Mountain Wheels: Winter-ready all-wheel-drive Jaguars open up some new options
December 15, 2012
Montreal, Quebec – The pleasantly historic and fully bilingual surroundings – though not especially wintery when we first arrived – of metropolitan Montreal served as an interesting backdrop to the official launch of a couple of groundbreaking models for Jaguar, the all-wheel-drive versions of the XF and XJ sedans.
Those of you who’ve read my stories in past years have probably figured out that my test drives alone account for the majority of the Jaguars present in the High Country, pretty much ever: These 2013 automobiles, with their innovative, intuitive all-wheel drive technology, may serve to change that just a bit, all across the North American “snow belt.”
We made the jaunt to the French-Canadian Great White North to check out the fast-tracked AWD program, as well as taking a spin in the 2013 version of the Land Rover LR2, but the winter-ready Jags were definitely the biggest news event.
What started as a rainy, gloomy weekend turned, as if by magic, into snowy roads and by the time we got our mitts on the Jags, up at the Mount Tremblant ski area, conditions were indeed ripe to try out a very different take on Jaguar’s luxurious, performance-oriented sedans.
In order to maintain that je ne sais quoi – the “Jaguarness” that makes the British cars special – the company’s designers rather masterfully were tasked with a big job of reverse-engineering the current XJ and XF models to house and integrate a high-tech AWD system. That’s no small feat.
But by re-engineering the exhaust, the subframe and the engine mounts, and also adopting an innovative AWD system that runs the front driveshaft through the engine sump, they managed to cram it all in there without distorting the shape of the cars, much less the basic feel of their smooth-but-always-potentially-sporty ride.
An electronically controlled transfer case is the piece de resistance, with the car’s computer allowing two, diametrically opposed missions: A 50-50 split of torque that favors sporty rear-wheel drive feel, but is instantly biased to the front (or, whatever wheel needs it, really) for extra grip on icy roads. With the proper winter tires, of course.
All of that sounded great, but the best illustration – besides a long, comfortably well-planted ride on snowy rural highways – was a whip around a winter driving course with a cast of international instructors.
Flip on either the bigger XJ or the slightly more contemporary XF’s electronic winter mode and the car starts in second gear, softens the throttle response for a less spinny takeoff and also (not so subtly) uses ABS to slow your wheels around turns, guaranteeing more grip.
The one or two drivers in North America who intend to do some wintertime drifting in their Jaguars will appreciate the dynamic mode, which retains almost all of the grip but allows for more spirited acceleration and a looser steering feel.
We even headed out onto a circle track of solid ice – you can see me in the photo gingerly feeling my way around the loop – and the winter-oriented modes certainly work miracles on keeping you somewhat glued to the not-so-solid ground.
Jaguar is moderately notorious for its high horsepower engines and in order to make the prospect of AWD a little more grounded, the cars are also the first application for an all-new supercharged 3.0 liter V6.
Designers say they literally chopped two cylinders off the existing V8 block and were still able to get 340 horsepower out of the smaller engine, plus a more engaging 26 mpg on the highway – even with the added AWD system.
As the pavement dried up on our way back into the city, we discovered this was certainly the case, as the car could probably hit its 155 mph limit, if not for those snow tires. The new, equally seamless eight-speed transmission also adds to the mileage factor, and there’s a mildly invasive automatic stop-start system as well.
Most importantly, you hardly notice the AWD at all unless you get into a slippery spot, leaving you instead to concentrate on the cars’ luxurious ride and their handsomely finished interiors.
The LR2 is no slouch, either – despite looking like a softroader, the smallest Land Rover proved to be almost literally bulletproof on a very challenging off-road course north of Montebello.
While 2013 brings mostly cosmetic changes – a simplified exterior design and a range of center console details and controls adapted from the Evoque – the LR2’s DNA is all Land Rover, and the thing’s as versatile as a goat with spiked hooves.
We rolled through deep mud, heavily tracked ice and even down precarious slopes and the little machine behaved like its $80,000 cousins – and it still looks pretty nice on the inside, with an optional 825-watt, 17-speaker Meridian stereo if you want to blast Rush and Triumph as we did during the drive.