Review: 2011 Jaguar XJ Supersport

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes

Americans are a funny bunch; our views of the larger world are crafted by our prejudices which then tend to be peddled back to us out of sheer convenience. For example, we tend to view British luxury as being some stuffy old stone mansion with dark wood panelling and and swirling cigar smoke, a perception that “Cool Britannia” left behind years (if not decades) ago. Ironically though, nothing perpetuated this dated view of Old Blighty like the previous Jaguar XJ. Jag’s flagship had been trapped in a decades-long styling time-warp, with every generation trying to be more and more connected with the past. Not because the British people actually like wallowing in dated stereotypes about themselves, but because they don’t mind making a buck off of the Americans who do. Free from the need to indulge the country-squire delusions of the colonials, however, the Brits are a people that are more likely to turn a 500 year old stone mansion into an ultra-modern chic lounge. Which is why the new XJ may finally be not only a truly modern luxury sedan, but a truly British one as well.

The XJ has been the jewel of the Jaguar line-up since 1968 when the first XJ6 rolled out of the factory. While the iconic shape of the XJ was modern for 1968, it soon morphed into the charming antique we’ve known for the past 42 years. As the owner of a 2000 XJ8 and a lover of all things “quaint,” the styling direction of the XF sedan left me worried my antique would finally be the last of its kind. While the old XJ aged better than Ford’s Town Car, observers were always right to call the XJ the English “Town Car” for its soft ride and aging clientèle. Indeed, Robert Farago called the previous go-fast XJ a charming stunner but was less than impressed with its performance back in 2005.

Michael Karesh was able to wrangle a drive in the new XJ for a short take back in December, meanwhile I was able to squeeze an XJ Supersport out of Jaguar North America for a longer review. So what’s the XJ really like for a week? Let’s dig in.

Outside, the new XJ is a clean sheet design, but underneath the surface the all-aluminium monocoque chassis shares some suspension design and portions of the floor pan with the previous XJ8. The striking exterior is shockingly different from the German competition having an almost French flair to the rear. While being a total departure from the previous XJ8, it is still surprising how many passers-by still recognized the XJ as a Jaguar. The fluid and contemporary shape of the XJ belies the size of this cat, especially in pictures. This sedan is both large and bold in person making the similar shapes on the mid-size XF seem almost compact. The blacked out C-pillars and black tinted glass roof panels further separate this large sedan from the more sedate competition. It would seem however that not all buyers are fond of the almost “hatchback like” look caused by the black pillars in the back; my local Jaguar dealer tells me it’s a common request to have them painted a matching body color. Speaking of coupé like shapes, the proportions of the new XJ also combine to have a negative effect on the trunk space. While it is possible to get golf clubs back there, it is a tight squeeze for even four light-packers to go on holiday, or as we discovered: picking up relatives at the airport who pack for vacation like they are moving house.

The interior of the new XJ is as much of a departure from tradition as the exterior. Fear not, modern luxury still means plenty of cow hide and wood, as the new XJ easily contains more of both than its predecessor. Our Supersport tester even included a full-leather headliner which, aside from being oddly practical (it’s easy to clean), was caressed frequently by passengers. Round air vents with blue-lit rings are a prominent feature on the single-needle stitched dashboard, but passengers were split whether they liked or disliked the frog-eye look of the vent pod in the center console. Opinion however was unanimous in the like of the expansive inlaid wood trim panels that wrap around the interior. Speaking of trim, Jaguar offers 11 interior color combinations which can all be had with your choice of ten veneers including ye olde classic wood veneers, carbon fiber or the mysterious “Piano Black.” Whatever color selections you make, the interior of the XJ is far more personable and warm than the mechanical precision of the Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-Series interiors. Perhaps it is the relative scarcity of this species in the wild, but it certainly garners more looks than the German luxo-barges at the moment.

