Jaguar XJL Portfolio: The Jalopnik Review

Jaguar's latest XJ is almost too sleek for its own good. A recent redesign tossed out all traces of the iconic XJ of old. But is this iteration an actual Jaaaaaaaag? I logged a ton of mileage in a 2012 XJL to see if a whippersnapper would lust after one before he takes up brandy and cigars.

Picture an aging, divorced orthodontist in a tweed sport coat. Perhaps he's smoking a pipe (even though that's bad for your teeth) and talking about a polo match, to which he recently squired a lady. That's right, squired. What's he driving? A Jaguar XJ — the old one with the quad headlamps. It's one of those mental images that's hard to shake.

For years, the decades-old XJ design was iconic, but over the past two decades it became stale. Like it or hate it, BMW's E65 7-series (and its Bangle Butt) had a profound influence on the design of all luxury cars. But while other luxury carmakers evolved, Jag's retro XJ design seemed stuck in the 1960s.

Then, for 2010, Jaguar introduced an all-new XJ. Chiseled lines and a sloping rear deck comprise some of Ian Callum's finest-ever design work on a large car. It's a significant departure, with no obvious visual connection to the past. But is that enough to shake the XJ's image of being a car for old men? Let's take a look.

In one generation, the XJ went from a slice of Ye Olde Englande to one of the most modern cars on the road. The sleek treatment of the rear quarter, with the blacked out C-pillars and short rear deck is especially attractive. And don't get me started on Jag's new headlamps. It looks like nothing else on the road in a very good way.

But when viewed in profile, the XJL appears slab sided and almost clunky. All of Callum's tricks to make the front and rear appear sleek and stylish go away when you are presented with the massive vehicle that the XJL is. There's just no way of hiding that size elegantly.

INTERIOR (8/10)

Jaguar XJL Portfolio: The Jalopnik Review

The Jag's interior is really a great place to be. I've never been a fan of wood in an interior, and especially on a steering wheel, but for some reason I think it works here, especially the way that the wood surrounds the cockpit. The heated, cooled, and massaging seats are comfortable places to spend a ton of time. And the gear selector for the automatic that rises out of the center console is just magical to behold. Overall, it's like driving while sitting in a modern living room out of Architecture Digest instead of an old humidor like XJs past.

ACCELERATION (7/10)

At 4,100 pounds, the aluminum bodied XJL is actually pretty sprightly for its class. And with 385 horsepower out of the 5.0 liter V8, it accelerates quite quickly and very gentlemanly. It doesn't beg for more power or wheeze, you just plant your foot and it surges forward with a nice whoosh. Could it be faster? Absolutely. But in a car like this, I just don't see the need for 500 horsepower and rampant acceleration.

Then again, I wouldn't say no if I was presented with more power. I'd jump at the chance to have a go in one of the supercharged versions.

BRAKING (6/10)

I took the XJ through an autocross course and I foun...oh who am I kidding? I mainly drove on highways and when I pressed the brakes, it stopped exactly as I intended and hoped it would. I did find the pedal to be slightly softer than I like.

RIDE (8/10)

Jaguar XJL Portfolio: The Jalopnik Review

This is where the XJ comes into its own. This is one of the most comfortable cars I've ever taken a decent trip in. Instead of the notoriously rigid ride quality of something tuned on the Nurburgring, the XJ's shocks absorb bumps in a way that makes the ride supremely comfortable yet the steering isn't numb and you can still feel the road. If you're doing 85 on a highway (not that I did; that's illegal!), road and wind noise are nearly nonexistent. The relaxing nature of the ride quality coupled with a dash of sporting pretension is exactly what you want and expect in a Jag.

But still, as an enthusiast, I'm looking for a car that is a bit more communicative with a firmer ride. I'd gladly give up the cushioned feeling over bumps to know even more about what the road surface is doing below me.

  • Engine: 5.0L V8
  • Power: 385 HP @ 6,500 rpm / 380 LB-FT @ 3,500 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-Speed automatic (with manual shift mode)
  • 0-60 Time: 5.4 Seconds
  • Top Speed: 121 MPH (Limited)
  • Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
  • Curb Weight: 4,045 lbs
  • Seating: 5
  • MPG: 15 City / 22 HWY/18 Combined
  • MSRP: Starts at $80,730

Then there is Dynamic Mode. You get red gauges and what seems to be slightly sharper handling and throttle response. It's honestly not needed in such a large car and I found the difference negligible, but the red gauges are cooler than stock. In almost any large sedan that isn't a tuned special edition, not just the XJL, a sport mode is totally unnecessary and more a marketing tool than anything else.

HANDLING (6/10)

I wasn't expecting much from such a large car, so I came away quite impressed. Even though it's British it isn't exactly what you'd call a Lotus Elise, but in its class it falls somewhere between a Mercedes S550 and a BMW 750iL and carves a niche as a comfortable cruiser that can kind of handle. There is a modicum of body roll and when pushed (yes, I did push it), there is some evident understeer.

GEARBOX (8/10)

Jaguar XJL Portfolio: The Jalopnik Review

While it is a traditional automatic, it's one of the finest I've used in a long time. It never hunts for a gear and if you decide to shift it yourself, it listens to what you want to do. Even more amazingly, it blips on downshifts to match revs when you are shifting with the paddles in sport mode.

Will most owners of a car like this notice the blip or even use the paddles? Probably not. But I definitely appreciated it. It also could use another gear on top of the six it already has, thankfully Jaguar is going with an eight speed auto for 2013.

AUDIO (8/10)

In a strange juxtaposition, a car that is nearly silent when cruising has one hell of an appealing engine note under heavy acceleration. It's deep and throaty, with a bit of rasp. It's what I imagine the lovechild of Tom Jones and Janis Joplin would sound like, if he were an engine. I stepped on it every chance I could.

The standard stereo also sounded pretty great. I was able to blast some Chicago (take your pick, the band or the musical) and really rock out with no real distortion at higher volumes.

TOYS (7/10)

In a world of night vision cameras and adaptive cruise control, the XJ is surprisingly bereft of some now de rigeur luxury toys. It does have heated/cooled/massaging seats, which are fantastic. The instruments are also housed in one large TFT display, which looks great at first and should leave plenty of room for customization. But after going through the menus, I was disappointed to find I couldn't permanently have a sat nav screen on the display or change the gauges. The screen is a great idea, but some more options would really let the driver take advantage.

VALUE (7/10)

In class, the XJL sure does come off as a bargain. Its long-wheelbase competitors from Germany start at $84,000 for an Audi A8L and go all the way up to the mid-$90s for a Mercedes S550. The XJL starts at a reasonable $80,700. Our test car, with just a few options, came in at $82,450. Of course, the Hyundai Equus and Lexus LS460 come in lower, but neither of them look quite like the Jaaaaaag.

Does it shed its reputation as a car for an old fashioned, older gentleman? Definitely. However, every time I saw another XJ on the road, it was driven by men that were at least in their very late 40s to early 60s. This is because the modern outward appearance stands in contrast to lacking some tech features as well as the inability to customize each screen exactly as you want. Once Jag makes the tech options as modern as the design, they should have a formidable competitor on their hands.

72/100
EXTERIOR (7/10)
INTERIOR (8/10)
ACCELERATION (7/10)
BRAKING (6/10)
RIDE (8/10)
HANDLING (6/10)
GEARBOX (8/10)
AUDIO (8/10)
TOYS (7/10)
VALUE (7/10)

Jaguar XJL Portfolio