2011 Jaguar XJL: Audio Review

2011 Jaguar XJL: Audio Review

Ford literally wrote Jaguar off as a viable automaker a few years ago, and many car critics and aficionados figuratively did the same after years of bland design and quality issues. Now Jag is staging such a stunning comeback that just this week Blue Oval chairman and heir Bill Ford was forced to publicly defend the decision to offload the British brand.

The new XJ is a good example of the renewed spring in Jaguar's step. But the luxury marque's oldest model was the last to get the Bower and Wilkins audio treatment that first graced the XF and XK. And while the B&W systems in those vehicles are certainly in the upper echelon of OEM audio, we found them to be a few notches below the best of the breed. But with the system in a 2011 XJL I recently tested, this cat can compete with almost all comers.

The Setup
The Bowers & Wilkins system in the 2011 XJL consists of 20 speakers powered by a whopping 1,200 watts fed into 15 separate channels. Jaguar includes in this count each speaker in a two-way configuration, such as a coaxial. So the individual speakers include a coaxial in the center of the dash with a 4-inch midrange and 1-inch tweeter; a 6.5-inch midbass, 4-inch midrange and 1-inch tweeter in each front door; another coaxial with a 4-inch mid and 1-inch tweet in each rear door along with a 6.5-inch midbass; two more 4-inch mid/1-inch tweet coaxes in the rear deck; and two 8-inch dual voice coil subwoofers in the rear deck (which get my vote for the best looking in an OEM sound system).

The Sound
As with every sound system I test, I listened to about 10 musical tracks that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. The music of these tracks includes jazz, folk, pop, rock and rap. I also use several non-musical tracks to further test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on this testing process and the tracks used, check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

While driving and casually listening to the XJL's B&W system with music other than my test tracks, it brought out subtle nuances that I'd never heard before on certain songs and the sound was vividly realistic. And while sitting still it reproduced the test tracks better than probably 90 percent of the sound systems I soundcheck. The only major fault I found was a midbass thickness that ranged from mild and fleeting to a more persistent droning with what I call my midbass-torture test tracks. I also detected a slight graininess on upper-treble frequencies, but only after listening very closely -- and several times -- to suss it out.

The positive attributes of the system were plenty. The level of detail was impressive and musical elements that usually get buried with weaker systems stood out. The skin tone of the drums was tangible and easily discernible. Acoustic guitars had a crisp, percussive quality that wasn't also grating. And horns were smooth without the strident, piercing sound that's common. Low end was rock solid and there wasn't the ping-ponging bass between the subwoofers in the rear and the midbass drivers up front that many systems suffer from. The sound was also very enveloping, even without the surround processing engaged.

Soundstaging was wide, deep and well above dash height. One quibble with the system is that imaging was side-biased. I'm used to the flute solo in the song "Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me" by Bluesiana Triangle hovering above the center of the dash with the best systems. In the XJL it flitted toward the center but was also noticeable in the left and right channels. B&W claims the system is designed to present a center image to both the driver and front passenger, but I prefer center-dash imaging.

Consequently, the system failed the imaging test using two non-musical tracks: voices recorded so that they appear in the right, center and left of the soundstage, and seven drum beats that are supposed to move across the dash at precise intervals. With linearity, a measure of how well the sound holds together at low- and mid-volume levels, the system scored fair and good, respectively. It passed an absence of noise/zero-bits test.

The Sources
The XJL has every music source you could ask for in an OEM system: AM, FM, HD Radio, Sirius satellite, CD, DVD and a 30GB hard drive that rips files from CDs (but not a USB drive). It also has dual USB ports in the center console storage compartment: one labeled "iPod" and the other "USB." But you can plug an iPod into the "USB" port and a USB into the "iPod" port and get the same functionality. There's also an aux-in jack.

Access to contents of an iPod or USB is via the in-dash touch screen, which I found requires a heavy hand. You have to press My Music, an iPod icon and then Browse before you can get to the typical iPod menu -- and that's at least one step too many. But there's a neat feature that lets you set the iPod icon and two other functions (such as phone and parking cameras) as home-screen favorites. The system also has Bluetooth audio with play/pause and track skip forward/back.

What We Say
Jaguar landed on its feet after being tossed to Tata by Ford and now is making cars that not only turn heads but the well-healed are buying. But I wonder if most will want to pay an extra $2,300 to get the B&W system in their XJL. While that's a steep price for premium audio, Jaguar gets credit for not bundling the system with a bunch of other options, like Lexus does with its Mark Levinson system in the LS 460L. And it's considerably less than the $6,300 19-speaker/1,400-watt Bang & Olufsen system in the 2011 Audi A8 L.

That's just another way Jaguar is stalking the competition.

The Scores
Sound: A
Sources: A
iPod Integration: B-
Cost: B

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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