Rating: 9.0
Bottom Line:
The 2011 XJ is not a traditional Jaguar and that’s a good thing, because it feels more substantial than the outgoing model. It’s sporty and powerful, has plenty of room and oozes with road presence, all of which make it a worthy competitor in a class that boasts the world’s best sedans. Base versions enjoy a price advantage over most competitors and still offer plenty of power, making them the best value.
  • Gobs of power
  • Plenty of room
  • Handles smaller than its size
  • Expensive
  • Feels a bit top-heavy on the highway
  • Interior a touch overdone

View Pictures:  2011 Jaguar XJ

The XJ sedan has been the stately staple of the Jaguar brand since 1968. Though redesigned several times since it was introduced (the last redesign was for the 2004 model year), the styling of this proper British saloon has always been an evolution of the original, so it has had similar looks for decades.

As a result, the car has appeared old to some consumers and has struggled to shed the quality issues Jaguar had before Ford Motor Co. took ownership in 1989. Now owned by the Indian company Tata Motors, Jaguar has given the XJ an all-new look for the 2011 model year. But will it be enough for the XJ to take some sales away from better-selling German competitors?

Model Lineup
The 2011 Jaguar XJ is offered in three trims: base, Supercharged and Supersport. Each is available in short- or long-wheelbase body styles (the latter known as XJL). Among the standard features on the base version are leather upholstery, keyless access and starting, a 16-way power adjustable driver's seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a navigation system with 30-gigabyte hard drive for music storage, an HD radio, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, iPod connectivity, xenon headlights and 19-inch alloy wheels. The long-wheelbase body style adds fold-down rear trays, an electric rear sunshade, manual rear side window sunshades and 4-zone automatic climate control.

The Supercharged trim gets 20-inch wheels, Active Differential Control, 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system, adaptive intelligent headlights that point into turns and turn off the high beams when oncoming traffic is detected, 20-way power adjustable front seats, 4-zone automatic climate control, heated and cooled rear seats, Alcantara headliner and a power rear sunshade. The top-line Supersport gets radar cruise control with Forward Alert and Advanced Emergency Brake Assist, a rear DVD entertainment system, a leather headliner and semi-aniline leather seats.

Standard safety features consist of dual front airbags, front side airbags, side-curtain airbags, active front head restraints, a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, cornering brake control, traction control and electronic stability control. A blind-spot monitor, rearview camera, and front and rear park assist are also standard.

Under the Hood
The 2011 Jaguar XJ has three all-new 5.0-liter overhead cam V8 engines. These modern engines come with four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and direct injection. The base trim uses a naturally aspirated version that produces 385 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. The Supercharged trim gets a supercharged (of course) version that makes 470 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque. The top-line Supersport has a hotter version of the supercharged engine that churns out 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability through a pair of steering-wheel paddles.

EPA fuel economy ratings are 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway for the XJ, 15/22 for the XJL and 15/21 for the Supercharged and Supersport iterations.

Inner Space
Jaguar has certainly tried to make the interior a special place. It may have, in fact, tried too hard. The cockpit is adorned with attractive, high-quality materials, including wood and piano black plastic trim, leather upholstery with contrast piping, headliners in Alcantara or leather and plenty of chrome accents. Design director Ian Callum says he urged his designers to add ornamentation. Nowhere is that more evident than on the center of the dash, where a pair of chrome-trimmed air vents and a chrome-and-blue clock stick out — perhaps too much. The result is a contemporary and attractive, though somewhat busy, environment with bits of chrome trim that can occasionally shine in the driver's eyes.

As part of the contemporary approach, Jaguar replaces traditional gauges with a 12.3-inch high-definition screen that projects computer-generated gauges. It features a speedometer flanked by a tachometer on the right and fuel and temperature gauges on the left. Depending on the need, the two outer gauges can change their information or be replaced by warning messages, gear selections and trip or vehicle information menus. The system works well but lacks the watchlike beauty of other high-end gauges, and the screen can wash out in direct sunlight.

Room inside the cabin is not an issue. The front seat's generous headroom and legroom combine with 16 standard seat adjustments and a standard power tilt/telescoping steering wheel to tailor a comfortable seating position for most anyone. The rear seat in the short-wheelbase version is plenty comfortable, but legroom may get a bit tight for a tall passenger sitting behind another tall person. Legroom in the long-wheelbase cars is a limolike 44.1 inches. That's enough for your average NBA power forward.

In the name of structural stiffness, the XJ does not have a fold-down rear seat, nor does it have a ski pass-through. That's a shame, because a car this big should be able to be used for a trip to the slopes or a big-box store. The trunk, however, is a cavernous 18.4 cubic feet, which Jaguar says is enough for two full-size suitcases.

On the Road
While the last XJ looked similar to past models, it was definitely different under the skin. The high-tech 2004 redesign included an all-new aluminum body structure. The aluminum underpinnings gave the car a weight advantage over competitors, which translated to impressive handling for a car its size. The new XJ uses a heavily revised version of that platform. While it has gained a couple hundred pounds, it is still lighter than the competition and is now 11 percent stiffer with 20 percent less body roll. That translates into a car that drives smaller than its size and provides an impressively sporty driving experience.

Several factors contributed to the sporty handling, not the least of which is the light and direct steering. Quicker and more responsive than you'd expect in a large luxury car, the XJ's steering helps it attack corners with the verve of a smaller sport sedan, and the car's relatively light weight lets it track through those turns without wanting to slide straight ahead. The news isn't all good, though. Some might detect a slightly uneasy feeling, like the car sits about an inch too high, making it feel somewhat uncertain on its feet. The result is a bit too much head toss for passengers, not in turns but during those minor steering adjustments at highway speeds. It's not annoying, but the XJ doesn't feel quite as planted as the BMW 7-Series. It also is difficult to detect much difference in the suspension when driving with the Active Differential Control in Dynamic mode.

Aside from the minor lack of stability, the suspension strikes a nice balance between handling and ride comfort. The ride is firm but forgiving. Minor bumps are barely noticeable and sharp ruts don't jolt passengers. That's probably because Jaguar has made sure to select tires without too low of a profile, allowing the sidewalls to absorb some road impacts.

The XJ's new engines are a revelation. Most customers will be more than happy with the strong base engine. It has plenty of low-end torque to get the car up to speed quickly, and Jaguar's quoted zero-to-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds seems easily achievable. Passing is a breeze at any speed. The two supercharged engines are basically overkill but, to the gearhead, more is always better. Jaguar made only the Supersport's 510-horsepower version available for testing. It offers the same low-end torque as the base engine, but adds gobs of extra midrange power as well. Jaguar says the Supersport can reach 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, which is actually faster than the smaller Jaguar XF with the same engine. Needless to say, that's impressive.

Right for You?
It's hard to say that a car that starts at $72,500 is "right" for anyone, but the 2011 Jaguar XJ is certainly competitive in its class. It's a more visually appealing alternative to the rather staid German sedans from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and a far more engaging car than the Lexus LS. Plus, it has a price advantage over most competitors. If you want to impress your friends, family and clients with a large car that offers dynamic handling, loads of interior space and plenty of speed, the XJ is a fine choice.

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.