2012 Jaguar XJL Portfolio: Power, Grace, Style

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The XJL is a proper, and properly fast, 21st Century British luxury sedan.
The XJL is a proper, and properly fast, 21st Century British luxury sedan.

The big-daddy Jaguar sedan is called the XJ. The stretched version with the cigar-lounge back seat and the second sunroof is the XJL. And the black-tie variant thereof is the $80,000-plus XJL “Portfolio.”

It is hubris even to hint that a new car holds its value like blue-chip stocks—only vintage Ferraris and suchlike belong in a portfolio—but these latest-generation Jags really are a new breed of cat.

For starters, just look at this one. Gorgeous, isn’t it? Any trace of Olde Worlde British dowdiness has been expunged, and Jaguars have joined Aston Martin in knocking the Italians off the bite-your-hand-beautiful podium. The interior no longer looks like something from a Cotswolds cottage, either—no tweed, no coal-burning stove, no Victorian knickknacks.

Instead this one has “Truffle/Cashew”-colored leather and paneling, substantial bits of gleaming chrome, a good-size computer screen, and a hand-filling, heated, leather-trimmed wooden steering wheel filled with auxiliary controls and backed up by shifter paddles.

The headliner looks like creamy suede but is something called Morzine. The 16-way-adjustable front seats—the bottom cushions can be extended—are outstanding and, naturally, they’re heated and cooled. (But I wish these controls weren’t several clicks deep in a computer menu.) The bow window at White’s Club, in London, isn’t any more posh than this car, and the Jag admits women.

Pushing the start button brings the virtual gauges to life while a chunky knurled chrome knob rises out of the console. This is the gear selector. Turn it to engage P-R-N-D or S, for Sport, and then move off in high style.

Just two days ago, the J.D. Power survey people announced that Jaguar now ranks second out of 34 brands in “vehicle appeal.” And just this morning, as I was driving through town, I spotted a middle-aged couple standing on the curb; he had his wife by the arm and was pointing to the Jaguar. I can’t read lips, but I’ll bet he was saying something like, “See that? I’m going to trade in the Mercedes!”

On paper, the trade might not look so good. The German V-8 dreadnaughts have 400 or more horsepower, 8-speed electromagical transmissions, self-adjusting cruise control, 360-degree backup cameras and tons of invisible trickery such as disk brakes that dry themselves in the rain. The Jaguar XJL’s V-8 offers “only” 385 horsepower, ducted through an automatic transmission that makes do with just six speeds, and the cruise control has to be told when to slow down. Bragging rights aside, though, in the real world these deficiencies fade to little or nothing. (And if you simply must have bigger numbers, Supercharged and Supersport XJ models are available, with 470 and 510 horsepower. And six-figure price tags.)

As a big cat should, this Jaguar can purr, growl or roar, thanks to a sexy exhaust note and a quick throttle. What amounts to two stages of sport mode sharpen the response and tighten up the handling, but the ride remains resilient. Still, it’s the mere experience of inhabiting an XJL that stands out, for driver and passengers alike.

As we spend more and more time stuck in traffic, a luxurious and spacious interior abetted by a relaxed, comfortable ride becomes more and more important. Although it can easily be done, one does not drive this Jaguar on edge, poised to lunge through the first opening in the next lane; no, we embrace its ambiance, secure in the knowledge that tremendous performance is available—at the proper time.

There are roughly six times as many late-model S-Class Mercs, BMW 7-Series and Audi A8s loose in America as there are XJ Jaguars. The Germans are lovely cars, but they’ve become almost clichés of success. Are you looking for an upper-crust automobile that’s a bit different in which to make an entrance at your b-school reunion? Establish your superior taste and automotive sensibilities by arriving in an XJ. Get on with it, though; XJ sales are climbing fast. Now we know why.