-wheel drive feel of its sedans is an accurate one. Although the system borrows from the engineer know-how of corporate sibling Land Rover, Jaguar went to great lengths to preserve the character of the XJ. This includes running the vehicle's front driveshafts through a channel in the sump so as not to have to raise the engine, as well as maintaining steering feedback by redesigning certain front suspension components. Jaguar has also made the 2013 XJ slightly softer than the 2012 model across the board.
On snow-covered and dry tarmac, the 2013 Jaguar XJ 3.0 AWD was a welcome traveling companion. 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of supercharged torque from the 3.0-liter V-6 provided adequate, but not overwhelming acceleration, and we suspect that most XJ L buyers - i.e. those who are driven, rather than drive themselves - will be content with the more efficient engine, which returns 16-mpg city and 24-mpg highway.
We swapped driving and riding positions throughout the weekend so as to experience the best of both worlds, and we have nothing but superlatives to apply to the extended rear quarters of the XJ L's passenger compartment. From a driving perspective, the XJ and XJ L ate up whatever we threw its way - even when bouncing down unplowed access roads - although we were puzzled by a few of its features, including a limiter' button on the center console that, once set, wouldn't allow us to accelerate past a given speed even with our feet to the floor. The utility of this control eluded us.
The 2013 Jaguar XJ and XJ L 3.0 AWD might not have the grunt of its eight-cylinder lineup mate, but it will be the only all-wheel drive version of the sedan available and as such it represents an important prong in the brand's thrust towards mass appeal. Jaguar reps claim that more than 80 percent of full-size luxury cars are ordered with all-wheel drive in America's snow belt, which means that this new drivetrain has the potential to unlock a massive new market for the automobile. Although we miss being able to toss the big rear-wheel drive four-door down snow-covered roads sideways, we are certain that Jaguar's bread and butter customers will be perfectly happy with how the company has implemented its all-wheel drive strategy.