Jaguar's New Flagship Revolutionizes the Brand and Possibly the Class
James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
You just don't see it coming. The 2011 Jaguar XJ L Supercharged is sleek, it's sexy and it's sophisticated. It has a cabin that's adorned for an English king and big enough for a Sacramento King. Then you turn the clever rotary shifter to Drive, stomp on the gas and wonder how you suddenly managed to find yourself at the leading edge of a thundering avalanche. The otherwise silent cabin fills with a burbling, seductive roar as the supercharged V8 sends the new XJ from zero to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. You just don't see it coming, and neither will drivers of the BMW M5, who'll be left behind at traffic lights still admiring the shapely tail end that just jumped to warp speed.
Therein is the beauty of the XJ L Supercharged. It is a car that at once represents a stunning new direction for the stuffiest nameplate in the luxury class, and also a potential shake-up for a market segment dominated for years by Germany. It takes a special car for a shopper to consider something other than a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, yet the XJ should do just that, thanks to class-leading style and performance, not to mention a massive list of standard features and a price that undercuts its Teutonic competitors by thousands.
The staggering acceleration of the 2011 Jaguar XJ L Supercharged is not simply the result of its having a supercharged 5.0-liter V8, which in this trim level produces 470 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque. Sure, more power than all its similarly priced rivals is a big part of it, but the Jag's aluminum structure also helps keep its weight to just 4,341 pounds with a full tank of gasoline. It doesn't take a degree from MIT to recognize that more power plus less weight equals one quick kitten. Indeed, not only does the XJ L Supercharged blow a 750i and S550 out of the water from zero to 60, it matches Jag's top-dog super sport sedan, the Jaguar XFR.
Less weight also pays dividends when negotiating a tight, winding road. The comfort-biased tuning of the XJ's adaptive suspension means this car can't quite match the poise of German super sedans, but there is a nimble feel to the XJ that makes you forget there's about 10 feet of long-wheelbase English limousine still behind you.
The same can be said about the BMW 750Li (well, except the English part), but the German super sedan feels like it overcomes its size with electronic wizardry like active rear wheel steering, while the Jag seems to have an inherent, natural agility. Of course the XJ still has wizardry like a Dynamic Mode that subtly alters the calibration of the suspension, transmission, electronic differential and stability control. Meanwhile the XJ steers with a low-effort, friction-free feel, yet there is also a level of communication that is far more rewarding than the electric-assist steering of BMW's flagship.
It would appear as if the hierarchy of luxury flagships is in flux. BMW used to be the driver's choice in the segment, but with the surprising XJ and the near sports-carlike Porsche Panamera, the choice for drivers just got a lot harder.
A flagship luxury sedan like the 2011 Jaguar XJ is about so much more than its performance and handling. It is the day-long journey that this car seems to make disappear in mere moments, the tedious commute that it makes tolerable and the errands that you don't mind running because your Jaguar is just so darned comfortable.
It starts with a ride that strikes an appropriate balance between the luxury limousine it resembles and the sport sedan it drives like. With its large wheels, there is harshness over nastier bumps that you won't experience in the more accommodating Mercedes S-Class, but milder imperfections are sufficiently suppressed. The XJ is certainly better sorted than Jag's sometimes heavy-footed-feeling XF and there's also none of the wafting-on-a-cloud suppleness of Jaguars past.
Inside the cabin of the XJ L Supercharged, you will discover front seats that come standard with heating, cooling, massaging and 12 ways of adjustment (not counting the lumbar and side bolster adjustments). They are perhaps not as pleasingly contoured as the seats of an S-Class nor as supportive as the seats of a Panamera, but we doubt you'll mind much. The power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel assures a driving position that favors average-to-tall drivers.
In most cars, backseat travelers are short-changed, but not in the 2011 Jaguar XJ. There's no massaging or adjustments as in other long-wheelbase luxury sedans, but passengers in back still get treated to standard heating and cooling, as well as their own controls for the climate system and sunshades. There are also vanity mirrors, drop-down tray tables (perfect for a laptop) and, most importantly, enough legroom for practically everyone.
Headroom is just barely sufficient for someone 6-foot-3, however, so rival sedans with less slinky roof lines will feel more accommodating (maybe we were a tad generous with that Sacramento Kings line, then).
Aside from the abundance of leather and wood, the first thing you notice upon climbing into the low-slung cabin is the two dominant display screens. One is a touchscreen for the myriad infotainment and climate systems. It is thankfully quite large, and offers a smarter menu structure and crisper graphics than Jag's other models, but the system remains a bit convoluted and sluggish in its responses. For example, using the seat heating/cooling controls requires pushing a physical dash button, then locating the rather small icons, which may or may not respond to your first touch attempt.
Our test car also suffered from a CD player that essentially froze and refused to acknowledge the CD once it was in place. Only time seemed to correct this glitch, but it's hard to know if this was a problem with our specific car or that age-old English car proclivity for electrical gremlins.
The other screen is a virtual representation of the car's gauges. The lone downside is that the digitally represented tachometer cannot keep up with the engine, creating a pixelation effect. Otherwise, the screen resists glare and there is a versatility to the information presented that regular old gauges can't match. Navigation guidance (with a map) is displayed in the left binnacle, which also shows music information and the selected gear when using the six-speed automatic's paddle shifters. When Dynamic mode is engaged, these gauges take on a red hue, as if the car has been possessed by evil.
Just as the functionality of high-tech features suffer for the sake of the cabin's striking design, so, too, the XJ's more tangible attributes are affected by styling. Rearward visibility is limited by the tall rear end and sloping roof, though standard blind-spot warning and a rearview camera make it acceptable. The trunk opening is also wide enough to easily swallow a pair of golf clubs, but a few awkwardly shaped points in the trunk make other big luxury sedans more practical.
Design/Fit and Finish
Not only is the 2011 Jaguar XJ's cabin design unique and appealing from an aesthetic standpoint, its craftsmanship and materials quality are a step beyond its already impressive rivals.
Actually, if you're considering a Bentley, reconsider, as the XJ's cabin is easily just as nice and far less expensive. Soft leather (available in two tones) covers not only the seats, but most of the dash and doors. Your choice of four veneers wraps beautifully around the interior and behind the dash. Piano-black trim, ice-blue lighting and tastefully applied chrome further decorate this cabin fit for royalty, though that chrome can be blinding when the sun hits it just right.
That's what you get when you buy a car from a country where the sun seldom shines.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Jaguar XJ L Supercharged is a large luxury sedan for those who value unique style and an expressive driving character above cavernous space and functionality.
Compared to its German rivals, the Jaguar XJ delivers a bolder sense of style combined with a softer sense of luxury. These are traditional British virtues, and they have more appeal now than ever after decades of market domination by the German brands.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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