The 2011 Jaguar XJ combines the lithe Leaper's feline grace with the teeth-bared, full cat-face power of the Growler. This new Jag flagship is the purest combination of both that we've seen since, oh, the first XJ (which arrived in 1968) got a V-12 in 1972.
Jaguar is launching the 2011 XJ with three engine choices, all V-8s, and the king of the hill is the growling 510-hp supercharged Supersport. This particular version of the XJ is howlingly fast and fun to drive, but the others are not exactly of the slouching variety, either.
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The starter XJ, the $88,000 one with the normally aspirated 5.0-litre V-8, spins up 385 horsepower. With just 15 hp less than the old XJ's supercharged V-8, the 0-100 km time of 5.7 seconds is fast. Yet that version feels almost like a plonker - in relative terms, at least - compared to the $130,500 Supersport. This one will do 0-100 km/h in way less than five seconds. In the middle, for the record, is the 470-hp Supercharged model at $104,000. Jaguar sells long and short wheelbase versions, with the longer one a 125-mm stretch that delivers oceans of back seat room. So at launch, there is a full lineup - unlike in 1968.
Space aside, the point of reference for the Supersport, say Jag types, is BMW's 760, Mercedes' AMG S63 and the zootiest version of the Audi A8, which is also new for this year. For the whole XJ line, Jag is aiming at the 7-Series, the Mercedes S-Class, the Maserati Quattroporte and Porsche Panamera.
"Aggressive" is the word Jaguar's chief designer Ian Callum uses over and over to describe this XJ. But the term "aggressive" really speaks to the whole car. "We want Jaguars to be noticed again," he says.
You'll notice this Jag even if it's parked in a field of Panameras, Quattroportes, A8s, S-Classes and 7-Series sedans. Jaguar has finally gotten brave.
"Sir William Lyons wasn't fearful of his heritage," says Callum. "It was his heritage, and he could do what you like with it. Part of that heritage is to keep moving forward."
Regardless of engine, the XJ looks unique and feels fast and light and quick. Which is only logical. Like its predecessor, the XJ is a marvel of all-aluminum construction riveted and bonded together like some sort of land-based, space-age fighter jet.
This sort of thing means the body structure has exceptional strength, but is also very light. Jag claims the body is about 11 per cent stiffer in torsion than the old XK8, yet it weighs 135 kg less than an equivalent steel version.
Power, grip, steering - all good. But it does get better the more money you spend. That is, 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.
Inside, 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.
All of this XJ adds up to a gorgeous package of design, engineering and creature comforts.
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