By Mark Elias
Wednesday, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 12:00 pm
 
Jaguar took its time introducing its newest flagship to the world. Now that it's here, the firm is trying to crash the European Big Three's luxe-life party with its new Jaguar XJ. Does this swoopy new sedan score a bull's eye or is it a hit that misses the target?

In short: This is not your rich Uncle Moneybag's Jag.

Instead, what we have here is the Jag for the next millennium. We had a chance back in May to drive the new flagship in Los Angeles for a brief introductory spin, but we wanted to know more about the new flagship. To find out, we took a long-wheelbase XJL to Key Largo's Ocean Reef Yacht Club for their 16th Annual Vintage Weekend. Read on to see if this leaper is the real deal, or just another pricey also-ran.

What is it?
This is the new deal, as it were, for the historic marque that hails from Covington, United Kingdom, by way of Mumbai, India - at least as far as the ownership is concerned. A four-door saloon, er, sedan long under development before Ford decided to bail on its Premier Automotive Group holdings that included Land Rover, Aston Martin, Volvo, and Jaguar, it is the latest from longtime auto designer Ian Callum.

As tested, ours was the XJL, which is a long wheelbase take on an already smashing executive car. Adding five extra inches of legroom behind the front seats, it provides loads of space for extended road trips, or just around-town comfort.

Although it looks unlike any XJ before - all of which carried over a basic theme that was more than 40 years old - the newest car is actually based on the still-advanced all-aluminum underpinnings of its predecessor.

Our tester slots in as the least-expensive and least-powerful long-wheelbase XJ, even though it's still rather fast and rather large.

What's it up against?
The offerings of the aforementioned European Big Three include the Audi A8, the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Throw in the Lexus LS 460 and the Maserati Quattroporte just for kicks and you have a wide range of ways to toss out $100,000 and not get much in change.

A heady group, indeed. Like those, the Jaguar is also offered in various levels of high performance trim including Supercharged and Supersports variants.

Any breakthroughs?
New materials head off the field of breakthroughs for the XJL. These include Magnesium and Composite Alloys and nearly 2,800 aircraft-spec rivets and new Jaguar-developed bonding process to hold things together without weighing a lot. High strength steel gives the monocoque a new, stiffer ride without creaks or groans.

New direct-injection engines give better top end while sipping less fuel, while the interior boasts an attention to detail and level of craftsmanship that positively blows away its predecessor.

How does it look?
Featuring Callum's design as the new face of the brand, the XJL is a case of breathtaking style in a sleek silhouette that evokes the feeling of speed while standing still. The most stylish, yet most controversial aspect of the Jaguar is the hidden (invisible?) D-pillars. Clearly the most polarizing aspect of the design, it is one that evokes comments from nearly every passerby.

The two-stage grille is one of the more recognizable features and with the jewel-like headlights, and lower strakes giving a forward appearance. Brightwork on the sides of the greenhouse give definition to the side openings. The top is finished off with a panoramic glass roof, which is now standard on all XJs.

Though this is a driver's car, Jaguar has, in a nod to those who like to be driven, stretched the XJL an additional five inches. The result is loads of legroom for the rear seat occupants, not to mention "picnic tables" made of gorgeous rosewood veneers. Unlike its predecessor, this latest long-wheelbase model doesn't look like a stretched out Town Car; its proportions are kept in check to the point where we can't help but think that the shorter XJ looks a little less dramatic.

And on the inside?
The inside is part and parcel of the new Jaguar. With a sport-oriented front dashboard area that looks as though it belongs inside a sporty Jaguar XK rather than XJ, it is clear that the intention is to present an interior of a sports/driver's car rather than a family sedan. This Jag delivers in spades. Single needle stitching imparts a sophisticated look while the cabin's functionality satisfies at every turn. TFT LCD panel gauges show three main dials, which are programmable to show navigation, and vehicle information, as well as the standard speedometer and tachometer.

The front seats are good enough to be on one of those Etihad Airways A380 jumbos bound on the overnight flights to Abu Dhabi. With heating and ventilation blowing cold air where it should be blown, and massage mechanisms rubbing out the kinks, you'll almost never want to leave.

In between the two, figured ebony veneer sets off the top of the center console, which is home to the knurled Jaguar Drive Select knob that raises from below the deck so the driver can select gear and driving style. Above that is the eight-inch nav-screen, which doubles as a touch screen for climate control, seats, and car info, in addition to the top-notch Bowers and Wilkins 1,200 watt audio system with 20 speakers through 15 channels. Additionally, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth come standard, as does HD radio.

It's hard to kvetch when it looks and feel this good, although some passengers pointed to an overabundance of chrome trim, which reflects the sun at every opportunity. A stretch indeed.

But does it go?
The new Ford Mustang isn't the only ride out there rockin' a 5.0-liter engine. Our XJL sported the five-oh, known internally as the AJ-V8 Gen III engine, which was developed by Jaguar to replace its - you guessed it - Gen II V8. Now equipped with direct injection with a variable intake manifold, it is also available with Eaton twin vortex superchargers in XJ Supercharged and XJ Supersport models.

In our naturally-aspirated XJL's case, it produces 385 horsepower and 380 lb-ft. of torque. Equipped with variable cam timing, it can move the 4,131 lbs. beast at a rate of 0-60 mph in 5.4-seconds. The XJ engines have 15,000-mile service intervals with no-cost maintenance for five years or 50,000 miles, to boot.

The EPA estimates that the XJ will click off 15mpg city and 22 mpg highway. We came close to that, turning 14/20. Our right foot was feeling particularly heavy that day.

This cat gets its power to the pavement through the Jaguar Sequential Shift six-speed electronic automatic transmission. A "set and forget" mode is available with the shift control on the center console, while plastic paddle shift levers offer those with do-it-yourself tendencies, the ability to shift on the fly without removing their hands from the wheel. A Sport Mode remaps the shift points and holds gears longer under heavy acceleration.

Highballing down to Key Largo and the Ocean Reef Club saw the XJ peeling off the miles without a care. A large vehicle that thinks of itself as a sports car rather than a full-size sedan, it displayed agility that is more commonly found in cars that check in weighing half as much. An extreme calmness settled in the cabin, isolating us from most of the road noise except on the coarsest of surfaces.

That is, until we stepped on the gas.

At that point, a potent purring of the V8 made its way in, but it was anything but intrusive. Adjustable air dampers are constantly monitoring road conditions, firming or softening as needed. Called Adaptive Dynamics, it allows you to slice and dice as needed. We were curious why speed was capped in the XJL to 121 mph. But the answer may lie in the choice of 19-inch tires.

Attending Ocean Reef's Vintage Weekend gives auto enthusiasts a chance to see recent notable automobiles from Amelia Island, Meadowbrook and Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance events. So to see the XJL garner as much attention as some of the million-dollar concours cars, shows us that this Callum fellow might really be on to something.

Why you would buy it:
Long and sleek is a nice alternative to conservative and Teutonic.

Why you wouldn't:
You think Jaguar still has electrical problems from the Bosch electronics days.

Leftlane's bottom line
The crowd that this Jaguar XJL runs with, all possess lofty price tags that match their capabilities.

Of the four, the Jaguar stands out with a newfound style that departs from what would be considered a stylized three-box design. It might not appeal to wallflowers, but it finally gives luxury buyers a very compelling reason to shop around.

2011 Jaguar XJL base price, $78,650. As tested, $82,700.
Driver Assistance Pack, $1,000; Bowers and Wilkins audio, $2,200; Destination, $850.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.