2013 Jaguar XJ
The Jaguar XJ may have one of the most storied nameplates in automotive history, but it took a total reboot in 2011 to restore some of its faded glory. Now it's a shape that seizes attention, a drama-steeped sedan that's cut all ties with the traditional past. And this year, it's stretching its appeal, not with even longer-wheelbase versions, but with a new V-6 and newly available all-wheel drive.
Neither changes the chic XJ's design ethos. It's set to stun, intentionally, since past big Jags were set to snooze. It's what a Jaguar flagship should have looked like since about 1990--a drop-dead gorgeous roofline, a sail-away rear pillar, runway sensibility from its embossed grille to its bugle-beaded LED taillamps. A detail or two falls flat: that pillar wants to be satin-finish, to show off the car's all-aluminum core, and the elemental rear end can seem understyled. It's the opposite inside, where the endless rings of metallic trim and of control shapes could use some editing.
The XJ's retooled drivetrains do nothing to its charmed ride and handling, but they do broaden its appeal, mostly to well-heeled commuters in the Northeast. The base XJ now has a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 340 horsepower, down some from the still-available 385-hp 5.0-liter V-8, but almost as quick (0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds), and significantly better on gas, with up to 27 mpg on the EPA highway cycle. Eight-speed ZF automatics across the lineup are typically quick, responsive in shifting. There's also new all-wheel drive with a rear torque bias: it's offered only on the long-wheelbase six-cylinder car, and with a low weight penalty, pits the Jaguar XJ with the long-offered AWD models from Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti, and Lexus.
The 385-hp V-8 in the long-wheelbase gets blown out with a supercharger, and the good times whine with 470 hp or 510 hp in the topmost XJ sedans. The 0-60 mph runs of 5.4 seconds in the naturally aspirated V-8 are cut down to 4.9 seconds in the supercharged 470-hp version, and the 510-hp eight nails them in 4.7 seconds. Most V-8 versions are limited to a top speed of 155 mph, but new Sport and Speed packs with new aero tweaks are allowed to venture up to 174 mph, where you'll find unlimited Audis and BMWs and Benzes, not coincidentally. The XJ's aluminum structure builds in a deft handling edge, and with this generation, the long-storied ride isolation of Jaguar is history, replaced by an athletic, taut feel. We're entertained as hell by its demeanor, because of its lower unsprung weight and because it lacks some of the endless electronic modulations that bedevil some German sedans. The XJ has sport mode for both the electronic shocks and the engine/transmission/steering combination, but it also has more predictable reflexes, without wild handling tangents. Big ventilated disc brakes with anti-lock, brake drying and good pedal feel match the XJ's crisp new feel, and Z-rated tires of up to 20 inches stick tenaciously.
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