Pros: Striking looks, stellar V8 engines, adroit handling for something so large, two available lengths.
Cons: Dated touchscreen interface, virtual tachometer can't keep pace, transmission needs an upgrade, no joy for the fuel-saving crowd.
If full-size luxury cars were judged on visual impact alone, the 2012 Jaguar XJ would be the champion by a country mile. Whereas most cars in this segment seem designed to shield their successful occupants from the public eye, the XJ is pure eye candy. Get used to being the center of attention when you pull up in this Jag. Kids will stop and stare, valets will fight each other for the key and the paparazzi will assume you're Lindsay Lohan. This is the sedan for folks who want to announce their privilege with a bang, not a whimper.
Inside, however, the XJ has a few rough edges to reveal. Although Jaguar's trademark power-retracting rotary shift knob is bound to draw some oohs and ahhs, the virtual TFT tachometer lags noticeably behind during rapid acceleration, and the touchscreen interface is sluggish and primitive compared to the German competition. Also, we see little of the XJ's expressive exterior in the conservative interior design, and the quality of the materials and switchgear is so-so by the admittedly stratospheric standards of this class.
But on the bright side, the XJ is great to drive, thanks to a righteous roster of V8s and a respectably athletic chassis. And just look at the thing, for goodness' sake. What's the point of keeping a low profile when you can afford one of the most expensive sedans on the planet? Be bold, we say, and give this Jag a chance.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Jaguar XJ comes in four trim levels: Base, Portfolio, Supercharged and Supersport.
The base model is only available with the shorter of the two wheelbases, while theare offered with either the short or long ("XJL") wheelbase.
Standard features on the base XJ include 19-inch alloy wheels, electronically adjustable adaptive dampers, xenon headlights with LED accents, a panoramic sunroof, a power-closing trunk, keyless entry with push-button start, a virtual TFT instrument panel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, heated and cooled power front seats, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, a hard-drive-based navigation system with an eight-inch touchscreen interface and a 14-speaker, 600-watt audio system with iPod/USB connectivity and both HD and satellite radio.
The XJ Portfolio adds 19-inch alloy wheels, upgraded massaging front seats with 20-way adjustability, softer leather upholstery, quad-zone automatic climate control and various fancy interior trim additions. Offered only on the long-wheelbase XJL Portfolio is an Executive Interior package (standard on higher "L" models) that adds a power rear sunshade and rear retractable trays finished in hand-crafted veneer.
The XJ Supercharged includes extras like adaptive xenon headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, an electronic limited-slip differential and a 20-speaker, 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system. The optional Sport and Speed package (also offered on XJ Supersport) adds a more aggressive suspension tune and other performance-oriented upgrades.
The XJ Supersport boasts exclusive 20-inch alloys, various sport-themed exterior and interior styling flourishes, and a rear-seat entertainment system with twin eight-inch screens (one in each front headrest), dedicated USB connectivity, a portable touchscreen controller and wireless headphones. The entertainment system is optional on lesser XJs.
A number of the higher-end models' standard features can be added to lower-end models as options. Adaptive cruise control is optional on every XJ.
The XJ's interior is Jaguar's newest, and it definitely has the most inspired design in the fleet, from the stitching on the dashboard to the virtual TFT instrument panel (see "Technology," below). We still don't feel as special in the XJ as we think we should-the A8 and S-Class, for example, are clearly a step up inside-but it's not a deal-breaker. One saving grace is Jaguar's distinctive rotary shift knob, which coolly rises out of the center console upon ignition. Another is the array of available leathers and woods that can be mixed and matched to your heart's content.
Front-seat comfort is fine in the XF, though none of the available seats has the range of adjustability and support offered by BMW or Mercedes. Although rear passengers will have to cope with an unusually low bottom cushion by class standards, legroom is plentiful even in the short-wheelbase XJ, extending to limo-like in the XJL. Unlike some rivals, the XJL doesn't offer reclining rear seats with massaging functions and footrests and such.
Cargo capacity in the XJ's trunk is a whopping 18.4 cubic feet.
One of the first things you notice in the XJ is the virtual TFT instrument panel, which includes a virtual speedometer and tachometer. The tachometer actually disappears when you access the trip computer, the vehicle setup menu or related functions. It's a cool idea, but the tachometer needle noticeably lags behind during spirited acceleration, i.e. the engines are quicker than the tachometer. We're surprised Jaguar didn't insist on a higher frame-rate prior to production.
Moving to the central controls, the XJ gets a slightly larger, crisper infotainment screen than the XF-it measures eight inches and delivers pleasant picture quality. However, the touchscreen interface leaves something to be desired at this exclusive price point. Despite some user-friendly icons for navigation functions, the interface is largely characterized by boxy shapes and a dated-looking font. If you're coming from a BMW 7 Series with its widescreen display and console knob-controlled iDrive system, for instance, the Jaguar touchscreen will seem like it's already past its prime. It makes for an odd contrast to the XJ's unabashedly forward-thinking exterior styling.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The rear-wheel-drive Jaguar XJ (all-wheel drive is not offered) begins with a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 rated at 385 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. It's a heck of a way to start. Unlike some rivals with their pedestrian entry-level engines, the XJ delivers serious V8 power right out of the gate. But there's more on tap if you want it, of course. The XJ Supercharged adds a supercharger to the base V8 for a total of 470 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque, while the XJ Supersports cranks up the supercharger to the tune of 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. Both models are exceptionally swift automobiles, though perhaps without sufficient separation between them to justify the Supersports' higher price. The telltale whine of the supercharger is audible when you're accelerating with either engine, but we like having that aural reinforcement that we're driving something special.
All XJ models come with a six-speed automatic transmission, and, unfortunately, it's not a great one. Many rivals have more than six cogs by now, but the real issue here is the shift quality. From its abrupt kickdowns when passing to its delayed, rough downshifts in manual mode, this gearbox feels a bit behind the times-and it appears in every current Jaguar. These cars need a new transmission, stat.
Fuel economy ranges from 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway in the regular XJ to 15/21 mpg in the Supersport. You get plenty of power in the XJ, but you definitely pay for it at the pump.
The 2012 Jaguar XJ comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front-side and full-length side-curtain).
The XJ has not been crash-tested in the U.S.
The Jaguar XJ is one of the most engaging full-size luxury sedans from the driver's vantage point. Of course, these cars are often driven by chauffeurs, but we've met executives who like to drive themselves, and for them, the XJ lineup should top the test-drive list-especially the supercharged models with the Sport and Speed package. The short wheelbase makes a big difference, though, as the long-wheelbase XJL feels considerably less agile. Under normal commuting conditions, the XJ has a tauter ride than some in this class, but it does a satisfactory job of filtering out harsh impacts. Similarly, while road and wind noise aren't whisper-quiet at speed, few will object to the XJ's sound levels.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A8 - Also blessed with standard V8 power, the A8 gets much better fuel economy than the XJ, and it's got a nicer interior besides. Such anonymous styling, though.
BMW 7 Series - Like the A8, the 7 Series isn't the most distinctively styled luxo-liner on the block, but it's got a great collection of turbocharged and hybrid power plants.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class - Still a favorite with the buying public after years on the market, the iconic S-Class has stayed fresh thanks to frequent updates and a recent infusion of twin-turbocharged power under the hood.
To us, the XJL drives too much like a limousine, so we'd stick with the plenty-roomy regular XJ Supercharged.