Working at a large international media outlet like Fox News, I have several friends and coworkers from around the world, including many from Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations. Unfortunately, none of them were of any help with this review.
I was looking for a word or phrase to describe the 2011 Jaguar XJ that is similar to the way we use “home run” here in the Colonies, figuring something from cricket would be fitting for a vehicle from an Indian-owned British automaker. Apparently no such colloquialism exists. Literally, the closest thing is something called a “six-ball over,” but it isn’t commonly used in this context and, in any case, sounds a bit offensive.
Instead, I’ll simply call the XJ “smashing” – tennis anyone? - although the more contemporary Britishism “major” may be more fitting, since this car is far from traditional.
Scoff if you will at the contemporary exterior design, but this big Jag has a more feline appearance than any XJ before. From the cat’s eye headlights to the sinewy bodywork and bloody claw-scratch taillights – an intentional affectation – it is the culmination of the company’s recent efforts to transform itself from Saville Row to SoHo. The sharply-dressed brute strikes an intimidating pose that is the automotive equivalent of Gordon Ramsey wearing a tuxedo.
The interior furnishings would look spot-on dressing up one of his ultra-chic restaurants, too. The cabin is a retro-modern collection of chrome, leather, faux suede and massive planks of wood which is so far beyond what’s found inside the staid German competition, sitting in it is like getting hit in the face by an explosion of elegance. There's less exposed plastic in there than seen on a typical reality-TV star. The designers did take a few chances: a sunken living room effect created by a dashboard below set the base of the windshield pays off, while a flat-screen display for the instrument panel stands out more like a high-def TV on the wall of a sitting room in Buckingham Palace.
Digital still isn’t very dignified.
But the XJ is about moving forward and the thin-film transistor screen at least tries to fit in by projecting virtual analog gauges that transform into menus and directions from the navigation system when needed. The same one is also found in the latest Range Rover from Jaguar’s sister company, Land Rover, and we’ll probably be seeing a lot more of these in the near future. In fact, the Chevy Volt has something similar.
There is another screen on the center stack of the XJ that controls the audio, climate and standard navigation systems. Its interface is much more intuitive to use than the clunky one found on previous Jags, but is difficult to see in direct sunlight, which is more of a problem than you’d think thanks to an enormous panoramic glass roof.
Over the shoulder visibility is better than expected given the swoopy roof line, but the shelf behind the rear seats is puffed up like a pillow and the headrests are so large that the view straight out the back is very pinched. In the standard XJ, rear legroom is on the tight side, too, but a stretch version of the car is available and so spacious that it is fitted with tray tables that fold down from behind the front seats.
Both sizes of XJ are available with a choice of three engines each. All of them are meaty 5.0-liter V8s that range from the entry-level $72,700 385 hp version to the supercharged 510 hp Supersport monster that starts at $110,200. The car that I tested at length was a mid-range XJ Supercharged with 470 hp with a sticker price of $88,550. An extra $3,000 buys you the long-wheelbase model, which is expected to be the top seller.
Light it up and the motor settles into a deep, cashmere-wrapped burble. No piston popping cacophony here, but just a toe on the accelerator wills it down the road with all of the urgency of a muscle car. Built with a largely aluminum structure, the XJ has the power to weight ratio of a Chevy Camaro and it feels even quicker than that sounds, both in a straight line and while clipping corners. You haven’t played with something this long and light since the last time you swung a metal bat.
An electronic suspension lets you do that with abandon while retaining the last remnant of old Jaguar worth preserving for the 21st century: ride quality smooth enough to spread on an English muffin. The XJ is so supple that there isn’t a nook or cranny in the road it can’t handle. This is true despite it being shod with 20-inch wheels and the kind of low-profile tires that would cripple most other cars while parked.
(“I ran over what back there? Yea, let’s keep moving, I’m sure someone will call it in.”)
If a theatrically quick getaway is required, there’s a button behind the gear selector marked with a checkered flag that switches the XJ into Dynamic mode. You’ll have to press it hard, though, as is the case with all of the buttons in the car. I’m guessing sub par switchgear is the last bastion of parts sharing with former owner Ford.
When you do, the instrument panel glows red and the front seatbelts cinch up an inch to mentally and physically prepare you for what’s coming. The already sporty steering gains extra weight, while the suspension switches to more aggressive computer algorithm as do the throttle and transmission, which has to be the most responsive conventional automatic on the market. Pulling the paddles behind the steering wheel elicits an instant response from the gearbox. Not that you ever need to do that, because it fully anticipates your needs when left alone. The only thing that could make it better is the addition of one or two more gears to help out the 21 mpg highway fuel economy.
Manhole cover-size brakes don’t need any tweaking, chauffeurs may actually find them a little grabby. But POW! do they get the job done. Better yet, replacement fluids, pads and discs are part of the five years of free scheduled maintenance that comes with the XJ, so feel free to put them to good use.
An absurdly strong, but beautiful sounding 1200-watt Bowers & Wilkins stereo with 20 speakers is on hand for when you tire of being caressed by the exhaust note, so don’t expect to use it much. On the other hand, the every-which-way adjustable front seats and their aggressive massage function - which is possibly illegal in several Southern states - are the perfect accompaniment for the kind of long drives you’ll be going out of your way for in the XJ. I’d still be behind the wheel now if I didn’t have to write this review.
Too bad I couldn’t get any help with it.
(Yes, we know, you totally agree. How do you say touché in English?)
2011 Jaguar XJ Supercharged
As tested: $88,550
Type: 5-passenger, rear-wheel-drive 4-door sedan
Engine: 5.0-liter supercharged V8
Power: 470 hp, 424 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG 15 city/21 hwy
Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.