Jaguar's XJ sends power to all four wheels for the first time - and a new, boosted V6 is also on board. We bundle up and hit the road.
What once was a pariah of electrical reliability became the new belle of the ball when Jaguar reinvented its XJ flagship a few years ago.
But what to do in the snow-belted colonies? A large rear-drive sedan might find itself in the garage should nature decide to unleash the white stuff. That would have been the case before, but Jaguar has rectified that problem with a new all-wheel-drive system for the XJ saloon.
As the brand's flagship, the XJ is the sedan answer to its sister-brand Land Rover's Range Rover line, but without the mud plugging ability.
Sending power to all four wheels isn't the only thing new about the XJ for 2013: A 3.0-liter supercharged V6 cranking out 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft. of torque and an eight-speed automatic gearbox have also arrived.
The V6 augments a 385 horsepower naturally-aspirated V8, but only the six offers all-wheel-drive. A supercharged version of the aforementioned V8 remains available in either 470 or 510 horsepower configurations.
However, only the V6 offers Jaguar's new Instinctive All-Wheel-Drive that uses a clutch pack in the rear of the transaxle to quickly transfer power. A feed-forward design, it senses conditions and could start at a bias of 0:100, front to rear, with variables that adjust it to 30:70, 40:60 or 50:50 as needed. To keep a low center of gravity, the front drive shafts go through the oil sump at the bottom of the engine.
Naught to 60 comes in 5.7 seconds with standard rear-wheel-drive or 6.7 seconds in our tested all-wheel-drive model. Speaking of numbers, fuel economy is up to 18/27 mpg, helped in part by a start/stop system that silences the engine at stoplights.
Stylistically, the XJ remains the same, jaw-dropping sedan that arrived a few years ago, but the interior has received some control upgrades. The giveaway to the 3.0 all-wheel-drive model tested is the addition of a Land Rover-looking control panel on the center console. Now with push buttons, it allows drivers to vary settings on the fly. A new navigation system offers increased zooming functionality and the Meridian hi-fi system has also been reworked for less distortion.
We've always liked the steering feel of the XJ, thinking it's the best we have seen in the large luxury car segment. Add in a torquey V6 supplying power to each corner and things only get better. Underneath, an adjustable air suspension rapidly adapted to the changing road surfaces, which went from smooth to choppy during our testing in Quebec.
Put into snow/winter mode, the transmission starts in second gear and sends about 30 percent of the power to the front wheels for added deep white stuff traction. Selecting dynamic mode alters that to 90 percent out back, but really throttling the sedan can send every bit of the power to the rear wheels.
If the all-wheel-drive system detected we were pushing beyond the limits of physics, it would reign us back in. On ice with all stability and traction-aiding controls disabled, we realized just how effective the system is - our tester was a slipping and sliding beast otherwise. Clicking back to the snow setting allowed the XJ's system and its built-in algorithms to apply throttle input as determined by the need. We could almost feel the AWD system detecting slippage and, in a millisecond, deciding to send the torque to the opposite wheel. It worked in all but the most extreme situations.
Lane changes on ice were just one area that allowed the XJ's traction control system to really show off its stuff. At about 20 mph, we performed a quick lane change on ice, without braking, in which the traction control used all of its abilities to prevent traffic cones from being harmed in our manuever.
If traction control was still needed when testing on our ice loop at the Mecaglisse circuit near Mont Tremblant, the system applied it after adjusting for front or rear bias. The beauty is that its application is almost imperceptibly seamless. We were only aware of its use when we rode on a segment that had a patch of ice on the XJ's right side, and dry pavement under the left wheels.
Informed isolation has long been a Jaguar XJ virtue - and it's now something those in wintry markets can experience year round.
Leftlane's bottom line
The Jaguar XJ is one of those cars that have always provided a good look with great execution. Known for providing limo-like comfort in a driver's car, it now makes the platform equipped for any situation, regardless of the season.
And it looks like the idea of an all-wheel-drive leaper will be around for a while. As one Jaguar official said: "Going forward, all-wheel-drive will be a part of any future product we do."
2013 Jaguar XJ 3.0 AWD base price, $76,700.
Words and photos by Mark Elias. Additional photography provided by Jaguar.