2011 Jaguar XJ Driving Impressions

The Jaguar XJ is designed to be a performance luxury sedan; the words are nearly synonymous in European markets. It aims to simultaneously appease and coddle the luxury buyer and provide excellent performance for the more enthusiastic driver.

The 385-hp V8 offers output similar to the competitors, but the XJ weighs 300-400 pounds less than its competitors, a benefit of its aluminum structure and rear-wheel drive layout. Less weight benefits acceleration, fuel economy, and cost because a seven- or eight-speed transmission isn't needed. After spending time with it, we deem the standard 385-hp V8 more than adequate for any occasion on any North American road.

But you can go faster. The Supercharged model adds 85 horsepower and 40 foot-pounds of torque and shaves one second off the 0-60 mph benchmark (to less than 5 seconds). Unlike many supercharged cars it doesn't add a lot of low-end torque so you seldom feel much difference unless you've booted the gas pedal. The special-order Supersport adds another 40 horsepower and 40 foot-pounds of torque.

We found all three V8s smooth as a bottler's private label, quiet at cruise or loping around town, and bring a welcome throated purr under heavier throttle. The supercharger is absent any of the characteristic whine and can't be heard even with the stereo off and any of the dual-pane windows down.

The XJ uses fully independent suspension adapted but not copied from the XF with steel springs in front for precision and air springs in back for the best and level ride among varying loads. Ride quality and bump absorption is very good as even on 20-inch wheels pock-marked roads and expansion joints didn't come jarring through. Full air-suspended cars like the S-Class have a slight edge in ultimate ride cushiness but haven't the steering precision of the Jag, while others have multiple electronic chassis controls to help deal with the weight but impart a sense of artificiality to the drive.

The XJ doesn't have such artificiality. Steering is light but firms up, as does the suspension damping, with the touch of a button. It may not post the ultimate handling numbers of an Aston Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte or Porsche Panamera, but the handling is balanced, the ride quality competitive, the look clearly better in one case, and the cost at least $20,000 less. Decades ago Jaguar developed a reputation for building low-slung sedans that made a marriage of handling and comfort few could match, and the XJ suggests they've re-acquainted themselves.

Big brakes, bigger on supercharged cars, are up to any North American roadway and backed up by the full suite of electronic controls. Although you can switch off the stability control we never found the need while testing the limits because the system is not intrusive at all.

A standard-wheelbase XJ Supersport will be the quickest model and, depending on tires fitted, should be the best-handling as well. The most pampering ride comes from a long-wheelbase non-supercharged XJL with 19-inch wheels. Cars this long aren't meant to be canyon carvers or autocross warriors, where the XJ managed just fine thank you, so think of the Supersport as the XJ to have if you think you want to drive a racetrack. If you think you want to get to a racetrack comfortably in minimum time, any XJ will do the job.

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