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Advisor Wheels: Consummate, surprisingly winter-ready luxury in Jaguar's XJ line

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If your sales and consulting duties call for some long trips in the saddle, or if you’re simply looking for an extremely dignified way to make your rounds, we invite you to re-think your impressions of Jaguar.

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

This coming on top of the company’s somewhat tarnished reputation of the past, though this had been quickly improving in recent years, especially as Jaguar’s relationship with Ford Motors came to an end.

2011′s total makeover of the XJ has injected both stylistic and motoring life aplenty into the old feline, transforming the 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 and a tall, sculpted and almost Rolls-Royce-like tail with LED brakelamps that shoot off at crazy angles. It’s imposing and awesome.

I recently had a chance to spend some time in both the standard XJ and the extended XJL model, which stretches the luxury to a 205-inch-long wheelbase.

The vehicles also offered a chance to play around with two of the three engine-output configurations available, all based on the improved 5.0-liter V8: the 385-HP naturally aspirated model and the 470-HP supercharged machine.

There’s also a fearsome 510-HP Supersport edition, which I did not drive, and am a little frightened to do so.

The longer XJL may not seem completely poised for the sporty country roads and foxhunting high-speed jaunts associated with the brand’s lore, but … you’d be surprised.

Even that “base” 385-HP engine thrums harmoniously at idle and growls marvelously when the pedal is flattened and you use the paddle shifters to bark through the six gears, though it’s wonderfully sedate in tone, despite the output. And moderately frugal, exceeding the 22 mpg highway EPA figure on many occasions.

The smaller XJ featured the 470-HP mill, and while the extra power is a little like having a pair of solid-fuel rocket boosters at the ready–passing is officially never a problem in this machine–the extra supercar-styled power doesn’t sound particularly rumbly or ridiculous.

And that was a little sad, really. It did serve to rather easily loosen up the XJ’s rear end and achieve quite remarkable speeds, so quiet isn’t necessarily bad.

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

Despite their relatively roomy size, especially in extended format, both XJ variants stick to corners quite impressively, handle with a wonderful smoothness and certainly take care of pure intimidation factor when cruising down the boulevard.

Throw them hard into a cloverleaf off-ramp and the car hangs in there much longer and harder than you’d imagine.

And with good winter tires for my Colorado winter tests, you could replicate what I believe might be the only trip ever taken for a ski day at Arapahoe 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.

The XJ, driven a few weeks later, was also properly shod for winter and provided equally grounded all-season driving comfort; substitute some sporty summer tires and the character will only improve.

As chuckable as the bigger XJL remains, it 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 as fine a driver’s machine as the XJ, with the front of both of their cabins 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, hand-stitched leather arch, reaching even above the dash.

It’s 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; my XJ tester had the absolutely fantastic carbon fiber package (a $1,575 option).

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. At night, there’s a wonderful blue outlined glow to the control surfaces, just like a special effect from the movie “Tron.”

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 and potential bouts of tinnitus as a result.

There are, these being Jaguars (even Indian-manufacturing-company-owned Jaguars), a few peculiarities, though both are 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.

As an added option, the XJ featured a Range Rover-styled electrically heated front windshield which was so effective in melting morning snow and ice that I wrote poetry on Facebook about it; the only downside is a slightly distracting visual distortion, especially at night.

2011 Jaguar XJL

MSRP: $78,650; Price as tested: $82,700
Powertrain: 385-HP 5.0-liter V8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission
Includes: 19-inch wheels, xenon headlamps, dual glass sunroofs, touchscreen navigation, blind spot monitors, Bluetooth; optional Bowers and Wilkins 1,200 watt stereo ($2,200)
EPA figures: 15 city, 22 highway

2011 Jaguar XJ Supercharged

MSRP: $87,700; price as tested, $90,525

Powertrain: 470-HP supercharged 5.0-liter V8

Also includes: 20-inch wheels, optional heated front windshield, carbon fiber trim

EPA figures: 15 city, 21 highway


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