Jaguar is on a serious roll lately. They have gone from a company that was on its back to a company that everyone is watching very closely in less than 6 years’ time, thanks to a few new models, a new parent company, and a large amount of development money that’s been spent effectively. I’ve been waiting 2 years to drive another Jaguar XJ after taking a used one out for a spin in North Jersey. While I was with Nick at the Pebble Beach Concours, that wait ended abruptly with the roar of the 550hp XJR. I had to ask: Is this car worth its price and will it be on a new level of performance compared to the old XJR? I took the wheel of this silver-grey 2014 model around the 17-Mile Drive to find out.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Jaguar scored a 95-yard touchdown run with the exterior of the XJ lineup. It’s lithe, yet strong. It’s slender, yet wide. You expect a contradiction because of the shape and the size, but I have yet to find a bad part of the lines. The roof is nice and low, and the dark panels used on the C-pillars make the car look smaller than it is, something I find enjoyable. Some may think the large grille looks a bit too big for the car, but I happen to be one that thinks it looks nice and imposing without being too gaudy. The back end is simple, save for the complex shape of the taillights, which swing over the tops of the rear fenders and away to the decklid. The lip spoiler, too, is a good touch–nicely understated, and when combined with the menacing tailpipes, makes for a subtle warning as to this car’s capabilities.
The interior of the XJR is my favorite in its segment right now. Jaguar hasn’t done the retro thing here, instead going for the future. The seats are two tone red and black but serve to light up the dark interior. The floormats are piped in the same red, along with the seat stitching. The veneer was finished with carbon fiber around the door panels and dashboard top, with piano black on the center console and the center stack. The lines on the interior are easy on the eyes as well.
By the Numbers:
The XJR is new to the market this year, but the current generation of the XJ has been with us since 2011. Under the hood lives a 5.0L supercharged V8, with 550hp, that is shared with the XFR-S and the XKR-S. I wasn’t even sure that the XJR was going to come back, considering that the next level down happens to have 510hp. The XJR features, like the other XJs, an aluminum body and floorpan, which helps bring the curb weight down to under 4,400 pounds. Backing up the powerful supercharged V8 is a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability, combined with an active differential and dynamic stability control.
Build quality is certainly there. The exterior build is very much fitting for an XJ and it’s a huge improvement over the XJL that I drove in 2011. The interior materials selection is fantastic, along with the quality of the paint finish. The interior is laid out effectively well. There’s plenty of room up front and the long wheelbase provides oodles of space in the back on very comfortable leather. Interior layout is good too–i had no trouble with the touch screen or the controls on the center stack. Despite my short frame, I felt a little cramped in the old XJ because of the low roof–that’s not the case in the new shape. Visibility is also quite good despite the sharp angle of the rear window.
At the Helm:
Jaguar’s first entry in the high-performance flagship size sedan market since 2009 is worthy of the XJRs that have come before it. This is a great engine–I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing it now in the XFR-S and the XKR-S (where it damn nearly killed me)–and it fits the place of this car very well. If the XJ Supersports is the old boss of the lineup, I think it’s gotten demoted thanks to this. The 8-speed automatic smooths out the XJR’s explosive acceleration but sometimes seems to jump between gears a little bit in Normal mode. After I changed that to Sport on the way back up the hills, the transmission behaved more to my standards. The engine sounds a bit tame at lower revs, but push it past 4,000RPM and suddenly the subdued rumble turns into a growl and the supercharger begins to whine over the top of everything like a banshee. It’s almost not fitting of a flagship sedan–but this is a Jaguar XJR, so that’s more than perfect.
Brakes and handling are very impressive for a big car like this. Two-ton sedans are not really meant to handle a backroad like this one does. The XJ in general is lighter than pretty much every competitor (just edging the Maserati Quattroporte) and despite that it still weighs two tons and stretches out to more than 17 feet in length, this car holds its mass very well and grips corners effectively. The steering has a lot of feel and is nice and quick. Body lean is somewhat expected but even that is checked out so not to be a huge issue. The ride was firm, but not at all that harsh over some of the more well-used roads on the route. The brakes are impressive, bringing the Jag down to a stop without a bit of nosedive.
The Bottom Line:
The Jaguar XJ lineup is an indicator of the company’s serious ability to keep people’s attention. First off, this car essentially replaces the XJ Supersports, which isn’t that much different in price. The current Supersports SWB is $112,600 before options, tax or delivery–the XJR on the same wheelbase is $116,000. The LWB is even closer, where it starts at $119,000 (The Supersports LWB is $119,200). For that sort of money, the Jaguar is up against tough competition in the Audi S8, BMW 760Li (or the ALPINA B7), and the (in its final year, there is a new one on its way late this year) Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, and the new Maserati Quattroporte GTS.
The XJR is the lightest car among its competition, and it’s also at the lower end of the market on price. Optioned out, the car I tested was in the mid 120,000-dollar range. The only other sedan which can catch this car at that price is the Audi S8, which might be the only other good value on price alone. The others that compete against the XJR are all significantly more expensive and can easily break $160K with options. On balance, if you don’t think that the others are worth the extra cash, the Jaguar’s a good value (if any car can be considered that for six figures).
Overall? I love this car. Jaguar did something that they didn’t do before with this new XJ. After its launch, they kept improving it with the addition of a low-end model (the 3.0L V6), AWD, and now, the new XJR to top off the lineup. It’s a great car to drive, a gorgeous piece of engineering, and it comes in at a lower price point than other luxury bruisers like it. It’s got great comfort, speed, driving dynamics, and it adds a nice big chunk of style to the mix. This car has earned an A for plenty of reasons.
Final Score: 4+4+4+4 = 16.0/4 = 4.0
-Albert S. Davis