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Driving into a tree can ruin a holiday. So, too, can a ditch or a roadside poutine truck. Our Jaguar XJ's onboard temperature gauge reads -2 degrees Celsius, and the windshield wipers are fighting a losing battle against a Quebecois winter slurry of rain, snow and just a wee bit of hail for good measure. The road ahead might as well be a ski run — it's tree-lined with sweeping turns, elevation changes and an alarmingly white surface.
Fortunately, we're not in last year's Jaguar XJ, which came exclusively with a V8 engine and rear-wheel drive. Even with the winter tires mandated by Quebec provincial law, we might have had a tête-à-tête with a Canadian spruce in that car.
However, this 2013 Jaguar XJ is equipped with the newly optional all-wheel-drive system that the automaker has begun offering with the 340-horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged V6 we sampled last fall.
Not only does our winter journey through French Canada suddenly seem like a great idea, the 2013 Jaguar XJ AWD promises to be an enormous game-changer for the small luxury brand.
What Jaguar Really Needs
Indeed, you can't emphasize enough the importance of shunting power to all four wheels in the high-end luxury sedan market. Nationwide, 40 percent of these luxury flagships are sold with all-wheel drive. In Canada, that number goes up to 80 percent.
Jaguar's new all-wheel-drive system features a layout similar to the BMW xDrive and Mercedes-Benz 4Matic systems. A multiplate wet clutch unit located behind the car's eight-speed automatic transmission sends power back toward a front differential shoehorned next to the engine. The driveshaft is routed through the oil sump since the engine could not be raised up to accommodate it.
This packaging constraint is specific to the AWD XJ and midsize XF sedan (which is available with the very same drivetrain for 2013), and company officials tell us that all future Jaguars will be designed to accommodate all-wheel drive from the start, even the forthcoming F-Type. Though an AWD version of the sports car is not a certainty, we hear it's not out of the realm of possibility.
AWD With a Rearward Bias
Regardless of the car it's connected to, the 2013 Jaguar XJ's so-called Instinctive All-Wheel Drive is an intriguing, enthusiast-minded system that is exceptionally rear-biased. In the XJ's Normal and Dynamic modes, the torque split is 10 percent front/90 percent rear when accelerating from a stop. When cruising, it goes to a full 100 percent rear. BMW's xDrive, by comparison, works from a default 40/60 split; Mercedes' 4Matic is 45/55.
Even in Winter mode, the default split is 30/70, though in this setting the Jag starts in 2nd gear and responds more lazily to throttle inputs. As winter slurry causes the rear wheels to slip, power is automatically sent forward to a maximum 50/50 split.
This is not, however, a handling-enhancing all-wheel-drive system à la Acura's SH-AWD with fancy differentials to tighten up your cornering line. Instead, the big Jag uses its stability control and antilock brakes to keep individual wheels from spinning fruitlessly.
To Slide or Not To Slide
Eventually, we find our way to Quebec's Mecaglisse performance winter driving facility, which is like a wintertime theme park for car guys. Here the AWD system shows its worth, as we ease the 2013 Jaguar XJ up steep, snow-covered hills. The big Jag feels similarly sure-footed around Mecaglisse's icy skid pad.
Doubtless most of the XJ's rivals would fare just as well here, but the important takeaway is that a Jaguar XJ can tackle such conditions at all, whereas before it would have been hibernating in your garage for the winter.
The all-wheel-drive 2013 Jaguar XJ is also entertaining in those situations when you don't want to make safe, steady progress to anywhere in particular. Say you and your slinky British limousine find yourselves on an icy skid pad or in an empty, snow-covered Costco parking lot. Switch Winter mode off, hold down the stability control button for an interminable 10 seconds, dial in the right steering angle and let her rip. That rear bias easily swings the shapely tail out as a majestic white plume emanates from the futilely spinning Pirelli Sottozero winter tires. We don't know how many people will try that in an $82,275 2013 Jaguar XJ AWD, but isn't it nice to know they can?
Better Ride Than Before
Away from Mecaglisse, Quebec's treacherous roads don't yield an opportunity to sample the XJ AWD's handling capabilities in the dry. Still, we can report that there's a slightly improved ride. Not that it was bad before, but suspension changes made to accommodate the all-wheel-drive system's 154 extra pounds also address complaints that the current XJ lacks its predecessor's suppleness. Not surprisingly, Jaguar will apply these changes to most rear-wheel-drive XJs as well.
Springs, shock absorbers and antiroll bars are all revised, and the engineers have updated the software for the adaptive damping system, which is standard if you order AWD. The all-wheel-drive XJ also gets a new front knuckle, but the engineers tell us the change is purely a weight-saving measure since the steering geometry hasn't changed.
Only Comes With the V6
After driving the rear-drive 2013 Jaguar XJ, we wrote that the new V6 engine "does such a good job that we'd question whether it's really necessary to pay an extra $8,000 for the V8. This is a nicely balanced, usable car, not an underpowered entry-level model."
Add all-wheel drive to the equation and the supercharged V6 remains likable and offers decent fuel economy with EPA estimates of 16 city/24 highway/19 combined mpg on both the regular-wheelbase XJ and the long-wheelbase XJL, versus 18 city/27 highway/21 combined mpg with rear-drive. Still, the Jag is less efficient than the heavier but less powerful BMW 740Li xDrive (22 mpg combined) and Audi A8 3.0T (21 combined). Mercedes, meanwhile, slides to the front of the pack by combining its 4Matic system with a diesel V6 for 25 mpg combined.
If you still want that V8 (and really, we wouldn't blame you), all-wheel drive remains off limits. For now, only the V6 is eligible for this option ($3,500 extra on the XJ, $2,500 on the XJL) even though Jaguar insists the system could pair with one of its 5.0-liter V8s. It's apparently counting on the continued growth of V6s in the flagship sedan segment.
A Wonderful Car You Can Own Now
In recent times, Jaguar has almost become a regional brand in North America, simply because it hasn't been able to offer AWD to customers in the Midwest, Northeast and, yes, Canada. With the addition of the 2013 Jaguar XJ AWD, the automaker hopes to reach Snowbelt residents who formerly couldn't justify purchasing a luxury sedan they actually very much wanted.
The 2013 XJ is a beautiful car that stands in sharp aesthetic contrast to the restrained blocky limousines coming from Germany. It has an exquisite cabin design dominated by a classy abundance of soft leather, rich wood and eye-pleasing color combinations. It's also the most engaging car in its class not named Panamera or Quattroporte, and now that it has AWD, you can drive it even when the roads are bad.
Of course, there are downsides that carry on for 2013. The touchscreen electronics interface behaves like the British cousin of MyFord Touch, the backseat is less palatial than most competitors' quarters and the features list lacks some of the ultra-high-end options you'll find on rivals.
Yet these are minor drawbacks compared to the fear of sliding off the road and into a poutine truck. And not only will the 2013 Jaguar XJ AWD keep you from interrupting somebody else's lunch, you're virtually guaranteed to have the most distinctive all-wheel-drive luxury sedan on the road whether you're in rural Quebec or Lake Tahoe.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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