2013 Jaguar XJ Stands Alone

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It’s easy to admire Jaguar’s big-daddy XJ sedan, but then a question comes up: Is this an outstanding example of one of the world’s most celebrated luxury cars, or just a wildly overpriced Buick—a more or less comparable sedan?

Our Jaguar was the “L” variant—five inches longer between the axles—and had all-wheel drive, upgrades that add 10 grand to the XJ’s base price of $73,200. Then there was a $2,300 super-stereo, 20-inch wheels and tires to suit ($3,500), front-seat massagers, a heated windshield and adaptive driving lights, and a raft of options to coddle the two rear-seat passengers. The $99,600 total would buy exactly two Buick LaCrosses with every box ticked.

jaguar-xjBy themselves, the Jaguar’s Rear Seat Comfort and Entertainment packages—$7,200—are about the price of two Business Class tickets from New York to London. But you’d be happier in the car.

(And don’t try opening a private sunroof at 35,000 feet.) However, since we’re here to drive the XJ, not lounge in the back seats, let’s put that money toward title, taxes, insurance, gas and a mortgage payment or two instead.

So: Twelve months ago, we went ga-ga over the redone-for-2012 XJ.

Some of the novelty has worn off—thus the Buick niggle—but the improved 2013 version still blows up our skirt.

We might be surprised that a 100-grand luxury liner now has a 6-cylinder engine, but this one is supercharged to 340 horsepower and 332 torques. (More testosterone is available, for more money: 385-, 470- or 510-horsepower V-8s, while a hard-nosed XJR with 550 horsepower is due next year.) Thanks to the XJ’s relatively light weight and an also-new 8-speed automatic transmission, the six motivates the car briskly while delivering up to 24 miles per gallon; at 80 MPH in top gear, the motor looks to be turning barely 1,700 RPM.

Pushing the start button brings the virtual gauges to life while a chunky knurled chrome knob rises out of the console. This is the drive selector. Turn it to engage P-R-N-D or S, for Sport, and then move off in high style. Sport mode sharpens the shifting and Dynamic mode does the same for the suspension, but the ride remains resilient. Jaguar’s optional “instinctive” all-wheel drive transparently re-directs up to half of the engine power to the front wheels if the rears are slipping. On a winding country road, the Jaguar, for all its size, will tighten up its Nikes and run. To drive it as hard as skill, prudence and sight lines allow is a joy.

The experience of merely inhabiting an XJ stands out also. The leather and wood-paneled interior, with gleaming bits of substantial chrome, is lovely. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, backed up by shifter paddles, fills the hands. The 16-way-adjustable front seats—the bottom cushions can be extended—are outstandingly comfortable and, naturally, heated and cooled. Overall, the bow window at White’s Club, in London, isn’t any more posh than this car, and the Jag admits women.

A swanky cabin, a relaxed ride, a silky automatic and even the new engine stop-start feature are the more valuable as we spend more and more of our lives stuck in traffic. We can keep this Jaguar on edge, poised to lunge through the first gap in the next lane, but better to embrace its ambiance, and know that speed is available for later.

It’s not perfection, though. We wish for more manual knobs and buttons and fewer computer sub-routines. We wish adaptive cruise control was standard on a $100K car. We wish the ignition button didn’t have to be held in till the motor fires, and we’d like the engine stop-start to be less jarring.

But these aren’t deal-breakers; in a way, they underline the car’s difference. The Jaguar hits a sweet spot between the exhausting complexity of the big Germans and the bland sterility of the Lexus LS. It’s not as quirky as the Maserati Quattroporte, but just as distinctive and nearly as rare.

On TV we see Jaguar sedans following Her Majesty the Queen’s Bentley limousine to or from Buckingham Palace. With all due respect to the new LaCrosse, the XJL is not an overpriced Buick; if anything, it’s a bargain Flying Spur.