The Jaguar XJ first came to us on a night in Paris in 2011, and we still remember driving across the River Seine on the Pont Alexandre III with the city lit with spotlights as if it were an art gallery. Every time we walk up to the XJ sedan, we think about driving to Paris. Of course, it snowed about a hundred times in Detroit last winter, so maybe it’s a good thing that this Jaguar has all-wheel drive for those days when Paris isn’t in our plans.
As artwork goes, the 2013 Jaguar XJL 3.0 AWD Portfolio is pretty practical. It’s the long-wheelbase L-version of Jaguar’s all-aluminum big sedan, so full-size Americans can fit in the rear seat. It has the 340-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 that really comes alive now thanks to the eight-speed automatic transmission. And it has all-wheel drive for, you know, the whole snow thing.
But we won’t pretend that we have ever been indifferent to the way this car looks during its 26,820 miles with us. Jaguar’s designers worked very hard to step away from the frozen, oh-so-German design vocabulary that defines luxury cars at the moment. The XJ is something new for the 21st century—more art, less science. All of us have had neighbors run across the street to look at it, and pedestrians everywhere make cheerful comments. Associate Web editor Eric Weiner, decades too young from being appropriate for a sedan like this, received the ultimate compliment when his equally young date observed, “Whoa, what is this? It’s so sleek and shiny!” Weiner hasn’t told us what transpired after this endorsement, but he does describe the Jaguar XJ’s virtues: “The metallic green paint really stands out on the road during the day, and the car looks positively debonair cloaked in darkness. During the day it feels like you’re driving a boat out on the open water, and at night the light-blue interior illumination makes the cabin feel like a spaceship.”
"I would seriously consider buying one of these if I weren’t busy paying for the upkeep of two ancient Jaguars already."
Of course, road test editor Chris Nelson, ever the realist, points out, “One of the reasons that people are drawn to this car is because they’ve never seen one before.” True enough, as Jaguar sold fewer than 5000 XJs in 2013, about 20 percent of the total for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Yet bureau chief Jamie Kitman reports good news from New York City: “That all-wheel drive has enhanced the XJ’s appeal was driven home one day when we went into the big city and saw three XJ AWDs in a couple of hours. This is a car whose popularity appears be growing with age, which is unusual.”
All-wheel drive was new to the Jaguar XJ for 2013, but we have to say that we never really even noticed it during the snowiest, coldest Michigan winter in 100 years. Naturally this would be the point with AWD, since you should notice only that the car negotiates icy driveways, tracks straight and true on freshly plowed roads, and never does anything that might be mistaken for one of the comedy highlights on the Weather Channel. This is why AWD quickly made up 50 percent of XJ sales in 2013.
This is not to say that our Jaguar didn’t suffer in the Detroit winter. First, we scraped off the right-front, bumper-mounted parking sensor at a car wash while getting the winter schmutz scrubbed away (a common occurrence, Jaguar tells us). Then we noticed in February at 14,714 miles that the car wasn’t taking a full tank of fuel, and a trip to the dealer revealed that the DMTL vent in the fuel-filler neck had iced over. A little cleaning solved the problem, and while the people at Jaguar of Novi were at it, they gave the car a thorough cleaning both outside and in, and our winter-specification WeatherTech floor mats came back so clean that you could eat off them.
Of course, there’s a lot more to winter than this, like potholes. Also in February, Web editor Jake Holmes was driving in Ann Arbor when he spotted a big pothole some 4 inches deep in an adjacent lane on one of his familiar routes. He thought to himself, “I better remember that.” Then, not two hours later on the way to someplace with his girlfriend, he found himself hemmed in by traffic and went right through the pothole with a bang. Predictably the impact flattened the right-front Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32 snow tire (our preferred choice for winter driving, on the recommendation of our friends at Tire Rack). Holmes notes in the XJ’s logbook, “I was amused to find the scissor jack for this 4153-pound car looks identical to the one in my featherweight Miata.” This wasn’t the end of it, as it took two visits to Alloy Wheel Repair Specialists to straighten the damaged wheel.
We didn’t care, though. We were too busy driving places, such as Grand Haven, Michigan (look, Lake Michigan is frozen!). Or the NCAA hockey playoffs in Philadelphia (look, the Frozen Four!). Or Marquette, Wisconsin (look, the niece’s performance in “The Wiz”!). Or Atlantic City (what?!). Sadly, no opera or garden parties.
Senior editor David Zenlea appreciated the light-effort steering, and he recognized that a grand car like the XJ should go down the road effortlessly. It’s a car that drives small, and you only realize that it measures 206.8 inches overall when you get out and discover that the car is the size of a city bus compared to the Prius next to you. This XJL AWD doesn’t exactly U-turn on a dime either, since its turning circle is 42.3 feet. Power from the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 never proved to be an issue, as you’d expect with 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque on hand, not to mention the ZF-built eight-speed transmission. What you get is decent power and decent fuel economy. If you want more power, choose the XJL 5.0 with its 385-hp V-8, but AWD isn’t available.
We loved being within this car, and who wouldn’t enjoy being at the center of such a fine selection of natural materials with a giant transparent roof overhead? As Weiner says, “I feel like this car shouldn’t even unlock unless it senses you’re wearing a tailored suit.” Many of our younger editors had not enjoyed so much rear-seat legroom since the days when they traveled in child seats. At the same time, Jaguar has made some sacrifices to package so much passenger space within this car, as the trunk isn’t tall enough to stack hard-case luggage, a drawback on long trips.
A few issues came to light during its stay. The stop/start feature brings the engine to life during city driving with a noticeable shudder, which is a reminder that you’re not driving a Prius hybrid with a little bitty engine and a big slushy transmission. The optional net of defrosting wires inlaid into the windshield is a miracle on icy mornings, but the net also can uncomfortably dazzle you when the sun is on the horizon, plus it can interfere with overhead card readers on tollways. And the 8.0-inch touchscreen interface responds slowly and requires much scrolling and searching, which many of us found cumbersome.
Aside from great driving, great places, and great people, the 2013 Jaguar XJL 3.0 AWD Portfolio introduced us to the things that make Jaguar unique. It affected both the youngest of us and one of the oldest. As Weiner records in the logbook, “Inside the cabin, I love that the Jag feels so damn British. I can practically smell the pipe tobacco and taste the juniper-y zest of London dry gin. Yeah, it’s not as advanced technically as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but I think the Jag still has appeal for someone who is tired of the more austere German character.” New York bureau chief Kitman adds, “This is easily my family’s favorite car to ride around in. The embarrassment that they just can’t shake when we’re in a Bentley or Rolls has been eradicated by the delights of the Jaguar’s cozy interior. I would seriously consider buying one of these if I weren’t busy paying for the upkeep of two ancient Jaguars already.”
As always, senior editor Joe Lorio makes it plain and simple: “Next to the S-Class, the Jaguar XJ is the best premium luxury sedan. It has the best combination of ride and handling. It’s the best looking both outside and in. It has an excellent powertrain that delivers very good fuel economy. Its only downsides are the entertainment interface, the lack of a trunk pass-through, and a large turning circle.”
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