Jaguar would have no concern if it were the only game in town, but that's far from the truth. The premium full-size luxury segment, which includes vehicles hovering just under or at the six-figure mark, is a contentious grouping that includes the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Porsche Panamera. Each of those brings its own game to the battle, and none are easy to dismiss.
To better understand the British perspective and evaluate its latest offering on a land without royalty, I recently spent a week with a long-wheelbase, all-wheel-drive Jaguar XJ in Southern California.
At first glance, this sedan appears to be everything but the enthusiast's choice. It is the automaker's largest platform, fitted with one of its least powerful engines mated to an all-wheel drive powertrain. Mass is always the enemy, and a big car paired with a small engine and a complex driveline is often sluggish on the road. Yet the Jaguar XJL AWD 3.0 dodges the bullet with a curb weight of just 4,151 pounds – tipping the scales 313 pounds lighter than the Audi A8L, 374 pounds lighter than the BMW 740Li xDrive and a massive 622 pounds lighter than the Mercedes S550 4Matic, for quick comparison.
The secret is aluminum. The result is a very rigid platform that is strong, corrosion-resistant and extremely lightweight.
The secret is aluminum, the lightweight alloy that Jaguar embraced when it launched its all-new flagship in 2011. Unlike its predecessors, the fourth-generation model boasted an aluminum chassis built in much the same manner of a jet aircraft. Instead of using an alloy frame covered in lightweight panels like the Audi A8, Jaguar chose to assemble cast and extruded aluminum structural members, and then cover them with bonded and riveted aluminum sheet. The result is a very rigid platform that is strong, corrosion-resistant and extremely lightweight.
Like most premium automakers, Jaguar offers its XJ with a choice of wheelbase, engine and powertrain. While its base price starts at $85,595 (including $895 destination), this Stratus Grey over Jet tester arrived under 3.0-liter V6 power wearing a few options that rocketed its price skyward. The most significant is the Premium Rear Seat package ($7,750), which pampers those in the second row with reclining and massaging rear seats, video entertainment and leather-wrapped tables. The Meridian audio upgrade ($4,180) packs 1,300 watts through 26 speakers and the Illumination package ($1,700) brightens up the doors, trunk sills and air vents. Lastly, an Electric Rear Window Sunblind ($670) blocks prying eyes and the sun's rays. Add it up, and it will cost you $100,745 to put an identical car in your driveway.
Whether or not the Jaguar's sleek exterior styling pleases (its distinctive blackened C-pillar penned by Ian Callum is best masked by darker palettes), the lofty sticker price is quickly justified after dropping into the cabin. Unlike the German, Japanese and Korean offerings, which envelop their followers with technology and advanced styling, the Brit relies on traditional luxury to pamper passengers. Occupants sit within a completely leather-lined cockpit with a bold sweeping dash highlighted with glossy finished wood. The four polished chrome climate-control vents are featured prominently, and nearly all of the switchgear is trimmed in the bright traditional metal. Natural hides covering nearly everything are rich to the eyes, the nose and the fingertips – it's sensory overload.
Whether or not the Jaguar's sleek exterior styling pleases, the lofty sticker price is quickly justified after dropping into the cabin.
The driving position is good, with most of the controls in their proper ergonomic position. The only oddity, which has now become familiar across its family, is the JaguarDrive Select transmission dial that rises eerily out of the console when the vehicle is powered up (park in the hot sun, and its metal dial becomes almost too hot to touch). The primary instrument panel is a 12.3-inch high-definition "Virtual Instruments" gauge cluster, which despite its 614,400-pixel resolution, looked much more impressive four years ago than it does today against modern high-res screens. Regardless, it is easy to read without being too gimmicky.
The standard XJ is hardly cramped, but the long-wheelbase model offers a generous 44.1 inches of rear seat legroom – that's 5.1 inches more than its sibling – thanks to its nearly 5-inch wheelbase stretch. Passengers in the other three remaining positions (drop the Premium Rear Seat package to gain room for a fifth passenger) will find the accommodations very inviting, with those in the second row scoring the real First Class upgrade with mirrored creature comforts including full HVAC controls, massaging seats, flat-screen entertainment, footrests, vanity mirrors, privacy shades and a moonroof. New for 2015 is the leather-wrapped tray table, which replaces last year's polished wood version. Even if you're not riding with a chauffeur, it can reveal itself as a convenient addition - before a morning meeting, I climbed into the back seat and drew the privacy blinds before typing on my laptop for an hour.
