NOTRE-DAME-DE-LA-MERCI, Quebec—Only a small badge on the trunk, one that says 3.0 AWD, sets the 2013 Jaguar XJ apart from its rear-wheel-drive brethren.
That’s just the way the folks who make this iconic British luxury sedan want it to be. Indeed, they’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to make it happen. “The all-wheeldrive version performs exactly the same as the rear-wheel-drive car,’’ says Andy Dobson, chief programming engineer for Jaguar. “It retains Jaguar’s signature driving characteristics with an added layer of confidence.’’
Does it? We’re at the Mecaglisse Motorsport complex two hours north of Montreal—seemingly in the middle of nowhere—to find out. It’s a facility unique in Canada, one well suited to advanced driving courses, track days, corporate events, vehicle testing, and product launches.
Jaguar has spent more than a year and a half engineering and testing an AWD version of its signature sedan, one that will be sold only in select “left-hand drive’’ markets such as the northern United States and Canada. Jaguar predicts AWDwill have a US “take rate’’ of 80 percent in northern states.
“This is an emotional brand,’’ says Anna Gallagher, Jaguar global product manager.“It combines limousine comfort with performance. Design, technology, craftsmanship, andThe Driving Experience are its hallmarks.’’
To get to Mecaglisse on this morning, we’ve driven the XJ for 90 minutes over snow- and ice-covered roads through the MontTremblant National Park to the track.
In a pre-drive briefing, we’re advised, “Be careful and mind your speeds. There’s black ice on the nearby roads and many others are hard-packed snow and ice. We strongly advise you to keep the Drive Control system in Winter Mode.’’
I’m in the passenger’s seat as the group motors off in Winter Mode, but soon the caravan is moving along at summer speeds with a cloud of snow spray behind each Jaguar. All my RWD experience tells me we’re going too fast and are destined to be wrapped around one of the telephone poles that we’re passing much too quickly.
“This is unbelievable. It feels like we’re on a paved road,’’ says driving partner Greg Carloss of the Motor- Week show produced on Maryland Public Television. He’s relaxed. This hardly is whiteknuckle driving. The AWD system, set in Winter Mode, is amazing.
The system has three settings, Normal, Winter, and Dynamic. Under normal conditions, the system sends only 10 percent of power to the front wheels on startup. In Winter Mode, the XJ sends 30 percent of the power to the front wheels with up to 50 percent available (instantly) as needed.
It’s the reverse of the system we experienced the day before when we drove the Land Rover LR2 off-road, using a frontwheel- based AWD system that only sends power to the rear wheels as needed.
Jaguar’s motivation for an AWD variant of both the XJ and XF sedans is monetary, and the company anticipates that 40 percent of US sales and 80 percent of Canadian buyers will opt for the system, which adds $3,500 to the price of the $73,200 base XJ. Add AWD and destination and you’re up to $77,575.
There are nine models in the XJ lineup, six of which are RWDwith the 5.0-liter supercharged engine. The other three have a new supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that puts out 340 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque but more importantly has been re-engineered for AWD. One of the front drive shafts goes through a tunnel in the engine sump. (Note to self: crumpling the front end on this car could be expensive).
The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a stop/start system. The three-mode Drive Control system is integrated with the dynamic stability control and antilock braking systems to make this an “intelligent’’ AWD.
We put it through a half-dozen tests. I rode first riding as an observer with a professional driver, then observed a fellow journalist before taking the wheel, doing one run in Winter Mode followed by one in Dynamic Mode.
The difference is immense in steering response, traction, and driver assurance.
We start off swinging through a series of slalom gates, then move onto a sheet of ice where we’re told to floor it from a stop and try to steer between several sets of cones to reach dry pavement. In Winter Mode, the rpms drop, traction is gained, and we’re able to move sedately through the cones. In Dynamic Mode, the wheels spin, the car slides, and most everyone sends the cones flying.
Next is an uphill start on a steep grade with two wheels on ice and two on dry pavement. Again, the difference between modes is enormous with Winter Mode taking us home.
We do slalom runs on a snow- and icecovered course and quick turns on ice at 25 miles an hour. Even in Dynamic Mode the XJ’s AWD system does an OK job—if you’re used to driving RWD cars in bad weather. In Winter Mode, it’s a breeze.
On a circular skid pad that’s actually a round skating rink, we find much the same. In Winter Mode, the Jag is controllable; in Dynamic Mode, much less so.
As we break for lunch and walk by a row of parked XJs, it’s impossible to miss the dent in the trunk of a red one.
“Someone tried for too much speed in dynamic mode,’’ was the rumor.
Which proves the disclaimer: No system can overcome all driver errors.
And led to a chorus of“Wow, glad it wasn’t me.’’