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The 2013 XJ is a delightful car to drive. (Jaguar)
The 2013 XJ is a delightful car to drive. (Jaguar)

Preview Test Jaguar XJ

Jaguar ready to take on the Germans with new XJ sedan Add to ...

Accidents happen, of course. Potholes appear out of nowhere. Black ice disguises treachery capable of putting into jeopardy even the best-engineered cars driven by the best-trained drivers. Jagged rocks hidden in potholes covered by a thin film of ice find ways to carve sidewalls like an impassioned Iron Chef slicing and dicing to cable channel stardom.

Accidents happen to me, too. And so it was that I managed to shred not one, but two, tires before I had gone five kilometres in this newfangled 2013 XJ sedan with its supercharged V-6 engine and the “Instinctive All Wheel Drive” (trademarked, no less). With AWD now available on both the XJ and XF sedans, the British brand owned by an Indian multinational company has well and truly entered the 21st century.

I mulled this over as I roared along an unpaved logging road perhaps 100 km north of Montreal. WHAM-WHAM!!! Both right-side tires were done.

The sun was out and things seemed shiny and bright until I stepped out of the car and into the freezer. I examined the tires and found them quite dead, carved like Texas Chainsaw victims. Then I inspected potholes camouflaged with a thin film of ice. Inside were pointy rocks shaped like ice picks. They tore into the rubber like a hungry lumberjack on a juicy lamb shank.

Fortunately, Jaguar technicians were nearby, and in minutes I was back on the road in an identical $89,000 XJ. Yes, it had occurred to me that I might crack wise at the techs – something along the lines of, “I guess you guys are hovering because Jag didn’t fare so well the latest Consumer Reports’ Auto Reliability Study.” Jaguar finished 28th of the 28 brands ranked.

That would be a cheap shot and, besides, they could come back at me in two ways: First, by suggesting there is nothing wrong with their cars that good driving wouldn’t fix. Or they could point out that in the latest J.D. Power and Associates/What Car? Quality Study in Britain, Jaguar finished No. 1.

They could then finish off with the results of the most recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study. In it, Jaguar finished No. 2 – ahead of Porsche, Cadillac, Acura, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lincoln.

I kept to thanking them for their help. But on the subject of fixes, I’ll say this: Jaguar officials swear up, down and sideways that they are intent on getting their brand right with quality improvements and a technological transformation.

Thus the arrival of AWD and that supercharged V-6, along with a turbocharged 240-hp four-cylinder engine available in the XF, eight-speed ZF automatic transmissions and stop-start gizmos on all XF and XJ models. AWD is a critical performance enhancement for Jaguar and not only because it’s useful in winter, but also because AWD delivers a performance edge – and Jaguar, if anything, is selling performance first, design next.

The XJ has not needed any artistic help since the new generation arrived for the 2011 model year. Jaguar’s design team led by Ian Callum created a subtle but progressive bit of industrial art here; the XJ is not a German copycat, but instead a fresh take on what so many design departments are trying to accomplish – make a big sedan look as light and agile as a sports coupe.

Meantime, much of what’s under the skin and the delicious cockpit does the job on the drive-ability front. That is, the car rides on lightweight aluminum construction. This big sedan feels as light as a mid-size sedan, in fact. Agile? Yes.

What’s been missing is a better array of powertrain offerings and AWD. All of Jag’s rivals offer AWD, in particular Audi, Mercedes and BMW. Each has a fancy name for how to put power to all four wheels – xDrive for BMW, for instance, quattro for Audi. The truth is, without AWD available, the XJ is barely a competitor to the likes of the BMW 7-Series, the Audi A8 and Mercedes’ S-Class.

Then there’s the fuel economy matter. All auto makers must meet stringent fleet-wide fuel economy numbers by 2016, therefore engine downsizing and lightweight technologies have become critically important.

The thing is, the 3.0-litre supercharged engine will not give performance anxiety to wealthy, status-conscious drivers. Not a bit. Top speed is a healthy 250 km/h; 0-100 km/h comes in 6.4 seconds; and, even with AWD on board, Jag says highway fuel economy comes in at 9.8 litres/100 km. Mind you, this being a car with forced induction, if you succumb to the urge to exercise the supercharger, you’ll suck back premium fuel like a Bavarian swilling steins at Octoberfest.

For the time being, the only engine available with the AWD XJ is that 3.0-litre, though long-wheelbase, rear-drive XJs can be had with supercharged versions of the 5.0-litre V-8 (470 hp and 510 hp), starting at $102,500.

Accidents? There’s nothing accidental about where Jag has gone with the latest XJ upgrades. The German car makers won’t be toasting that.

Tech specs

2013 Jaguar XJ AWD

Type: Full-size luxury sedan

Price: $89,000 (freight $1,350)

Engine: 3.0-litre V-6, supercharged

Horsepower/torque: 340 hp/332 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.8 highway; premium gas

Alternatives:Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class

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