2013 Jaguar XJ

June 25, 2013

The 2013 Jaguar XJ still boasts tasteful, minimalistic luxury, but its once-standout drivability has lost a step, and reliability issues should concern anyone looking to buy rather than lease one.

In the march toward better gas mileage, even top-flight luxury sedans have been dropping their standard V-8s. The latest is the Jaguar XJ, which teams a new, supercharged V-6 with a new eight-speed automatic. The combination delivers decent EPA-estimated gas mileage, and newly available all-wheel drive should further the appeal for snow-state shoppers.

Alas, this cat doesn't land cleanly on its feet.

The XJ comes in nine varieties, from regular- wheelbase XJs to extended XJLs. The supercharged V-6 pairs with rear- or all-wheel drive. Normally aspirated and supercharged V-8s are also available, but they come only with rear-wheel drive. Compare them here, or stack up the 2012 and 2013 XJ here. We drove a regular-wheelbase XJ with the supercharged V-6 and all-wheel drive.

Is Six Better than Eight?

Improvements on paper aren't always improvements on pavement. Last year's XJ employed a six-speed automatic, a longtime Jaguar setup that kicked down instantaneously and intuitively when heading into corners (read our review of it here). The eight-speed that replaces it immediately feels inferior. Its capabilities are impressive; it's able to downshift five gears in one fell swoop rather than stepping down through the gears. But doing so takes a strong jab to the gas; most of the time the automatic stays in higher gears and resists downshifts until long after you called for them.

More vexing are hints of accelerator lag from the get-go, though they're better than in some competitors, particularly the current Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which will be replaced by a 2014 redesign. A Sport mode in the XJ retains lower gears and quells some of the lag; so does a selectable Dynamic mode, which sharpens drivetrain and adaptive suspension settings. Both settings help a bit, but I'd gladly opt for last year's six-speed, which also came without the XJ's newest "advancement": an automatic stop-start function that's intrusive enough passengers will ask you if something broke. You can turn it off, but it cycles back on the next time you get in the car. Bah.

The other six — the supercharged V-6 — is worth keeping. With 340 horsepower and a handy 332 pounds-feet of torque, it provides plentiful, smooth-revving power. Jaguar says the all-wheel-drive XJ V-6 hits 60 mph in 6.1 seconds — modest for this crowd, given the six-cylinder BMW 740i and Audi A8 3.0T make it there in the mid-5s — but it's still plenty quick. EPA gas mileage, which is as high as 18/27 mpg city/highway with rear-wheel drive and the V-6, is comparable with these German models. All-wheel drive drops the XJ's mileage clear down to a not-so-competitive 16/24 mpg.

Ride & Handling

An adaptive suspension is standard, but it rides on the firm side. Dynamic mode firms up the ride even more, but it also quells the XJ's modest body roll. Those seeking a plusher ride should try the 7 Series, S-Class or versions of the Lexus LS with its adaptive suspension option.

Even with the V-6, the XJ still feels light on its feet; the steering directs the nose with instinctive precision, and expert drivers can tame hints of understeer through sweeping corners with a dab of gas. Still, one editor found the XJ too nose-heavy, its tires unable to keep the car in line. Models with the supercharged V-8 add an active rear differential that funnels power left or right to improve handling, which may help the dynamics.

The XJ may be full size, but it drives like a smaller, lighter car. And it is lighter than many competitors — by a lot — thanks to extensive aluminum construction. Curb weight ranges from less than 3,900 pounds to just over 4,200. The lightest BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 start 97 and 163 pounds heavier, respectively, than the heaviest XJ. Mercedes-Benz has yet to provide weight specs for the redesigned 2014 S-Class, but the lightest version of its portly predecessor weighed 417 pounds more than the heaviest XJ. The heaviest Lexus LS balloons past 5,200 pounds, which is at least 989 pounds heavier than any XJ. Amid these fat-cats, only the Porsche Panamera falls in Jaguar territory. And even then, the XJ is lighter by a hair.

The brakes stop things with firm, linear pedal feel, too, and that's with the XJ's standard antilock discs. Supercharged V-8 models upgrade to massive 15-inch front and 14.8-inch rear discs — all the better to lasso the car's 470 or 510 hp, depending on trim. (Last year's 385-hp, normally aspirated V-8 is still available, but only in the rear-drive XJL Portfolio.) Jaguar says the quickest XJ hits 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, which should be powerful enough for anyone this side of insanity. That didn't stop Mercedes and Audi from building quicker cars still; the S65 AMG takes 4.2 seconds, and the S8 flits there in just 3.9. On hiatus since 2009, Jaguar's ultimate XJ, the XJR, will re-emerge for 2014 with an estimated 4.4-second sprint to 60 mph.

The Inside

An exercise in minimalism, the XJ's interior has aged well. A leather-bound dashboard rises gently toward the windshield; polished wood juts below the glass, extending around the doors. The center display is a straightforward touch-screen rather than using the knob-based controllers Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and BMW insist on having. The seats offer good comfort, though one editor thought they bordered on being too narrow. Backseat legroom was snug in our regular- wheelbase test car. With another 5.2 inches of rear legroom, the extended-wheelbase XJL solves that problem, and then some.

