Although the future of Jaguar was once in doubt for many reasons, our recent experience with the new XJ models – its flagship products – suggests that any rumors of its demise were exaggerated.
Few people can correctly identify the home country of the new owners of Jaguar Land Rover, much less the name of the company. It’s the Indian conglomerate Tata. But when the England-based company was owned by Ford Motor Company, few people knew that either.
When your company is an icon closely associated with a particular culture, as Jaguar is linked to the English car culture of string-back gloves on wood-rimmed steering wheels, that’s probably a good thing. But there certainly have been many questions about Jaguar’s future since it was acquired for a surprising $2.5 billion in 2008 by Tata Motors when Ford was selling or mortgaging everything it owned to buy its own survival.
Being old British car buffs ourselves, we were happy to find that the company hasn’t lost touch with the traditions and attitudes that once put it at the top of the exotic luxury class. We confirmed that during our recent weeklong test of the all-new 2011 XJ.
We would argue that Jaguar has once again earned the right to be considered a worthwhile alternative to Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Lexus in the luxury class. The exterior styling is fresh, interior styling stays with Jaguar traditions and performance and handling are superb.
In a company where bankruptcy was almost an even bet four years ago, Jaguar made a sensible decision to get as many different variations as possible out of a single chassis and engine. As a consequence, there are four different offerings, resulting from the combination of standard-wheelbase and long-wheelbase bodies, and “naturally aspirated” and supercharged versions of the same 5-liter, V-8 engine.
We drove the least-expensive version, the standard wheelbase with the 385-horsepower engine channeling 380 pound-feet of torque through the six-speed automatic transmission that is common across the line. Base price for this version is $72,700, which includes as standard such nice touches as leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, sliding sunroof, navigation system, iPod/USB/Bluetooth connectivity and smart key entry and ignition.
Our test car came equipped with the English-made Bowers & Wilkins 1,200-watt sound system (a $2,300 option) and a premium package that includes contrasting upholstery piping and heated and cooled rear seats that added $4,000 to the price.
The only differences with the other variations are that the long-wheelbase car adds 4 inches to the standard 201.7-inch length, all of which is added to rear-seat legroom, and the supercharger pumps horsepower up to 510 and torque to 451 pound-feet.
The exterior on all four variations is completely restyled from the earlier Jaguar full-luxury sedan to follow the new corporate look. The single large grille and slanted headlights have replaced the traditional front-end styling. The swooping lines flow back to an understated rear end, capped by a “floating” roofline look created by a wrap-around rear window.
The interior manages to look all new and yet traditional. The bright or piano wood trim wraps from the back of the rear door around the top of the dash and all the way to the other rear door, echoing the looks of wood-trimmed Jaguars of the 1950s and 1960s. Trim is of the quality one would expect from an $80,000 car, and fit and finish are exemplary, areas for which Jaguar was once criticized. And of course there are those unique Jaguar touches of a shift knob that rises up and vents that open when the pulsing start button is pushed.
Our only complaint was that some of the bright chrome pieces were distracting in bright sunlight.
Performance was excellent, even in the less-powerful nonsupercharged version we drove. Frankly, we would dismiss the supercharger as unnecessary except for bragging rights over owners of competing cars.
We were impressed with the amount of new technology built into the suspension and handling. A completely new variable differential comes into play when traction is compromised at one wheel – such as when hitting a wet or icy patch of pavement. Where the automatic traction controls on other cars work by cutting the throttle and applying the brake to the spinning wheel, the Jaguar system actually shifts power away from the spinning wheel to a nonspinning wheel, allowing the driver to regain control without cutting speed substantially.
Throttle and suspension comfort were also adjustable. We found that the car felt more controllable if we drove in dynamic”mode rather than comfort or economy. On long stretches of smooth highway, one might switch to economy to take advantage of the high fuel efficiency inherent in this car, but for around town and in the hills, the additional handling crispness and greater road responsiveness seemed desirable to us.
We did get a chance at our media day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to upgrade to the top-end offering, the XJL S high-performance long-wheelbase version. Priced at just below $100,000 with all the luxury touches, that turned out to be one impressive ride.
We’re not sure you really need it, but if you want a long-wheelbase car with good rear passenger legroom that is capable of lapping Laguna Seca at high speeds and handling the Corkscrew with total control, this is the car for you (or maybe your chauffeur/bodyguard, if he or she is trained in evasive driving techniques).
At either end of the spectrum, if you’ve always wanted a “Leaper” above your grille instead of a star or roundel, then it’s nice to know Jaguar is back and the empire is still producing great cars.