2013 Jaguar XJ L AWD

Since its introduction four years ago, the current Jaguar XJ has played the role of iconoclast. Offering up a radical new look to its predecessors, it also drove differently. Gone was the super supple ride and handling that could best be described as “graceful.” In its place was the lightest, sportiest and most aesthetically avant-garde car in the fullsize luxury class.

Now, without loosing much of what made it so special, the XJ has gone mainstream as well. Its exclusive reliance (Stateside, anyway) on V8 power and rear wheel drive was limiting sales dramatically in a class where competitors offered six cylinder motivation and available AWD.

Here you can read what I think of the V8 versions; suffice it to say they are some of the most enjoyable cars I test all year. But as someone living in the high-altitude Rockies, I completely understand the need for change. Enter the new, 3-liter supercharged V6, with outputs of 340hp and 332lb-ft of torque. Coupled to a ZF 8-speed automatic and a computer controlled all wheel drive system, it seems the perfect car to temp not just those who had never been able to justify a Jaguar on practicality grounds, but defectors from competing brands as well.

Intact is the XJ gorgeous body, which only gets better looking over the years.  Also present and accounted for is the sumptuous leather-lined interior, which, in long wheel base form (as tested here) makes back seat passengers feel like plutocrats as they are wafted about. Still unsatisfying are the shapes of the Jaguar’s front seats, which can feel like you’re sitting on, not in, them.

Thankfully the XJ’s touch screen infotainment system acts faster to obey commands, meaning less time with eyes off the road, and the new Meridian surround sound system, while still ruthlessly revealing of badly recorded or low bit-rate source material, at least doesn’t constantly vary volume levels, as did the old one from B&W.

Of course the biggest changes come courtesy of the new drivetrain. The XJ L stomps off the line with authority, and is less than one second slower to 60mph (still running a fast mid-fives) than the V8, while showing itself to be 2-3mpg more fuel efficient as well, despite the extra friction created by the AWD hardware.That system is transparent in use; one never feels power being shuffled about—at least in the dry—and it has the added benefit of keeping the Jaguar from constantly activating its traction control system, like the rear drive models are prone to do. I think some more tuning of the tranny’s software is due, though, as it can take an extra half second or so to change ratios, even in the more responsive, Sport, mode. Also, the paddle shifters no longer work in normal operation, which is a mistake, as you can’t pop down a gear or two when traffic slows or other conditions suggest a lower ratio.

The only thing of substance really lost is the glorious aural character of the outgoing V8, whose bassy woffle was a welcome accompaniment under acceleration. Having driven the sibling Range Rover Sport (Jaguar and Land Rover are now one company, and share most underbody hard wear), I know this S/C V6 can sound good, so someone must have neutered the XJ in the name of “civility.”

But that’s not all this big cat is about. It doesn’t need to try to be a Mercedes or other German exec—it needs to be true to the values that have made it such a standout. Traits such as its slightly agitated low-speed ride (suggesting the performance it’s capable of), stellar handling, exceptional body control and sweet steering mark it out as the most athletic choice in the segment. Now they just need to give it back some of the growl worthy of a Jaguar.

EPA ratings: 16/25; 19mpg combined
Price as tested: $86,295
Here is what Jaguar thinks of the XJ L AWD.

Click here to read Isaac’s Jaguar car buying tips.

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