On The Road

Technology versus tradition

Photo By: Courtesy of Jaguar
Photo Courtesy Of Jaguar The Jaguar XJL comes with a supercharged gasoline-powered V-8 engine that produces 510 horsepower.

Assume you’re in the market for a new four-door sedan and are more concerned about the statement the car will make about you than what it costs.

What image do you wish to project – new wave or old money, techno-savvy or traditional?

Last month we drove paragons of both possibilities: the 2012 Fisker Karma and the 2012 Jaguar XJL Supersport.

Both have four doors, offer the best in automotive design, luxury and performance – and cost more than $110,000.

However, the Fisker Karma is all cutting-edge technology, transmitting power directly to the rear wheels with two electric motors, powered by batteries charged at home or by an onboard gasoline engine.

By contrast, the Jaguar offers a traditionally powered 510-horsepower supercharged 5-liter V-8 engine transmitting power to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

We drove the Karma on a recent visit to the local Fisker dealership (see story on Page 25), taking it into the hills and for a brief blast along Interstate 280. Whether driving with traffic through the neighborhoods in its “stealth” mode or accelerating up the onramp in “sport” mode, the car is satisfying to drive. Its steering and handling are what one would expect from this sleek supercar.

Technically, the car is a “plug-in, rechargeable hybrid.” The rear wheels are each driven by an electric motor mounted inboard of the wheel, drawing electricity from a lithium-ion power pack along the spine of the car between the seats.

A power outlet can completely recharge the batteries in as little as six hours with a 220/240V battery charger, providing a tested range of up to 50 miles in stealth mode, using just the batteries, under normal driving and weather conditions. If the driver needs to go farther, the onboard four-cylinder gasoline engine can charge the batteries while underway, adding as much as 250 miles to the car’s range on one tank of gas.

Independent testing rates the Karma as about half as efficient as the Chevy Volt because of its high-performance characteristics. Nevertheless, in our area the effective range of the battery and engine would allow a typical Silicon Valley commuter to go six months without filling the gas tank, and still drive to Sacramento and back on a full tank.

In addition to recharging the batteries as necessary, the gas engine can be engaged for more spirited driving by switching to sport mode, which supplements the electric power available to the drive motors. In sport mode, the car can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, go as fast as 125 mph and stop quickly with a driver-adjustable combination of Brembo brakes and regenerative braking.

In a nice touch for hot days, the car has a solar panel on the roof – the largest single-panel system in any car – allowing the driver to keep the air conditioner running while the car is idling or parked without relying on the batteries.

The interior has all the luxury touches expected from a car at this price point, but with the added advantage that everything has been pushed to its ecological limit. Customers who want the ultimate in green interiors can choose a synthetic interior of man-made materials, including soy-based biofiber for the foam in the seats. Traditional interiors are upholstered with hides from animals raised under humane conditions. The wood trim is salvaged from underwater shipwrecks in the Great Lakes or reclaimed from burned redwood forests.

The front seats were comfortable and supportive, and the company has done everything possible to make the interior look sleek and high-fashion, with few buttons and most functions controlled from the 10-inch touch screen. Because of the structure of the battery packs, only two adults fit in the rear seats. Though comfortable, they would feel more like they were in a racing cockpit than in a media-room lounge chair.

As for the exterior, the sleek styling is what one would expect from an accomplished stylist like Henrik Fisker, who designed the BMW Z8 and Aston-Martin DB9.

New paint technology known as “Diamond Dust” uses recycled glass rather than metal flakes to accent the lines. A reflective UV barrier reduces interior heat.

To complete the supercar look, Fisker has adopted a trick inherent in show cars, mounting the car on 22-inch wheels, which have a highly protective, environmentally sensitive finish. The downside to the sleekness is that owners will have to be careful to avoid scraping the bottoms of the pavement-hugging front brake ducts.

Our overall impression of this technical and styling tour de force is that the early adopters will get a great deal of satisfaction from it.

But what if the statement you want to make with your luxury sedan involves impressing clients riding in the backseat? In that case, for about the same amount of money, you can purchase the Jaguar XJL Supersport. Now comfortably settled into the portfolio of the Indian corporation that bought Jaguar from Ford, Jaguar is producing great products, and the XJL is the halo example.

The XJ letters identify it as one of the top sedans in the Leaping Cat lineup; the L means it has a long wheelbase for added legroom for two or three adults in the backseat. This is no hybrid. The name, Supersport, indicates Jaguar has the supercharged gas V-8 producing 510 horsepower, transmitted to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox.

The upside to that much power is that the car gets to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, equal to almost any sedan on the road, and tops out at 155 mph. The downside: You won’t be able to brag about fuel efficiency; the EPA rates the car at 15 mpg city and 21 highway.

In all other respects, the car is state-of-the-art, built around an all-aluminum chassis that gives the car sportscarlike handling when you aren’t driving clients around Silicon Valley. But whether you’re chauffeuring or hot shoeing, steering, handling and ride quality are all superb.

We agree with other commentators that Jaguar designers are back on top of their game with the exterior design, trendy but still imbuing their cars with that indefinable Britishness that has influenced luxury sedans for more than a century. When you pause to admire the interior, your eyes are filled with the great swathes of wood trim and rich leather.

To pick one of these two excellent cars, you only need to decide if you want people to see you’re riding the high-tech wave of the future or wafting along on solid automotive tradition. Either way, you’ll be proud of your ride.

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