Review: 2011 Jaguar XJ

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
review 2011 jaguar xj

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi are all parts of huge organizations with vast resources. When developing a new flagship sedan, they can finesse every last detail. (Whether they actually do so is another matter.) Though previously owned by Ford and now owned by Indian conglomerate Tata, Jaguar has had to make do with so much less that it’s almost a miracle it can field a contemporary large luxury sedan at all. And yet we have the new XJ.

To have a chance, a Jaguar must be beautiful. The new XJ passes this test. Though the new sedan bears no resemblance to the classic Series III, the spirit remains the same. While the tape measure will beg to differ, the new XJ looks much lower and sleeker than the German dreadnoughts, with proportions the Audi A8 can only dream of. The Jaguar’s black C-pillar applique doesn’t work—at all—but there are two easy fixes: paint it body color or buy a black car.

The new Jaguar XJ also goes its own way inside, with a gutsy blend of high-tech LCD displays and retro sports car styling. The latter lends the interior a warmth and sportiness absent from the Germans. Though some of the switches feel a touch cheap, the leather and wood are first-rate and a definite step up from the XF. Unfortunately, the LCD instrument display attempts to meld with the retro sports car vibe, and fails. Some video games manage more convincing digital representations of classic, chrome-ringed round instruments. Even if the display was convincing, why invest in a reconfigurable LCD panel, then employ it to mimic classic analog gauges?

The front seats fit like a glove, with relatively soft padding and curves that cosset in a way the Germans refuse to. It’s that warmth thing again, even in black. The rear seats are even more comfortable, at least in the two outboard positions. Thanks largely to its organic design, the cabin seems narrower than those in competing cars, but in the extended wheelbase model there’s legroom to spare—44.1 inches. Wooden fold-down tray tables are another nod to tradition, but it’s hard to imagine them being of much use. If there was a way to level them without the cooperation of the person in the front seat, I couldn’t find it.

In the recent past both Cadillac and Jaguar were scraping by with DOHC V8 engines well past their sell by dates. Jaguar somehow managed what GM could not, and developed a new V8—and at the same time ex-parent Ford was also developing a new V8. The entirely unrelated V8s both displace 5.0 liters. The Jaguar engine isn’t quite as strong or as smooth as the new Mustang mill, but is still quite good on both counts. Cars in this class keeping getting more and more powerful, but we’re not yet to the point where 385 horsepower seems—or feels—remotely weak. Even without the available supercharger, which pumps output to 470 or 510, depending on how much you want to spend, the XJ is quick. It helps that an aluminum body keeps curb weight to a relatively light 4,131 pounds. The new V8’s exhaust note is throatier than that of competing German V8s, and yet refined enough for a Jaguar.

Jaguar continues to employ a six-speed automatic. It’s not a bad transmission, but the new eight-speed ZF in the Audi A8 and BMW 7 is smoother and more responsive. Perhaps the XJ will get the better box next year. Dialing (yes, dialing) the gear selector to S quickens the transmission’s responses at the expense of some smoothness. S also holds a lower gear, rendering this option impractical for continuous use.

Compared to the ultra-firm system in the new Audi A8, the new Jaguar XJ’s steering can initially seem disconcertingly light. Though a little more heft would be welcome, this isn’t entirely a bad thing, as the chassis rewards a delicate touch with precise responses and a surprising amount of agility for such a large car. Especially in “competition mode,” which quickens the responses of the throttle and suspension, but doesn’t affect the steering, the big cat likes to turn. It could teach the smaller (but equally hefty) XF a thing or two. Between this chassis tuning and the styling of the interior, the big Jaguar doesn’t feel so big from the driver’s seat. Until you glance to the side, in which case the high beltline and overly close B-pillar conspire to sap your confidence.

So far, mostly so good. Jaguar had relatively few resources to draw upon, but the car doesn’t seem to have substantially suffered as a result—unless you pay close attention to the ride. Quivers you won’t find in a German supersedan make their way through the XJ’s steering column. Especially in the back seat the ride often feels a touch jittery. Many people won’t notice these minor lapses. But the most discriminating buyers will.

Reliability is a big question mark. The Jaguar XF has been among the least reliable cars in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, with the second model year no better than the first. Most problems have been electrical. Might the more complex XJ fare better? Not that you’re guaranteed to have problems. With the 2009 XF 43 percent of owners have had no repairs in the past year.

The Jaguar XJ has some shortcomings, but do they really matter? There are benefits to buying a car from a huge organization, but there are also benefits to buying one from a relatively small outfit. Unlike some other luxury brands, Jaguar has never been about perfection. Instead, the marque has long gotten by (if barely) on a unique combination of sportiness, comfort, and charisma. All are present and accounted for in Jaguar’s new flagship. Compared to the technically astounding Audi A8, the new XJ might be harder to admire, but it’s easier to love.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

Lee “Pete” Canupp of Checkered Flag Jaguar in Virginia Beach, VA, provided the car. Pete can be reached at 757-490-1111.

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3 of 65 comments
  • View2share View2share on Jan 08, 2011

    Well, if Top Gear loves the new Jag, they may also consider the Buick Regal or LaCrosse at a much lower price. Jag is a decent looking, for say $35K, but I will take the real deal - previous rendition.

  • Westcott Westcott on Jan 08, 2011

    Well, the latest TrueDelta reliability numbers for the XF are 133 and 95. These numbers are terrifying and make me glad that I bought something else. It was tempting to get the Jaguar because of its looks but it appears beauty is only skin deep on the new Jaguars. To be fair, some of the Audi and BMW numbers are not too good either.

    • Leaper_NYC Leaper_NYC on Jan 08, 2011

      Sorry to hear that - you simply missed out. I was an early buyer of the XF and have had zero complaints. The Germans are less than Toyota-solid as you said, and Jag now has easily the best warranty & free service in the business. But the real reason to buy them is still their singular "Grace, Space and Pace". Just doing my bit to help you guys out .. the level of ignorance / inexperience surrounding this brand is stunning. The other side of the exclusivity coin I guess.

  • VoGhost 20 years ago, Sportage was the bottom of the barrel, a joke. Kia's come a long way.
  • Morley Wasn't that the war where the Brits came down from Canada and burned the White House to the ground?
  • Master Baiter I'll wait for the actual driving reviews. User interface quality and range are big question marks.
  • Jeff S Years ago Kentucky issued a license plate with a horse running with the words "Unbridled Spirit." The religious right objected and did not want the plate because they believed it encouraged people to go to the race track and bet on horses. Anyone who knows anything about Kentucky knows its famous for raising horses and yes there is Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run but horses in themselves are not sinful. It got so bad that the state issued a blank sticker to put over the horse and the logo. Kentucky also issued a plate for those who were offended stating "In God We Trust." The latest KY plate has no logo and nothing. I always picked the horse because I thought horses were something to be proud of and associated with Kentucky.
  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.