Last year, the bar at Manhattan’s staid Taj Pierre Hotel underwent a makeover. Formerly the domain of visiting captains of industry, socialites and well-heeled tourists, it was thrust into the modern era when concert promoters turned the quiet piano lounge into a dance party complete with a celebrity DJ blasting the latest club hits. At first, the regular bar-goers were dismayed that their beloved, quiet institution had changed so, but once they saw how much fun everyone was having, they put down their gin and tonics and hit the dance floor.
Many Jaguar aficionados — myself included — had a similar reaction back in 2009 when the current Jaguar XJ sedan was unveiled. The last generation XJ, known as the X358, was an aluminum-framed technological marvel stuck in a stodgy suit. While all the classic elements of nearly all Jaguar sedans past could be checked off — the tail-down attitude, the quartet of circular headlamps, the wood-and-leather interior quieter than a funeral home — that warmed-over sheetmetal seemed censored, lacking the passion that defined Jaguars for almost a half century.
I spent a week with a stretched 2011 Jaguar XJL and, like the regulars at the Taj Pierre (coincidentally owned by the Tata Group, the same Indian conglomerate that bought Jaguar and Land Rover back in 2008) I very quickly learned that embracing change is more fun than clinging to a nostalgic period piece. Let the old sedans compete for best preserved at the Pebble Beach Concours, as this one is a classic in the making.
Were it not for the nervous passengers in the back seat screaming as if they were on a roller coaster every time I floored it on an on ramp, I would’ve sworn this land yacht was a two-seater.
For years, Jaguar’s lineup survived solely on looks. The company even based a whole marketing campaign on the word “gorgeous” a few years back. In that regard, the new XJL doesn’t disappoint. Though it’s a visual departure from any Jaguar of the past, the Ian Callum-penned car is merely a reskinning of an existing cat, adding new sheetmetal and leather to the X358’s aluminum frame. It’s also breathtaking, and therefore true to the brand’s identity. Those muscular curves and aggressive stance combine with a sensuality that make a Jaguar unmistakable for any other car. In person, the XJL is even more attractive than its shorter XJ stablemate, as the stretched wheelbase accentuates its long, low profile.
It’s nice to admire the XJL from outside the car, but this one is best enjoyed from the driver’s seat. Despite the 124.3-inch wheelbase (stretched a little over five inches from the base XJ), the engineers in Coventry somehow dialed all the heft out of the 5,149 pound beast. As a result, the car feels solid, yet agile — like it could outhandle big Benzes and Bimmers that happen to cost tens of thousands more. In hairpin turns, the car begs you to hit the gas and responds by interpreting the laws of physics with a wink and a nod like a corrupt Louisiana sheriff. Were it not for the nervous passengers in the back seat screaming as if they were on a roller coaster every time I floored it on an on ramp, I would’ve sworn this land yacht was a two-seater.
What’s most amazing about a car this long is that it corners with nary a hint of flex, pitch or roll. Likewise, steering is extremely communicative for any car, let alone a luxo-cruiser. Unlike Jaguars past, this one doesn’t float over bumps. The adaptive suspension is biblical: It maketh rough roads smooth, and drivers shall evermore proclaim its mighty deeds. Had it been equipped with the optional supercharged engine, our tester’s V8 would’ve put out 510 horsepower. It wasn’t, but the 385 horses unleashed by the base engine moved the car without complaint. It’s not as fast as some of its competitors, but combined with impeccable handling, it’s all the speed you’ll need.
To butcher an old slogan, none of Jaguar’s rediscovered pace comes at the expense of space and grace. Upon entering the car, you’ll first notice how low the seating position is, and then you’ll never want to leave. When the car detects the presence of a key, the start-stop button pulses with light in a nod to Lyons’ famed maxim about a car’s similarity to a living thing — though this gimmick seemed more reminiscent of E.T.’s creepy glow-stick heart. Press it, and the V8 springs to life with a throaty rumble as the shifter knob rises from the console. Topped by twin half-spherical air vents, the center stack flows across the cabin almost erotically, like a reclining mudflap girl between the seats. A Georgia O’Keefe painting is less suggestive of the female form.
If you haven’t driven a Jaguar since back in the awful British Leyland days, you’re probably wondering about intermittent headlamps and faulty dual gas tanks. Get over it.
Our tester featured catcher’s-mitt-brown leather seats with dark blue piping, carpet and dashboard that marked a clear departure from the old staples of beige or black. A swath of dark wood wrapped around the entire car above the dashboard. Its grain was more Danish modern than Brookstone burlwood, and it helped make the XJL’s interior a stunner. Only Audi can come close to a cockpit this stylish and refined, one that connects driver and machine.
If you haven’t driven a Jaguar since back in the awful British Leyland days, you’re probably wondering about intermittent headlamps and faulty dual gas tanks. Get over it. Lucas hasn’t been around for decades and Ford ironed out most of the major quality control issues during its ownership of the company. It’s hard to judge the solidity of a vehicle in a week, but a prestigious reliability rating firm judged the XJ’s initial quality as better than average. Although, I must note that once I witnessed the entire infotainment system freeze, requiring that I restart the car like it was running Windows XP. I also couldn’t help but imagine what would happen if the servo motor controlling that nifty pop-up shift knob failed, permanently stuck in park.
Speaking of the infotainment system, Jaguar should know that a low-volume automaker shouldn’t bother developing its own in-car navigation system, as the result will invariably be subpar. It’s why $350K Bentleys feature Volkswagen-sourced nav screens and the new Ferrari FF has the same setup as a new Chrysler. The touch screen required frequent button presses for it to sluggishly reveal yet another inscrutable multi-layered menu. It’s a shame, because the optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system offered such lifelike reproduction I swore I could smell stale beer when Ke$ha came on the radio.
The car had a few other champagne problems. The wooden trays in the back seat tilted forward so that it became uncomfortable to use a laptop in the back seat. The heated seats got really, really hot. Plus, the lumbar massagers didn’t stay on for nearly long enough. All that was forgotten every time a valet welcomed me to park the Jag wherever I liked — but preferably right up front. Another complaint: I spent a lot of money dining at restaurants with valet parking while I had this car.
The well-equipped XJL tester I had the pleasure of driving had an MSRP of just under $88,000. A base XJL starts at $79,700 and the shorter XJ starts at $72,700. If this fits your price range and you’ve still got a pulse, the XJL should definitely be on your short list. If you’re not hooked the moment you look at the car, take it for a drive. Then, like the people dancing at the Pierre, you’ll understand.
Photos courtesy of Jaguar Cars Limited
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