Jaguar has treated its XJ to a mild update for 2014, which included new standard soft-close doors, upgraded upholstery, new trim colors and revised wheel choices. Long-wheelbase models have been enhanced the most, with improved rear seat massage, power-operated sun blinds, rear-seat entertainment, chauffeur controls and new audio options. But the big headlines have been reserved for the powertrain, as the entry-level naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 – a Jaguar staple since the late 1990s – had been replaced by a supercharged V6.
LWB models have been enhanced with improved rear seat massage, power-operated sun blinds, rear-seat entertainment, chauffeur controls and new audio options.
Under the hood of the XJ, with nearly all of its mass aft of the front axle, is an all-aluminum supercharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent through a standard eight-speed automatic transmission, sourced from ZF. All-wheel drive models like this one have a multi-plate clutch at the back of the gearbox that controls the amount of power sent to the front differential. Under most conditions, the majority of the torque goes to the rear wheels – emulating a rear-wheel-drive chassis – for traditional driving dynamics. However, up to 50 percent of that torque may be sent to the front axle if slip is detected. The AWD system is completely automatic, but a Winter Mode defaults to a 30:70 torque split to improve traction on slippery surfaces.
A quick stab of the start/stop button brings the Jaguar to life, and it settles to a nearly imperceptible idle. The JaguarDrive Select to rises into place, and gear selection is just a clockwise spin of the dial away. The XJ is no sport sedan, but its subtle exhaust note is wonderful and very pleasing while underway. The soundtrack permeates the cabin as a deep and gentle purr from the trunk – the noise is genuine (from tuned mufflers) and very tastefully executed. Under full throttle it is more forceful, with a mechanical accompaniment from under the hood joining in.
Being the heaviest and least powerful in the XJ lineup does have consequences in terms of overall acceleration – Jaguar quotes a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds, which is the slowest in the model range – but the sedan never feels lethargic or burdened underway. The standard start/stop system is a bit clumsy (a button defeats it), but off-the-line acceleration is peppy and merging with traffic is never an issue. It helps that wheel spin is kept in check by the intelligent AWD system, which preloads the front tires when heavy throttle is applied.
Jaguar quotes a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds, which is the slowest in the model range, but the sedan never feels lethargic.
Allowing the operator to configure the vehicle to its mission, Jaguar offers Normal, Dynamic and Winter driving modes. Switching between the three alters transmission shift points, engine response, Adaptive Dynamics active suspension and stability control intervention. Normal mode is good under nearly all driving conditions, with Dynamic only needed when the driver wants to aggressively tackle some big sweepers. But even in the sportiest of the modes, when the digital instrument cluster changes its illumination to a red tone and its gym shoes are put to the test (a nice set of Pirelli P Zero Nero tires, 245/45R19 front and 275/40R19 rear), the XJ never feels particularly at ease in the tight canyons – that isn't its mission.
The XJL is a very long sedan with an impressive wheelbase. While this translates to a comfortable ride, its dynamic characteristics never cease to remind the driver of each and every one of its 206.8 inches of length. Outward visibility is challenging, especially to the rear, and the turning radius is a large 41.7 feet (that equates to a three-point turn in many cases). Yet pilot it down the highway and it glides effortlessly, seemingly forever. Jaguar fits the XJL with a sizeable 21.7-gallon fuel tank, and that translates to a sphincter-squeezing range of about 500 miles based on the EPA-calculated highway economy of 24 miles per gallon.
If asked to choose the Jaguar's best attributes, I'd point to its handsome styling and elegant interior appointments which warmly invite passengers to settle in, get comfortable and enjoy the travel (most of the competitors offer cooler and more sterile accommodations). The Brit's build quality is also impressive, and the supercharged V6 is the perfect mate to both its transmission and the lightweight alloy chassis.
The Brit's build quality is impressive, and the supercharged V6 is the perfect mate to both its transmission and the lightweight chassis.
If asked to choose the Jaguar's worst attributes, the climate control system would be at the top of my list. Southern California was experiencing a heatwave during my test, and the vehicle couldn't muster a properly frigid blow on its Auto setting (I had to manually bump up the fan speed constantly). I also found the trunk to be on the small side (lacking fold-down rear seats or a pass-through to improve capacity) and the navigation system seemed to be more interesting in a circuitous tour than a beeline to my programmed destination (in frustration, I relied on my smart phone for directions).
The Jaguar does not best its competitors in any single category, but I am still a big fan – the XJL AWD model with its supercharged V6 completely won me over. The others in this high-end segment appeal to customers with innovation, technology or value, while the Jaguar relies on its styling and alluring British character to seal the deal. The driver is offered competent and capable driving dynamics, while passengers are captivated and charmed with the familiar trappings of traditional luxury. The XJ is for those who understand and embrace its time-honored elegance. As I told many family and friends during my week with the big Brit, this is not a vehicle for everyone – it is transportation for nobility.