By Kevin Miller
Early in my career with Autosavant, one of the first vehicles I reviewed was a 2008 Jaguar XJ Super V8. The then-flagship of the XJ line, that classically-styled, 400 HP supercharged luxury sedan was both the most expensive and the most powerful vehicle I had ever driven. Three years later, both the XJ and I have become much more worldly. I’ve expanded my horizons by having driven plenty of exotic, luxurious and powerful metal. Jaguar, for its part, launched an all-new XJ flagship which hit the US market for 2011, with a modern yet elegant style that is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else on the road.
The new XJ is available in standard and long-wheelbase (XJL) versions, and US-spec XJ models are available with three different 5.0 liter V8 engines: 385 HP naturally aspirated, 470 HP supercharged, or 510 HP supercharged Supersport. Constructed from aluminum, the XJ’s body is lighter than competitors’ steel-bodied vehicles, giving the already-powerful engines further performance (and economy) advantages due to weight savings.
The biggest Jaguar’s new modern shape is unlike anything on the road. In long-wheelbase form, from certain angles it can look longer than a city block. When I came out of the grocery store on afternoon, an older couple was looking at the XJL, and when I approached the car the gentleman said it was a great looking car but it looked as if it were “a mile long”.
Inside of the XJ, the cabin materials are truly class-leading. While the exterior has finally moved on from the decades-old Jaguar styling, the interior continues the tradition of “olde-world” style. Real leather in a rich navy blue color covers the dashboard and console, rich tan leather with navy blue piping upholsters the seats, and plush carpeting in navy blue blankets the floors. These textures are complemented by dark oak veneer trim and metallic-finish controls. All the leather and wood typify British luxury, albeit with modern implementation. Throughout my time with the XJL, the interior never failed to look and feel special, though the veneer is lacquered with such a high-gloss shine my father-in-law believed it to be fake. In my logbook I described the beautiful stitched leather on the dash and doors as “exquisite”, and I’m not the kind of guy who is easily impressed. In some ways, the XJL seemed almost too elegant for daily use.
Settling into the driver’s seat (with 20-way power control including bolsters) and electrically adjusting the steering column, it was very easy to get comfortable. The heated wood-and-leather steering wheel feels great at hand. Although there is plenty of room and comfort in the XJL, its sleek lines don’t provide headroom that could be called anything more than adequate; on a “tall hair day” my ‘do brushed against the headliner above the driver’s seat.
Ahead of the driver is the instrument cluster, which rather than being a cluster housing discrete instruments is a large TFT screen which electronically displays a tachometer, speedometer, and fuel/temperature gauges. As needed, the displays change navigation directions, warning messages, or other information. While I found myself liking the digital instrument cluster better than I had expected to, I did have one occasion where it malfunctioned. I had stopped at a rest area on a trip between Seattle and Portland, and when I got back into the car to continue my journey I found myself merging onto the freeway and realized that the instrument panel had never booted up- it was still on its initial startup screen when I was at freeway speed. Just as I realized the problem and was contemplating pulling onto the shoulder, the instruments blinked to life.
A large touchscreen infotainment screen sits atop the center stack under separately-cowled air vents, and below that are audio and climate controls. The center console houses the JaguarDrive rotary gear selector and mode controls, engine start button, and electric parking brake. From the driver’s seat, the view out the back window isn’t great thanks to the relatively tall trunk; the rearview camera and parking sensors are very appreciated.
The infotainment system features climate controls, audio system, navigation, telephone, and backup camera. As in other Jaguar vehicles recently tested, the touchscreen system has very slow response time, which is out of place in a luxury car as advanced as the XJL. I found that the iPod interface sometimes plays a different song than is displayed, though that problem was intermittent.
The infotainment screen also has duplicate controls for the rear-seat entertainment system. The RSE system includes monitors on the back side of each front headrest and wireless headphones, with a more-complex-than-necessary controller in the rear center armrest. Unfortunately, the rear-seat entertainment system does not play standard DVDs, instead playing only discs of a different video format. That was a ridiculously frustrating thing to find out when leaving town on a family trip on a traffic-intense holiday weekend, and it caused my two- and six-year-old daughters to use the fold-down trays and the windows shades as toys. Any RSE system that doesn’t play DVDs is pointless; in a $95k luxury car it is unforgivable.
