2013 Jaguar XJ AWD romping through the snow

Even though this year's winter has gotten off to an abnormally slow start for most of North America, Jaguar has shown the world it means business by launching its all-new Instinctive All Wheel Drive system in Montreal, Canada. Designed primarily for consumers in the Northern US and Canada, Jaguar put us on the same snowy, slushy and icy roads that many of its buyers will have to deal with. Rather than making declawed versions of the XJ and XF, Jag says this system enhances the performance abilities of its sedans when desired while still making them as fun to drive as their rear-wheel-drive counterparts. We had a chance to test out both the XF AWD and XJ AWD, but we spent most of our time behind the wheel of the flagship XJ, driving it on the open roads as well as a few closed courses.

Considering the lengthy and convoluted history of the Jaguar brand – including a stint as a member of Ford's defunct Premier Automotive Group alongside Volvo and Aston Martin – it is rather surprising that the automaker is just now getting around to introducing an all-wheel-drive system intended for widespread use, but the new Instinctive AWD will finally allow the XF, XJ and other future products to better compete against the likes of Mercedes-Benz 4Matic, BMW xDrive and Audi Quattro. In the XJ, Jaguar expects the AWD models to account for around 40 percent of the product mix nationwide and a little bit more (50 percent) for the XF, but in the northern states, it expects around 80 percent of XF sales to be AWD variants.
  • Instinctive AWD is rear-biased and operates as full rear-wheel drive in good weather, but when the road conditions turn slick, the system can split engine power 50:50 between front and rear axles using a center transfer case.
  • In addition to driving the XJ AWD on the street, we had a chance to test out its abilities at the Mecaglisse motorsports complex – about an hour and a half north of Montreal. On separate tracks normally used for motorcycle and rally car racing, Jaguar let us test out the XJ AWD and XF AWD for accelerating, braking and cornering on snow- and ice-covered asphalt and dirt tracks. Both of these circuits demonstrated the two different attitudes these cars can exhibit. With Winter mode on, the system does a great job of nannying the driver making sure the car keeps its footing and remains on the road, but staying true to Jag's motorsports heritage, the system can also be set to Dynamic to improve the performance of the car in bad weather giving the driver fewer safety nets to rely on. The complex also had courses set up for snowy slaloms and an icy, drift-friendly skidpad.
  • Rather than being a part of an expensive option package, each AWD version of the XJ and XF will be an individual model. This means that getting the added benefit of all-wheel traction doesn't require buyers to opt for other unrelated packages (such as a cold-weather or technology package, for example) that some automakers force on buyers. On the XJ, AWD is offered on both regular and long-wheelbase XJL models.
  • Neither the XJ nor the XF architectures were originally designed to accept all-wheel-drive, so Jaguar made extensive changes to parts of the car most people will never see, including the suspension, front floorboard and even some of the engine components. For example, to keep the engine low in the engine bay for optimal balance, the front driveshaft is actually built into the oil pan. All of the changes and added AWD parts increase the XJ's curb by less than 300 pounds.
  • As the new base engine in the XJ, Instinctive AWD can only be had on cars equipped with the new 3.0-liter supercharged V6 engine. While this engine lacks the throaty exhaust note of the 5.0-liter V8, at virtually no point can its performance be faulted especially when factoring in the car's curb weight of just over two tons.
  • The XJ AWD comes standard with Continental all-season tires, but Jaguar equipped our test cars with Pirelli M+S winter tires. While this certainly helped the cars handle better in the snow, Jaguar representatives noted this was done so to abide by Quebec law – and besides, these tires are available as an option.
  • I was able to learn firsthand just how far the system allows the car to be pushed, too. In my first lap around the snow-covered off-road course in Winter mode, the Instinctive AWD and its associated systems interjected frequently to slow the car and help keep it on its intended path. On the ensuing laps, in Dynamic mode, things got a little hairier. With an instructor riding shotgun shouting driving instructions like a rally car co-pilot (to fully exhibit the car's potential in a short period of time), I spent most of the next two laps doing my best trying to go as quickly as possible while keeping the car on the track. I almost made it. On one portion, the surface was too icy and the dirt embankment just a bit too close. Egos and lower fascia were bruised, proving that not even winter tires and great AWD system can always save you from Mother Nature.