New Jaguar XJs don't come down the block every day, so when Jaguar endeavors to design the next generation of the venerable model, you can be assured executives of the company think long and hard about it. The XJ is the brand's "volume" nameplate, which means if it's a success there is plenty of beer and skittles. If it fails...well, given Jaguar's position versus bigger luxury-brand competitors, it better not fail.

So after much ruminating, the Jag execs and the team led by Ian Hoban, director of Jaguar programs, decided to add more Jaguar to the new Jaguar. By this we mean they elected to add a greater performance feel to the big sedan. As Hoban described it, "We wanted to make the vehicle character more overtly sporting, building on the work we'd done with XK and XF."

The fast bits

Jaguar engineers, designers and product planners set out to build in that sporting feel piece by piece by piece. For example, in came the more direct and faster steering ratio from the XFR. In came continuously variable damping with air suspension. In came increased track, increased spring rates and increased tire diameter. The aluminum body structure was made 10 percent stiffer by increasing the use of high-strength 6000-grade aluminum alloy and the use of aluminum diecastings in critical areas like the front shock towers. All "fusion welding" was eliminated. Instead the new XJ's body is held together with 2,800 self-piercing rivets and some 90 meters of epoxy adhesive, kind of like a giant Revell model.

Jaguar engineers even lent their educated ears to tuning the sounds that the all-new XJ makes as it rockets down the freeway.

And the result?
The very good news is the soon-to-arrive XJ rockets down the highway just the way we believe they'd planned it. The car is every bit as refined as the previous XJ, yet the sporting quotient is up considerably.

Jaguar executive Richard Beattie expects that the naturally aspirated, long wheelbase XJL will be the sales leader, and we were pleased to discover that with its all-new 5.0-liter V8 engine, the model delivers handily on the design brief. Offering 385 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, the engine proved itself not only strong but extremely flexible in conditions that ranged from freeway cruising to tight-turn canyon running to the stop-and-go of urban traffic.

Moving up the cost-cum-benefits ladder, the supercharged version of the engine delivers 470 horsepower, while at the top rung is the additionally tuned Supersport version of the supercharged engine that wrings out 510-horsepower.

Aiding and abetting the engines is an uber-sophisticated transmission and drive system that not only responds to your whim; it actually makes you a better driver. For example, when you engage its Dynamic Mode, the shifts become more enthusiastic, gears are held longer where needed, steering response becomes more rapid, body control crisper and throttle response more immediate. In fact, you suddenly get a sports car encased in a very handsome four-door sedan body.

If you want to take things all the way on the sporty continuum, put the transmission in Sport, lock in Dynamic mode through a checkered-flag-logo button on the console and use the paddle shifters to zip from gear to gear. Having done this, you might find that the transmission often is better left on its own to select and hold gears, rather than listening to you. Hopefully your driving ego can take it.

High-tech, high-lux interior
One thing drivers have always found easy to take are Jaguar interiors, and the new XJ doesn't disappoint there. To complement the 14 exterior colors, Jaguar offers 14 (not a typo, 14) different colors of leather, which is then applied lovingly to a myriad of interior surfaces, including - on the top of the line model - the headliner. There are four other headliner choices, plus nine different wood veneers and carbon fiber.

The new instrument cluster is offered on a 12.3-inch TFT screen that most often displays a facsimile of familiar round gauges. But the screen is a lot smarter than any traditional gauges by prioritizing the info the drivers should care about most at that given moment.

For instance, the speeds around the speedometer needle are highlighted, letting you understand at a quicker glance just how fast you are going. Wise because at any time you might be well over the speed limit.

This innovative aspect of the instrument panel is supplemented by a more conventional 8-inch WGA navigation/information screen. Included is a new personalized homepage that allows you to prioritize what you want to prioritize, like your iPod settings for example. And we would suggest that your iPod will never sound better than when it is playing through the Jag's top-of-the-line 1,200-watt, 20-speaker Bowers and Wilkins audio system, which is standard on the ultimate XJ, the Supersport.

Do we like its chances?
So to put it all in perspective, Jaguar has done just what it intended to do in the new XJ. It is better in all respects and certainly sportier than ever before. Will the market respond? We certainly hope so, because in a sea of ultra-sophisticated luxury machines this is a car absolutely worthy of attention...and admiration.

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