The large, dark-tinted panoramic glass roof is standard on all XJ models, but due to the low-slung shape of the roofline, the glass doesn’t extend as far back as the heads of the rear passengers (even in long-wheelbase trim) making it more of a way to illuminate the rear cabin than a way for rear passengers to peer skywards. Also standard on all models is a new 12.3”LCD gauge cluster similar to the one used in the recently re-designed Range Rover. While Mercedes and BMW have replaced portions of their instrument cluster with an LCD, Jaguar has taken the next step with a wide-aspect ratio LCD that replaces all conventional gauges. The display is easily readable in any light condition but I had hoped that the LCD would “do more.” Maybe I am just missing the point, but being the techy nerd I am, I had hoped that some level of customization might be possible like rearranging the gauges, applying custom “wallpapers” etc. Still, the gauges are engaging, the graphics are suitably swish and the response time of the cluster was adequate for most driving situations. A quick perusal of online reviews reveals complaints about the tach seeming “jittery” under hard acceleration, I experienced the “issue” but being in the tech industry I recognize it for what it is: normal LCD lag. As LCD gauge clusters become more common place we’ll get used to the effect, and honestly it didn’t bother me at all. The trade-off for the “jittery” tach is that when using the nav system the needle is replaced with turn-by-turn directions and lane guidance when needed.

The base audio system serves up tunes with as much precision as you would expect in this class (the base XJ carries a $72,700 starting MSRP) but stepping up to the Supercharged and Supersport trim gets you the 1200-watt, 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system. The up-level boom-box is sure to summon the inner audiophile from even the most tone deaf while B&W’s yellow speakers will make sure all your passengers know you bought the best that Kevlar can offer. Peruse further down the option list you will notice something missing; well the entire rest of the list is missing really. While the old XJ sold on charm, the new XJ sells on luxurious minimalist performance, i.e. there are few options. It is refreshing in a way for a luxury sedan to be so totally devoid of fun-sucking electronic nannies, but in reality Jaguar’s limited R&D budget is probably to blame. Never the less, average buyers generally don’t opt for expensive gadget options like night vision, pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, eye movement sensors, or seats that grope you around every turn, so you probably won’t miss them in the XJ either. Instead, the relative simplicity and button-free atmosphere in the cabin is almost Scandinavian in design and highly driver focused. Our Supersport carried the base MSRP of $110,200 and delivers an essentially fully-loaded XJ with the exception of the rear seat entertainment system which is an additional $2,200. In a world of me-too luxury brands, it is refreshing that the XJ doesn’t even try to do everything an Audi A8 or BMW 7-Series can do. Instead, and in contrast to everything else about it, the XJ has a distinctly retro raison d’être: performance.

While driving the XJ I found myself drawing M5 and E63 comparisons. Why? Because of the way the XJ handles and accelerates. Jaguar’s history is full of racing connections, and in an attempt to “get back to basics” the XJ has been tuned very differently from the former XJ. The 7-Series and S-Class may handle and perform well, but even in Alpina and AMG trim, they feel as big and heavy as they actually are. The Audi A8 on the other hand is fairly light at 4,409lbs and is equipped with a superb AWD system, but “nose-heavy barge” is not an infrequent complaint from owners and journalists alike. Lurking under the XJ’s hood is the 510hp 5.0L supercharged V8 that has been spreading across the Jaguar/Land Rover line-up. Delivering 461lb-ft of torque from 2500 to 5500RPM, the third generation supercharged AJ-V8 delivers an experience similar to being tied to a rocket. Direct injection and variable valve timing save the XJ from the US gas guzzler tax and deliver a respectable (for a 510HP luxury car) 15MPG city and 21MPG highway. Our observed economy over 860 miles was 21.5MPG.

