By Jim Bray
Visiting southern Ontario is made much more palatable when you have a great car in which to do it. And to that end, Jaguar's magnificent XJ sedan certainly did more than its part to coddle and entertain my automotive and aesthetic sensibilities during a recent trip to the so-called centre of the universe.
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As a transplanted Ontarian living the past 40 plus years in British Columbia and Alberta, I find Ontario a lousy place to drive, with low speed limits, too many straight and flat roads and a seeming surfeit of sphincters steering other vehicles. But if you look for them, and ignore some speed laws, you can find some intriguing roadways that offer your car and your driving abilities some challenges above and beyond merely dodging semis and the semi-conscious. So it was that I spent two weeks travelling major and minor Ontario roads to test the mettle of Jaguar's largest sedan, er, saloon.
Before getting into the piece, I must tip my hat to the team at BHG Media Fleet and of course Jaguar Land Rover Canada. We car writers get most of our review vehicles for a week at a time, but – perhaps because review Jaguars are rare in Alberta – they bent over backwards to accommodate my wife and me during our visit to the Kingsville/Leamington and Ottawa areas. So it turned out I had this lovely piece of autodom for the full duration of our trip – and thanks again to those responsible for their indulgence.
Now, back to regularly scheduled programming.
One thing an extra week with a review car does is give you a better insight into the vehicle than you'd get normally. And that's exactly what happened to me. I found things I didn't like that grew on me, gained an understanding into Jaguar's design (I think), and just learned to love the car for what it is – a large, luxurious and sporty cruiser.
The XJ is the big Jag, a car that goes toe to toe with contenders such as the Audi A8, Mercedes Benz S class, BMW 7 series, Lexus LS, and I suppose the Hyundai Equus as well. The car has been around in various generations for, well, generations, but this latest iteration is as modern as those it battles with in the marketplace.
It starts with aluminum, which is everywhere and allows a bigger car to have lower mass, which makes it lighter on its paws. You'll never forget you're in a big sedan, but activate the Sport and Dynamic modes and it almost seems as if the car shrinks perceptibly, making it feel more sprightly and, well, cat-like than when you're using the big feline to just cruise along serenely and comfortably – which it also does extremely well.
Jaguar Land Rover Canada's review sample was the XJ L, the "L" indicating that it was the long wheelbase version, which translates into a huge back seat compartment. It's also a very comfortable back seat, with nicely sculpted seatbacks and full heating/cooling controllable right from there. And talk about room! No one in my family is particularly tall, but it seems as if there was enough room back there for an entire marching band, perhaps sans the bass drums and tubas. I'd have loved it if the seat backs reclined, but such wasn't the case and it wasn't a big deal.
You can even configure that rear compartment as a mobile office. The review sample didn't come this way, but as you can see on Jaguar Canada's website, you can order fold-out tables and front seatback-mounted LCD screens to help keep you productive while your chauffeur drives you around.
That would be a shame, though, because this car should be driven, not merely "passenged in."
The XJ is available with three powertrains (well, you only choose one or it would be mighty crowded and redundant under the "bonnet"), all of which are mated to an excellent – though not dual clutch – eight speed automatic transmission. "My" Jag had the base three litre supercharged V6, which puts out 340 horsepower and 320 torquey things. I may risk getting struck by lightning saying this, but it's plenty of poop. I had no issues with this engine at all (though it didn't sound nearly as outrageous as it did in the F-Type I drove last year). It gets up to highway speed as quickly as you want, and it passes with ease. Its comparative lightness also allows for a better front/rear weight ratio than the other engines.
The other choices are of two five litre, supercharged V8's, one of which cranks out a very healthy 470 hp while the other, found in the XJR, spews a truly awesome 550 horses and is probably very intoxicating. I drove an XKR with that engine a couple of years ago and still haven't gotten the smile off my face.
We picked up the Jaguar in Mississauga and headed immediately for the Leamington area. This was basically a few hours on the execrable highway 401, dodging oafs and semis and cruising along shackled by a ridiculous speed limit of 100 km/h. The Jag was perfectly happy and competent doing this, and the V6 purred along at low revs, waiting for a pounce that never came.
The low rev operation saves you gas – as does the auto start/stop feature that shuts the engine off and then starts it up again, quite jarringly in both instances – but who in his right mind buys a Jaguar XJ to save gas? Fortunately, you can defeat the on/off (though you have to do it every time you fire up the car), and if you want higher revs they're there in an instant when you tromp the gas and/or paddle shift the transmission down a couple of gears.
