Jaguar XJ Supersport — The long and short of elegance

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

A bold, modern design combined with cutting-edge performance sets the 2011 Jaguar XJ Supersport models apart from most other luxury sedans. In fact, the supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 under the hood of both our short and long wheelbase test cars proved so thrillingly fast that we began to wonder if we had looked at the horsepower numbers correctly while doing our initial research.

How could a ultra-luxury sedan loaded with creature comforts and 21st Century technology be so good-gosh fast with just 510 horses under the long, sleek hood?

We agree that 510 ponies is great, more than plenty in any passenger vehicle, but we were experiencing 0-to-60 runs at just a tick or two over 4 seconds, and hitting 100 mph so quickly we could almost imagine being back behind the wheel of the Porsche 911 turbo. A major magazine with testing equipment says the Supersport is only 4.0 seconds to 60 mph with a quarter mile time of 12.3 seconds at 116 miles per hour.

But the XJ is not about new-found power, the three V-8 engine configurations are familiar, all currently available in the XK and XF. You can figure equally satisfying — if somewhat slower — times from the standard 385-horsepower V-8 (5.4 seconds) and the 470-horsepower supercharged version (4.5 seconds).

XJ is sleek, rich and elegant; and a departure for the normally staid brand that thought “gorgeous” was enough to entice and conservative was necessary to retain the “old” clientele. The XJ now takes traditional Jaguar design themes and molds them into a modern package that still speaks Jaguar, but now at a much different level. The flagship is so much more about design, comfort and forward looking; and those goals are accomplished with aplomb.  

The XJ design flows; it’s smooth and immensely attractive. It’s amazing how the Jaguar design team led by Ian Callum and Julian Thomson took the unmistakable, aging, Jaguar design language and turned it into a work of art.

The cat flows gracefully with a long hood back to a short rear deck. A large, square grille with a large Jaguar ornament affixed — much like that found in the ground-breaking mid-sized XF — is flanked by canted headlights. The traditional leaper hood ornament is gone, but Jaguar says it can be special ordered for those who relish the retro look.

Perhaps the strongest styling statement is on the rear of vehicle, an area that seemingly gets short shrift in many automotive designs. The XJ has a striking appearance with long, narrow, bending LED taillights that smack of Italian influence and blend neatly into the bumper and the deck-lid of the “boot.”

And on the inside it is an experience in luxury with wonderfully supportive seats, yards of supple leather and some of the loveliest wood trim that makes the car cozy and warm. The dash is awash in soft, stitched and honed leather sans that usual sheen that makes for a plastic look. Craftsmanship and materials’ quality rival any sedan on the planet.

Jaguar’s flagship comes in either the standard length or as the XJL, a long wheelbase version that adds five-inches, most of those precious inches in rear seat legroom; and both lengths are available in those three trim/power levels already noted.

In addition to the vast array of modern technology that will keep all the techno buffs and audiophiles humming a happy tune (a wonderful Bowers & Wilkins system to help you hear), the only disconcerting item is the virtual display of the instruments; very high tech but somewhat ghostly in appearance. The numbers on the speedometer fade in and out and at first glance we wondered if a visit to an optometrist was in order. At least the digital visual was pictured as large round dials, a nice Jaguar touch.

A large touch screen is the central location for cutting-edge electronics. The dash is awash in ice-blue lighting. It allows for some very neat effects such as lighting only the portion of the speedometer or tachometer in use and darkening other sections. If there is a slightly sour note, it’s that the touchscreen is not as handy as the latest generation of say BMW’s iDrive. Processing speed is sometimes slow and doesn’t work as smoothly as this high-level of sophistication would dictate.

One of the truly magical features carries over from the mid-sized XF. The round shift selector knob that gently rises out of the center console when the car is started and retracts when it is turned off is nothing short of special.

The rear seats are wonderfully supportive and extremely comfortable, but we discovered rear-seat legroom on the tight side in our standard-wheelbase model. If a rear-seat limousine-like experience is demanded stick with the XJL. The trunk is an averaged-sized 15.2 cubic feet, but a raised portion in the rear may impede the storage of certain things.

The XJ is loaded with standard equipment goodies, many of which are options on other high-end cars. They include an adaptive suspension, panoramic sunroof, automatic xenon headlights, a power-closing trunk, rear-view camera, heated rear seats, front and rear parking sensors, and a blind-spot warning system.

With all this striking beauty and modern-day gadgets you would expect a first-class driving experience. And the XJ delivers. There is no let down. The newest Jag offers an excellent balance between ride comfort, sports-car-like handling and awesome performance.

Thanks in part to the car’s lightweight aluminum suspension chassis (something that’s been a part of the XJ since 2004), standard adaptive suspension, and highly communicative steering, the Jag feels honestly agile. Choosing the car’s “dynamic” driver setting brings a sharper throttle response, firmed dampers and quicker downshifts all which make the normally quick XJ feel even livelier.

Hustling the XJ Supersport down a stretch of our favorite back-road blacktop was an exercise in near disbelief. How can a large two-ton luxury sedan go so fast — so effectively pin you back against the seat on takeoff — and be so sure footed, acting and sounding — turn off the outstanding audio system, please to hear the V-8 growl — like a high-performance sports car?

This is just silliness and we love it and if you have the 110 grand — our test car carried a bottom line of $111,075 — to fork over you will surely be pleased with all aspects of the new XJ Supersport from its luscious exterior design to its stunningly striking interior to its superb handling and performance. Our XJL Supersport nestled close to $117,000.

The Supersport will be sold in limited numbers. But don’t let your heart be troubled, the standard XJ starting at $73,575 including destination, and the SuperCharged version beginning at $88,575, are equally attractive. The XJL long-wheelbase format starts at $80,575. All are the equal of any full-sized luxury sedan in the world.

Base price: $73,575; as driven, $111,075
Engine: 5.0-liter supercharged
Horsepower: 510 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 461 foot-pounds @ 2,500 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 119.4 inches
Length: 201.7 inches
Curb weight: 4,281 pounds
Turning circle: 40.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21.7 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 21 mpg highway, 15 mpg city
0-60: 4.0 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Mercedes S-Class, Porsche Panamera, BMW 7-Series

The Good:
• Outstanding engine
• Exquisite interior
• Nimble handling
• Cutting-edge exterior styling

The Bad:
• No all-wheel drive option

The Ugly:
• You have to be kidding