Alas, our test car had its share of shortcomings — some by design, others less explainable gremlins. Jaguar augmented the standard navigation system for 2013 with more functions, and it now requires fewer actions for basic commands, but the touch-screen still lags too long between menus. Behind the steering wheel, the simulated gauges looked OK when the current XJ first arrived, but seem too low-res now. Then come our car's glitches, which ranged from an abrupt loss of satellite radio signal with no apparent skyward obstructions (we stopped and restarted the car, and the signal returned) to loose trim in the trunk and odd electrical problems. One channel of the Meridian stereo was dead when using the analog MP3 jack and portable players; another reviewer said he powered his seat forward and the driver's-side window promptly lowered.

Reliability, Safety & Features

Such is our concern for a car whose current generation has received dismal reliability ratings in both J.D. Power and Associates' three-year Vehicle Dependability Study and Consumer Reports' reliability surveys. Informed of our test-car's problems, Jaguar representatives pointed toward the brand's scores in J.D. Power's 90-day Initial Quality Study, which showed dramatic improvement in 2012. Still, IQS tracks problems as well as owner dislikes , which undermines its credibility as a strict reliability gauge.

The XJ has not been crash-tested, and due to a low sales volume, it's unlikely it will be. Standard safety features include front, front-seat side-impact and side curtain airbags, plus a blind spot warning system and the required antilock brakes and electronic stability system . Adaptive headlights with automatic high-beams are optional. So is adaptive cruise control , which has a forward collision alert that warns of obstructions but doesn't apply braking, as some systems do. Click herefor a full list of safety features.

Pricing for the XJ starts around $75,000. Standard features include leather upholstery with heated front and rear seats, power front seats, a navigation system, a panoramic moonroof, a Meridian stereo and a backup camera with front and rear parking sensors. Ventilated front seats with additional power adjustments and massagers are optional and, typical of a top-shelf luxury car, the sky's the limit when it comes to backseat amenities — ranging from dual-zone rear climate control and ventilated, massaging seats to power seat adjusters, folding tables, footrests and sunshades. Go hog wild and the XJ can climb well into the six-figure range.

XJ in the Market

Anyone shopping a full-size luxury sedan should consider waiting for the segment stalwart — Mercedes' redesigned 2014 S-Class — to show up in September for a comparative test drive. Even then, the XJ may still entice on how it drives alone. As for reliability, Jaguar's four-year/50,000-mile warranty includes free maintenance, so the vast majority of expenses should be covered over the life of a typical lease — the way many XJs find buyers.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Now emulated by the smaller XF, the XJ's squinting headlights and oblong grille still stand out. The bloated, formless profile? Not so much. The XJ comes with 19- or 20-inch alloy wheels; our tester (shown) had 19s.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The XJ's belt line merges with the sinewy taillights, which swoop — or droop, depending on your perspective — down the trunk. I find the Jaguar XF's tail better-looking. Bear in mind we had a regular-wheelbase XJ; the extended-wheelbase XJL adds another 4.9 inches' overall length.

Photo Courtesy of Jaguar

Shell out north of $150,000 and you can get one of just 30 XJL Ultimate sedans Jaguar will furnish for U.S. consumers. Unique chrome-trimmed intakes distinguish the outside, while the interior gets a flow-through center console, unique wood trim and enough leather to qualify you for PETA sanctions.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The XJ's simple dash flows toward the windshield. Other flagship luxury sedans impose a mess of buttons and surfaces; this one is refreshingly simple.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The center display employs a dummy-proof touch-screen rather than the knob-based systems from Mercedes, BMW and Audi. It could respond faster, though, and changing the stereo volume smothers everything else with a giant volume indicator for a few seconds. You can tap back to whatever you had before, but it's an annoying extra step.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Note to automakers: Ditch the simulated gauges. Jaguar's looked OK in 2010 when the XJ arrived on the scene. Today, the low-resolution graphics look old.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

As is to be expected in a car that starts at nearly $75,000, the XJ has excellent cabin materials. A leather-wrapped dashboard — optional in some competitors — is standard. Expansive sections of genuine wood adorn the doors and dash, but one editor found the trim over-lacquered.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Jaguar's so-called ''soft-grain'' leather seats are, indeed, soft — and mighty comfortable. Heated power seats are standard, with additional power adjustments (up to 20) plus massaging and seat-cooling optional. Supersport models add a leather headliner, while XJL Ultimate cars upgrade to semi-aniline leather.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The XJ's backseat is somewhat snug, as full-size cars go. The extended-wheelbase XJL adds another 5.2 inches of legroom for massive overall space. Most trims have individual climate zones for the outboard rear passengers; heated and cooled rear seats with power adjustments are also available.

Photo Courtesy of Jaguar

The XJL Ultimate ditches the middle seat for a flow-through center console with an aluminum-and-wood table that deploys at the touch of a button. Passengers also get their own iPads docked in leather harnesses, as well as a chilled beverage compartment with custom Champagne flutes. For the XJL Ultimate's $155,875 asking price, the dealer should throw in a free bottle of Dom.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

A standard panoramic moonroof includes dual panes and power-retracting sunshades. The rear pane extends just a short way into the rear cabin, however.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Trunk volume is a modest 15.2 cubic feet — ahead of Audi's A8 but short of the voluminous trunks in the outgoing Mercedes S-Class (16.4 cubic feet) and current BMW 7 Series (17.7) and Lexus LS (18).

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The low rear window limits visibility, and the tiny rear-quarter portholes are useless. The XJ's side mirrors are decent-sized, at least.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Engines range from a 340-hp, supercharged V-6 (shown) to a supercharged V-8 with up to 510 hp. Unlike its peers, the XJ offers no V-12. The 510-hp XJ Supersport hits 60 mph in 4.7 seconds — blistering for most drivers, but slower than many optioned-out competitors.

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