The super-luxurious sedan that is a pleasure to the senses.
2011 Jaguar XJ L Supercharged
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Jaguar? Could it be the one redeeming feature from Dudley Moore's otherwise clunky comedy, Crazy People, about escapees from a mental institution who form their own advertising agency and whose delusion is that the world is ready for truth in advertising? Their take on Jaguar - a car for men who like, ahem, attention "from beautiful women they hardly know" - is probably closer to the truth than most of us would like to admit.
Jaguar has long traded on that sexy, feline nature. Indeed, former owners are prone to wistful and romantic reminisces, despite remembering the reasons they sold the car in the first place - the fact that, for example, it might have thrown transmission bits all over the front lawn. At least that's why I got rid of my Jaguar.
So, the news that the all-new-for-2011 Jaguar XJ is jam-packed with solid, logical features that will appeal to the engineer in all of us might come as a shock to some long-time fans. Indeed, climbing behind the wheel to be greeted by what is the world's first - or at least its most complete - digital instrument gauge set is not exactly in keeping with the hoary old-world, chrome-and-wood charm Jaguar traded on for so long.
But it is surely welcome. As is a host of many other high-tech features.
Of course, there's the now commonplace - on luxury cars at least - central infotainment computer. However, this one not only uses much more user-friendly touch-screen technology rather than a twiddly mouse, but the screen itself displays different images (for example, a digital readout of vehicle settings for the driver and, say, a movie for the passenger) simultaneously. It's also worth noting that the two rear screens (built into the back of the front seats' headrests) can have different inputs. So, if the toddlers can't agree on which movie to watch, it's not imperative - at least from a technological point of view - that they share.
All this talk of digitisation doesn't mean that Jaguar has forgotten how to reward the senses. The Bowers & Wilkin audio system, for instance, is pure ecstasy to eardrums. Jaguar has stuffed 20 speakers (a record for a production car as far as I know) into the cabin and then excited their precious little permamagnets with no less than 1,200 watts of bass-booming amplification. I'm not sure if I am ready to state that it's better than the Bang & Olufsen systems Audi offers when it comes to DVD output, but I can tell you that there is no better automotive stereo system at radio reproduction, the Bowers & Wilkins system proving as clear and sharp on an FM station as most audio system playing a CD. It really is incredible.
And that TFT screen that is the gauge set is a marvel to watch. As both the tachometer and speedometer needles swing around, their numbers simultaneously illuminate. There are little histographs to explain hidden functions and, my favourite touch: the speedo and the tach can get into role reversal games where the tachometer can switch places with the speedometer when the car is set to sport mode. Hey, it gets me hot and heavy.
So, too, does the rest of the Jaguar. Of course, the leather is supple beyond belief; it's a Jaguar after all. The big 5.0L V8 engine makes all manner of feline noises as well, its supercharger ever so subtly announcing its presence while its 470hp ensures that the telephone poles fly by not-nearly-as-subtly.
And the exterior shape is just as sensuous as Jaguars of yore, though thoroughly more modern. I actually prefer the proportions of the longer-wheelbase "L" version, not something that could be said of previous XJs. And, if you don't like designer Ian Callum's one stylistic oddity - those pronounced piano-black C-pillars - well, just order the entire car in black like my tester and nobody will notice.
There are also some surprises, like the rear seat legroom, which is gargantuan in the larger L version. And the handling of the standard version - even the Supercharged version runs on standard springs and dampers - makes one wonder how an "R" version can be expected to improve things. As it is, this is the first big luxury saloon to give BMW's 7 Series a run for its money in the corner carving sweepstakes.
On the money front, Jaguar's pricing is more than competitive. Even top-of-the-line premium models like the long-wheelbase Supercharged version are amazingly well equipped and start at barely more than a baby S-Class Benz. Jaguar is back, as sexy as ever, only this time she's not nearly so difficult to get along with.