New Jag head-turningly cool |

New Jag head-turningly cool

Andy Stonehouse
summit daily auto writer
Special to the Daily

As the long-lasting flagship of Britain’s storied and status-laden automaker, the Jaguar XJ had, admittedly, gotten a little stale in recent years.

But 2011’s total makeover has injected both stylistic and motoring life aplenty into the old feline, transforming the venerable machine into something modern and head-turningly cool.

That includes a design aesthetic heavy on the long, long lines, a newly chiseled and angular nose and massive mesh grille (which looks nothing like the Dodge Charger, in any way) and a tall, sculpted and almost Rolls-Royce-like tail with LED brakelamps that shoot off at crazy angles. It’s imposing and awesome.

My tester, the 205-inch-long extended wheelbase “L” version of the XJ, might not seem completely poised for the sporty country road/foxhunting high-speed jaunts in Jaguar’s fables, but … you’d be surprised.

Power in my ride was supplied by the new 385-HP 5.0-liter V8, which can also be ordered up in variations reaching 470 or 510 supercharged horses. Even that “base” engine thrums harmoniously at idle and growls marvelously when the pedal is flattened and you use the paddle shifters to bark through the gears, though it’s wonderfully sedate in tone (despite the output). And moderately frugal, exceeding the 22 mpg highway on many occasions.

More ingeniously, click the XJL into sport mode and feel the belts automatically tighten and the gauges suddenly glow red, Batman-style, as the big car extends the revs and allows more playful use of its potential.

And with good winter tires (supplied, thankfully, on this $82K plaything), you could replicate what I believe might be the only trip ever taken for a ski day at A-Basin in a new XJL, with solid bite on snowy roads, excellent control on ice and an incredibly large back seat for your skis, as this model had no pass-thru in the trunk.

All of this is largely a moot point as the XJL is very clearly set up for executive duty, its expansive back seat more akin to a private jet than a mere four-wheeled automobile. Luxurious leather seats, hardwood fold-down tray tables and separate A/C (and optional AV) controls will endear the machine to its probable audience, plus those 44 inches of leg room.

That’s too bad for most owners, as XJL is still a fine driver’s machine, with the front of the cabin showing the bulk of the 2011 interior makeover. First up is a new and groundbreaking LCD virtual instrument display – absolutely no actual gauges present – which offers endlessly customizable gauge arrangements, plus a small Maxwell Smart mini-version of your navigational directions, requiring less distracted looks to the main screen.

The whole cabin has been encircled in a bathtub-styled wooden and hand-stitched leather arch, reaching even above the dash, a look that’s a tad baffling but quite beautiful when you get used to it. Seven wood veneers or carbon fiber trim are, of course, available.

Add to that the huge chrome 1950s hair-dryer air vents, an analog clock and the bubbled dash itself and there’s a note of retro-futuristic work going on. Especially with the inclusion of the JaguarDrive super-knob, the pop-up, rotating gear selector knob, and the one-touch magic glove box release. Shining chrome highlights abound, including an upright cubby ideal for a smartphone.

Seating is excellent and the air-powered kidney bolsters can keep you pinned in place during more enthusiastic outings, while the built-in massage function and heated/cooled controls add to the comfort over the long haul.

Top that all off with a full suede headliner and dual sunroofs, and it’s heaven on wheels. And it smells good inside, too.

The optional, 1,200-watt, 20-speaker Bowers and Wilkins stereo system offers true concert hall levels of audio excellence.

There are, this being a Jaguar (even an Indian-manufacturing-company-owned Jaguar), a few peculiarities, but the 2011 is otherwise impressively bulletproof (maybe literally).

Due to the predominant right-hand-drive orientation of the automobile, the windshield wipers defer to the right side of the windscreen and left a healthy sheen of mag chloride right in my line of sight; navigation scaling controls also seem geared for a right-hand drive setup. You also get some peculiar funhouse distortions through the rear window, mostly due to the length of the glass.

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