Road Test: 2012 Jaguar XJ

After wandering off into the stylistic wilderness, Jaguar is back with an eye-catching look, a new-found poise and, if you pony up the dosh, as much vigour as anyone could possibly want. The XJ’s lines are sleek and the roof with its two-panel sunroof is seductively swoopy. It all wraps a cabin that is, in a word, exquisite. Now, just in case one forgets one is driving a Jaguar, there are 20-plus logos/nameplates in/around the XJ — now, that is overkill.

Inside, the leather is sumptuous, the carpeting just so and the optional carbon-fibre trim is beautifully finished. No manufacturer does upscale quite as well as Jaguar. The front seats, for example, are fully articulated, heated and cooled and extremely comfortable. Slide rearward and things are just as swanky. Unless one is NBA-like in size, it really does not mandate the long-wheelbase XJ to find complete comfort. Aft of that is an enormous 18.4-cubic-foot trunk. Surprisingly, the enormity of the space does not hurt the tail and the manner in which it is so neatly bustled.

The instrumentation follows the exterior’s spiffy lead. It is dark until the Jag is fired to life. At this juncture, the lot appears in much the same manner as the icons on an iPad when it’s first switched on. While the graphics are analogue and feature a nifty torchlight feature that lights only the numerals near the speedometer needle, the whole lot is, in fact, digital and very attractive. Ditto the beautiful analogue clock that’s finished in an iridescent blue. Below that, the large centrally mounted eight-inch screen allows easy access to the navigation, climate, phone and media functions. Occasionally, the icons (and backup camera) seemed to take a while to react, but, otherwise, all proved to be hunky-dory. That stated, I found it easier to pair the Jag to my phone rather than doing it through the touchscreen. The other minor nit is the heft of the smart key — it is just way too heavy and cumbersome!

For many, what lies beneath the immaculate paint goes unnoticed — the vast majority of the body is constructed of aluminum. This means the XJ is around 150 kilograms lighter than a steel body, which keeps the mass to a manageable 1,839 kg while providing a solid base of operations for the advanced suspension and its adaptive damping. By monitoring body movement up to 500 times a second, it manages to deliver a consummate ride minus the body roll I expected. As a result, the large XJ is remarkably adroit at carving its way through a series of switchbacks. Likewise, the steering delivers first-rate feel and feedback. It is as though the car has borrowed its namesake’s claws. It digs in and hangs in well beyond all rational limits. It was just not what I expected: The XJ is every bit as much a sports sedan as it is luxury conveyance.

The XJ is offered with a range of engine options. The base unit, and the one in the test car, represents enough — a 5.0-litre V8 that puts out 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,500 rpm. It wafts the occupants and all of the aforementioned opulence to 100 kilometres an hour in 5.7 seconds and accomplishes the 80-to-120-km/h passing move in an equally speedy 4.6 seconds.

The alternate engines retain the 5.0L displacement but gain a supercharger. In base form, this blown motor puts forth 470 hp and a substantial 424 lb-ft of torque, which cuts the run to 100 km/h to 5.2 seconds. However, for those moments when more than enough is still not quite enough, there is the tweaked version — this thing makes 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. When pressed to the max, it chops a further 0.3 seconds off the acceleration time. At 4.9 seconds, this is one fast car and would be my choice were the pricing not so prohibitive — although that is relative, I guess.

Regardless of the engine, the power is put to the road through a six-speed automatic transmission and the rear wheels. Unlike most other cars, there is no shifter until the car is started. At this point, it rises gracefully out of the centre console and gives the driver access to a number of modes — Normal, Sport, which sharpens the throttle and stretches out the shift points, and Winter. The latter has the opposite effect to Sport, calming things in an attempt to prevent wheelspin on a slippery road. There are no complaints with the box or the manner in which it operates — it is the model of civility and shifts impeccably. It is, however, a cog or two shy of the competition’s — Audi has eights speeds and Mercedes-Benz has seven speeds. BMW also offers eight speeds on the high-end 7 Series. Aside from cutting overall fuel consumption, the extra gears reduce the spacing between shifts, which would enhance an already silky transition.

I was not expecting to be wowed by a large luxury sedan. The XJ managed to accomplish that in ways I did not expect. Of course, I was expecting a delightful cabin, but the fit, finish and quality of the materials were more impressive than anticipated. Likewise, I was expecting a soft-riding boulevardier — that the XJ is, but, as mentioned, it also does a very credible job of doubling as a true sports sedan. Heck, I could even live with the XJ’s thirst — a test average of just shy of 15 litres per 100 km made me wince as much as my wallet. In short, Jaguar has rediscovered its roots very nicely.


Type of vehicle Rear-wheel-drive full-sized sedan

Engine 5.0L DOHC V8

Power 385 hp @ 6,500 rpm;

380 lb-ft of torque @ 3,500 rpm

Transmission Six-speed manumatic

Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS

Tires P245/40R20 front/P275/35R20 rear (opt.)

Price: base/as tested $88,000/$93,400

Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km

13.1 city, 8.5 hwy.

Standard features Dual-zone automatic climate control, power windows, locks and mirrors, heated/cooled 14-way driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, smart key with push-button start, 600-watt AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3/Sirius satellite audio with 14 speakers, auxiliary inputs and steering wheel-mounted controls, 30-gigabyte hard drive-based navigation system with voice activation, music storage capability and eight-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, power tilt and telescopic steering, front and rear park assist with backup camera, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring

Options 20-inch wheels ($3,500), carbon-fibre trim ($1,600), heated windshield with timer ($300)

Photograph by: Graeme Fletcher, for National Post