As we know from the previous XJR, power is nothing without handling. Despite actually gaining weight on the old XJ8, the new XJ no longer feels like a leather clad marshmallow. Adjectives like “nimble” and “connected” can actually be applied to this XJ’s performance with a straight face. Jaguar redesigned the front suspension swapping a more conventional spring setup for the old air suspension (fewer changes out back left the air suspension in for load-leveling), but it’s the svelte 4,281lb kerb weight that really pays dividends when the chassis is pushed to its limits. While just over two tons may sound like a heavy car, the XJ is not only the lightest in its class, but the short wheelbase XJ is actually 22-25lbs lighter than the mid-size Jaguar XF. While I was unable to schedule back-to-back time with the XFR, XKR and XJ Supersport, a record check revealed the XJ Supersport managed to be the fastest of the feline-trio. The XFR we tested in 2010 ran to 60 in 4.5 seconds, the XKR tackled the same feat in 4.7 due to a distinct lack of grip in the rear but the XJ dug in its claws with a perfectly repeatable 4.30 second run. That’s not just luxury sedan fast, that’s seriously fast.

Put in perspective: if you wanted to buy S-Class that’s faster to 60, you’d need the enormously expensive 621HP S65 AMG starting at $209,000 in order to be 1/10th of a second faster. If BMWs are more your style, then be prepared to be happy with your handling because even the $122,000 (starting) Alpina B7 takes longer to get to speed. Priced at $110,200 the XJ Supersport could almost be called a bargain. Need speed with some extra leg room? The XJL Supersport delivers the same driving experience with 5 inches more rear legroom (and fold-down walnut-clad Grey Poupon trays) at the expense of only 58lbs of additional curb weight and $3,000 more of your hard earned cash.

While the XJ’s low curb weight, well-tuned suspension and wide rubber make the XJ a real joy to drive, the most shocking thing about the behind-the-wheel experience is just how “youthful” the XJ feels. While the old XJ was a stuffy old cat, the new XJ is a kitten that just wants to play. The 6-speed ZF automatic is lightning fast and always in the right gear, the dynamic rear axle kicks out the rear end predictably when pushed, burnouts are a mere DSC-off button-push away and even when the nannies are all engaged they don’t intervene until they are truly needed and then quietly retreat when the pucker-factor is dealt with.

Despite being the bargain in the main-line full-size luxury sedan line-up, the XJ’s unique personality, brand cachet and driving experience are more akin to what you expect from a Maserati , Panamera, or dare I say it: an entry level Bentley. The XJ has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, and it’s that uniqueness that is still special about the XJ today. While the old XJ was more of a “classically styled Lexus”, this cat has leapt to the opposite end of the scale… and America’s image of Britain may never be the same again.

Jaguar provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for the review.

Performance statistics as tested:

0-60: 4.30 seconds

30-60: 2.5 seconds

Average economy: 21.5MPG

Facebook followers. Andy: The interior is excellent except for the steering column trim which seems a touch low rent. Richard: It’s not like my 2000 XJ8, but then it’s not trying to be anymore. It is the perfect car for the white collar criminal; it will make ‘em look even smoother. Robandcindy: Waaay better than an A8? No, but I’d rather have an XJ unless I was in the snow belt.

Alex L. Dykes
Alex L. Dykes

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3 of 54 comments
  • Akatsuki Akatsuki on Feb 06, 2011

    I'd buy one if I wanted a large car, and I like the rear lights.

  • BlueBrat BlueBrat on Feb 12, 2011
    stuffy old stone mansion with dark wood panelling and and swirling cigar smoke, a perception that “Cool Britannia” left behind years (if not decades) ago Some of us enjoy this false but romantic view of Britannia... and the jags. The modern Jag may perform and feel nice but it looks like everything else...and looks were Jaguar. This fails in that. You do not turn heads in a modern jaguar because it is unseen in today's modern car design and no longer stands out as unique. Sorry, but fail.
    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Feb 12, 2011

      Though perhaps not as harsh as you, I know exactally what you mean. At least the Jags that looked like Jags had a certain cachet to them, even back in the dark ages when you had to replace the I6 with a SBC for reliability.

  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.
  • ToolGuy Lose a couple of cylinders, put the rest in a straight line and add a couple of turbos. Trust me.
  • ToolGuy Got no money for the Tasman, it is going to the Taxman. 🙁
  • ToolGuy They should have hired some Ford Motor Company employees. No, I'm kidding -- they should have hired some Ford Motor Company executives. 😉
  • 1995 SC That KIA truck is the ugliest truck I've ever seen