In the back seat, amazing legroom is present, with about five inches more space than the standard-wheelbase car. The back seat has adequate space for three people across, though the drivetrain tunnel is significant in height (and not insignificant in width), and a middle passenger may find him- or herself a bit cramped. In addition to all of that space, the XJL also has heated outboard seating positions, separate outboard climate controls (including both air flow location and temperature), trays that fold down out of the front seatbacks, window sunshades (manual on the side windows, electric for the back window), a separate control for the panoramic roof’s rear section shade, and vanity mirrors that fold down from the ceiling. The center armrest that folds out from the seatback cushion houses controls for the optional rear-seat entertainment system.
Although the XJL is a large car, its trunk is merely average in size. That fact is amplified by the fact that the trunk opening is fairly narrow; the equipment case which has featured so prominently in many of my reviews was too big to squeeze through the trunk opening, and had to be transported in the Jaguar’s spacious back seat. The trunk does have a handy electric opening/closing feature.
The 470 HP supercharged V8 is mated to a six-speed automatic that is controlled by the rotary JaguarDrive gear selector, as well as by shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Manually-commanded shifts occur very quickly and decisively, with rev-matched downshifts nicely implemented; touching the Sport button on the JaguarDrive console hastens shifting and throttle response, and colors the instruments with red accents. The snarl of the XJL’s supercharged V8 is sublime. Power is more than adequate for a car of this class and size. Although one might expect the XJL Supercharged to be a chauffeur-driven sedan, its power and road manners tend to encourage driving it like a sport sedan by an enthusiastic owner.
Even in a $95k car, there are always features that could work better. In the case of the XJ, it is the operation of the touchscreen infotainment system. As mentioned above, the system and its lag time are shared with Jaguar’s XK and XF; such a slow system has no place in a line of luxury cars. The system in the $30k Chrysler 300 puts the Jaguar system to shame. The XJL I tested was equipped with a blind spot monitor. It’s handy to have in a car as large as the XJL, though I found it was often confused by long shrubs and fences on the roadside, giving false indications of a vehicle in the blind spot. Stainless steel scuff plates are present on each door sill, though after just 4000 miles those showed significant wear. Finally, a “Jaguar” badge at the top of the dashboard covered a joint between two large stitched leather sections; unfortunately the badge looked like a cheap plastic afterthought despite its prominent location high on the dash.
One of the luxury features of the XJ I didn’t have the chance to use but found distracting was the electrically heated windshield. Useful for melting ice on frosty mornings, the embedded conductors catch the light especially at dusk, which can be distracting.
I was able to put nearly 700 miles on the XJL in a week, including a day trip from Seattle to Portland and back. While the trip down I-5 and back up is best defined as a “slog”, the XJL was an ideal companion for the trip, with its all-day-comfortable, infinitely-adjustable, heated/cooled seats, comfortable ride, and powerful motor capable of gobbling up miles (and premium unleaded fuel!). My actual fuel consumption for the week, according to the Jaguar’s trip computer, was 20.6 mpg over 685 miles, at an averages speed of 37 mph. The mix included 400 high-speed freeway miles, urban traffic jams, suburban carpool runs, and two ferry crossings.
The 2011 Jaguar XJL Supercharged has an MSRP of $90,700. At that price, it is very well equipped; the only options were the heated front windshield ($375) and the rear seat entertainment system ($2200). Including the $875 destination fee, total suggested retail price was $94,150.
While that price may seem high, it actually undercuts rival large sedans such as the BMW 750Li and Audi A8, especially when the Jaguar’s 470 HP are compared with the respective 400 HP and 372 HP outputs of those competitors. With the XJL’s distinctive new appearance, opulent interior, and impressive road manners, it is a worthy and contemporary heir to the XJ lineage.
Jaguar provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.