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2011 Jaguar XJ

Jaguar XJ's sharp new edge Add to ...

Rumour has it that inside Jaguar Cars, the typical Jag owner - pre-2011 XJ - has been known as the fictional "Mrs. Schwartz from Long Island."

The Tata Motors people from India apparently envisaged Jaguar's impending divorce from Mrs. Schwartz when they eyeballed sketches of what would become the 2011 XJ. That was late 2007. Months later, Ford handed Tata the keys to Jaguar and Land Rover for what amounted to $1.7-billion (U.S.).

If Mrs. Schwartz wants more of the retro XJs that Jag lost money on for decades, it's eBay for her. In Jag showrooms today is a new XJ. It's modern and bold and a bit mysterious looking. Long and sitting low to the ground, the '11 XJ has a big mesh grille up front that, combined with the narrow xenon headlamps pushed back into the hood, give the car a squinting face. Bold.

For such a large sedan, the XJ has a racy, coupe-like profile, too. The big haunches at the rear suggest power and hide massive cargo space in the trunk. This is a fantastic-looking automobile - chic, modern, graceful and sexy.

"We are trying to bring the word 'sleek' back to Jaguar styling," said Ian Callum, the chief designer. "It has not been easy. We want Jaguars to get noticed again."

Mrs. Schwartz was largely the problem. She is the reason Jaguar left its flagship sedan untouched stylistically for 40-plus years. Yes, the first XJ was introduced in 1968. Company founder Sir William Lyons back then appeared in grainy television commercials, touting the XJ as "the greatest Jaguar - ever!" But he didn't mean for evermore.

Jaguar, like so many timid husbands, was afraid to irritate Mrs. Schwartz, so nothing in the design really changed for decades. Slowly the company began to collapse upon itself as it repeated, Basil Fawlty-like, "yes, dear, yes, dear, yes, dear."

The 2011 XJ is Jaguar trading tweed for Armani. The car's breakthrough design equals the breakthrough engineering we first say in 2004 when the outgoing version of the XJ launched as essentially an all-aluminum car. Now when someone sees an XJ fly by, the words "What was that?" follow.

And it doesn't matter which version. It might be the starter XJ, which at $88,000 comes with a normally aspirated 5.0-litre V-8 that spins up 385 horsepower: 0-100 km time in 5.7 seconds. Or it could be the $107,000 Supercharged XJ, which at 470 hp will do the same sprint in less than five seconds. Or there is the 510-hp Supersport at $133,500.

When goosed, the various V-8s respond in two perfect ways: they make deep roars and power goes to the rear wheels instantly, lighting off the rear tires, leaving dark skid marks.

Above all, the XJ feels fast and quick. This Jag is far lighter than most of its competition - including the aluminum space-frame 2011 Audi A8. As for the rest, the tight ZF steering rack and the electronically self-adjusting shocks manage the ride and handling nicely. It's hard to argue with the effectiveness of the active air suspension instead of conventional coil springs. The big XJ drives "small."

All XJs have a dynamic suspension setting that firms up the shocks while adjusting the throttle response and shift points. You can dial in normal and winter settings, too; normal is best in city traffic. The Supersport has a firmer suspension and Z-rated summer tires, along with a quicker steering rack.

As for the cabin, the driving position is superb. Your heels, hips and hands fit perfectly behind the wheel. The seats snug up nicely all around without being cloying in any way.

Facing the driver in pricier XJs is the world's first fully gaugeless instrument cluster - an LCD screen similar to a laptop's; it displays computer-generated analog gauges and is capable of all manner of other tricks.

For instance, the numbers in the instrument cluster have what the engineers call a "torch effect." This provides a kind of spotlight on the dial, highlighting your speed. Also, the gauges turn red when you put the car in dynamic mode.

When moving at even high speeds, the XJ is quiet thanks to double-pane windows. They let you fully appreciate what comes out of the 20-speaker, 1,200-watt Bowers + Wilkins stereo system.

The cabin design itself is modern, right down to the eight balls that serve as air vents. It's also huge and, by dropping the dash a few centimetres from the windshield, Callum and his designers have managed to create a feeling of openness. Of course, there is a band of burled wood, but Mrs. Schwartz wouldn't like it.

Meanwhile, a large touch screen allows you to manage various functions (stereo, climate control, navigation) without slogging through a three-hour dealership briefing. If nothing else, Mrs. Schwartz would appreciate that.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2011 Jaguar XJ

Type: Large luxury sedan

Price: $88,000-$133,500 (plus $1,270 freight)

Engines: 5.0-litre V-8/5.0-litre V-8 supercharged/5.0-litre V-8 supercharged in Supersport

Horsepower/torque: 385 hp/380 lb-ft in started XJ; 470 hp/424 lb-ft in Supercharged XJ; 510 hp/461 lb-ft in Supersport XJ

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 17.0 city/8.2 highway for starter XJ; 18.3 city/8.7 highway for Supercharged; 18.3 city/8.2 highway fpr Supersport; premium gas

Alternatives: BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8, Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamera

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