The transmission selector is a knob that rises from the console when you start the Jaguar, which is kind of cool, and it includes a Sport mode that tightens up the transmission's responses and ups the engine's rpm's appreciably. Couple this with the Dynamic chassis setting (there are also normal and winter modes) and you really have something. And when you fire up Dynamic Mode, the virtual instruments on the big LCD that makes up the instrument panel glow red (blue in Winter mode, which we didn't try), just so you don't forget the car now means business. Even cooler is the little checkered flag that also appears on the display to remind you of why you've accessed Dynamic mode.
And even better: if you have the car in dynamic mode and shut it off, it'll return in that mode when you fire it up again. I really like that! On the other hand, the blind spot monitors (which are actually not too obtrusive) have to be defeated each time.
Another neat, though hardly necessary, feature is the "torchlight effect," where the virtual speedometer and tachometer are only illuminated around your current speed/rpms, with the rest of the gauges left dark. You can shut this off in the vehicle's settings, but I enjoyed leaving it as is.
The car feels great to drive, with very good steering and brake feel and a cockpit that's laid out very well. The steering wheel is a tad busy (and on more than one occasion I found myself changing radio presets instead of volume up/down), but it's also extremely classy and features heating for those cold winter days and cooling for those hot summers. There's memory for both front passengers and the seats would have been serenely comfortable were it not for a bit of piping that seemed to catch my rather prodigious left buttock in the wrong place, quite consistently. It was hardly a deal breaker, but it did make me shift positions.
On the upside were the seat massagers. This is a feature I ridiculed when I first heard of it, and probably wouldn't order as an option, but on the eight-or-so-hour trip from Kingsville to Ottawa they turned out to be very thoughtful. I've been in some cars that rubbed me the wrong way (cough - Prius and Smart - cough), but the XJ rubbed me just the right way!
One feature that would be a deal breaker for me (but which, fortunately, is merely a $300 option you can refuse to order) is the heated windshield. The idea is great, but in execution there's a screen of thin wires embedded in the glass and once you notice it you notice it a lot. Worse, after dark the wires give a diffusing effect to lights outside the car – headlights, taillights, traffic lights, whatever – that I found to be very disconcerting and attention-grabbing.
On the other hand, the adaptive headlights and automatic high beams worked great!
The Jaguar's lovely interior featured piano black wood trim that looked fantastic. The audio system came from Meridian and it's also very good. I've read some complaints about the multimedia LCD's interface being confusing and clunky but I thought it was just fine, albeit slow to react.
The car also came with a beautiful panoramic sunroof, though it's quite loud inside when you retract it. And the rear seat passengers could raise side window blinds to help keep the sun's heat out – though the automatic climate control did a nice job even with the blinds retracted into the doors.
The trunk (with its power-operated lid) is big, but not as big as I'd expected; you'll probably have no problem putting a couple of suitcases or golf bags into it, though. And the car's doors will pull themselves closed if you don't get them right yourself.
There's so much technology in this car, and so many creature comforts, that it would take more space than I have to outline it all. Suffice it to say that pretty well anything available on a car these days is either on the Jaguar XJ or is available via option.
It's a great car and I hope this current XJ helps Jaguar build its customer base. I know that after my fortnight with the XJ L, I'd put it high on my list if I were looking for a big sedan like this. It might even be on top of the list, my predilection for Audi notwithstanding.
The only issue I have is with its exterior styling, which eschewed the classic look XJ's had for decades in favour of a new and modern design. The Bertone design studio did a concept a few years back for a new XJ that kept its classic styling, but Jaguar went in this new direction anyway and I didn't think much of it. It seemed as if Jaguar had played it safe, or decided to cut itself off from its past (and given the British car industry's past in terms of reliability it may not have been a bad move…) rather than embrace its history.
But after spending much quality time with the car, I came to realize that its profile may be meant to hearken to the look of a big cat crouching and ready to pounce – kind of like the Jaguar logo that used to sit atop the hood. If that's the idea, then I get it – finally – though I still think Bertone's exterior would have been better (not the interior, though, which was too sci-fi for my taste). However you slice it, though, this current generation of Jaguar XJ is a great car.
The XJ starts at $96,490 Canadian. Jaguar Land Rover Canada's sample also included handsome 19 inch Toba wheels ($550) a Visibility Package ($850, giving you the auto high beam and adaptive lights) and that damn heated windshield ($300). The sample also included a $100 "green tax" despite the car having a beautiful Dark Sapphire paint job. Add in destination and delivery charges and the price rises to $99,665.
That's a lot of cat food, but you're getting a lot of cat. This is one Jaguar that doesn't pussyfoot around!
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
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