Review: Refreshed Jaguar XJ likely to be an instant classic

GRRRR: New headlights and a more upright grille give the ’16 XJ a sophisticated snarl.
GRRRR: New headlights and a more upright grille give the ’16 XJ a sophisticated snarl. –George Kennedy

It is remarkable to consider just how far this cat has come. As recently as 2009, Jaguar was building an XJ that looked very much like the first generation of the flagship luxury sedan of the late 1960s. For decades, this design was Jaguar’s calling card, offering stoic coupes, convertibles, and sleepy sedans that would whisk your accountant or doctor to the golf course.

But new money means new pastimes, like rock wall climbing, heli-skiing, and sailing in Ibiza. The new-wealthy demand a new chariot, and Jaguar responded to changing tastes in 2009 with an all-new JX. It was a complete reboot for the flagship luxury sedan. That restart has undergone its first refresh for the 2016 model year. While modest compared to the ’09 overhaul, the tweaks are meaningful and some manage to address a couple of the JX’s few weak spots.

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The biggest exterior update is the front end of the big Jag. The new grille is a bit larger and more upright, giving a more imposing impression as it approaches the valet. A pair of newly formed headlight clusters flank that new grille. The combination conspires to yield a more sinister Jag. If its recent TV spots are to be believed, Jaguar is now pitching its products as the ultimate daily driver for villains, and the XJ looks the part.

At first glance, the interior of the XJ might look similar to last year’s model, but there are changes where it matters. First up, is what hasn’t changed—the interior features a fantastic layout, swathed from front to back in leather, accented in wood-grain, and set off with artfully crafted bright work.

But amid the center stack and fore of the steering wheel are fully digital screens, blending old school British style with modern technology. Up until this year, the touch screens were woefully dated, and were in desperate need of a replacement. Still, in 2009, the touch screen was low on the priority list of needed improvements. Flash forward to 2016, and the infotainment and touch screen interface might well have become the most crucial selling point of a new vehicle.

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The infotainment touch screen presents the various features as four large squares, and has the layout and feel of a tablet. The navigation features pinch-to-zoom like the maps app on a smartphone, and your music library is presented on the screen in an easy-to-read prompt. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz all feature confusing controller interfaces, while this touch screen is easy to learn, and simple enough to use.

NEW TOUCHES: The most crucial update is found in the touch screen, where a more advanced infotainment system lives. —George Kennedy

Our test model also featured standard heated and cooled front seats, dual pane panoramic sunroof, rear view camera, and blind spot monitoring. Our test model came with the Comfort Package, which added $1,980 to the price and included four-zone climate control, power retracting rear window sunshade, and 18-way front seats with integrated massaging for both driver and front passenger. You could quickly forget that there is performance under the hood as the massager mechanically kneads out the knot in your shoulder while you sit in traffic.

The engine lineup for 2016 is made up of a supercharged V6 and a supercharged V8, broken out into four models. The base XJ gets an R-Sport treatment that is akin to BMW’s M-Sport, which is to say, some visual upgrades that make it look like the top-tier XJR. The color of our test model was Polaris white, which is stunning when clean, but should be garaged as much as possible, lest it become a target for birds.

Our XJ R-Sport test model features a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 and makes 340 horsepower sent to the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Jaguar claims a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. An all-wheel-drive version of this model is also available.

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The XJ Supercharged features a 5.0-liter V8 with a supercharger fitted atop. With 470 horsepower on tap, it will rocket from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds. An available XJR model has the same supercharged V8, but tuned to hammer out 550 hp. It will get from 0 to 60 mph in a scant 4.4 seconds.

The XJ features continually adapting suspension and a revised electromechanical power steering setup. The combination yields a large sedan that feels much smaller than it is. Steering is light but responsive, and while the suspension soaks up many of the New England potholes, it always feels planted in corners.

When you press the push-button start, the rotary shifter automatically rises to your right fingertips. Located on the button pad aft of the shifter is the JaguarDrive Control selector, allowing for specific throttle and transmission settings for Normal, Dynamic, and Snow driving settings.

For fuel economy, our test model was one of the best of the bunch, with a rating of 18 mpg city, 27 highway. We observed 22.4 mpg in combined driving. The V8 AWD model was the least efficient, at 17 mpg city, 25 highway, which is still far better than you could have expected from a V8 AWD flagship sedan in the past.

Base MSRP of the 2016 Jaguar XJ is $74,400, for the V6 RWD R-Sport. A V8 Supercharged model starts at $92,000, while a fully loaded XJR long-wheelbase with options can cost more than $126,000. But if you seek a more modestly priced Jag, our R-Sport test model clocked in at $77,375 with options and destination.

Part of me misses the old Jag. The big, beamy XJ of lore smacked of London crime boss, but also had a timeless style that is only found in the much more expensive Rolls-Royce lineup these days. But the current generation XJ was designed in the 21st century. That means Jaguar actually has a modern starting point from which to make updates. And the updates made to the 2016 Jaguar XJ continue to make it one of the most fetching modern luxury flagships on the market.

[You can find local deals on Jaguars here.]

2016 Jaguar XJ R-Sport

THE BASICS

Price: $74,400. As tested: $77,375. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 18/27. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 21.4 mpg. Drivetrain: 3.0L supercharged V6, 8-speed AT, rear-wheel drive. Body: Full-size luxury sedan.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 340. Overall length: 201.7 in. Wheelbase 119.4 in. Height: 57 in. Width: 83 in. Curb weight: 3,869-4,222 lbs.

THE GOOD

Visually stunning inside and out, improved tech, a blast to drive. THE BAD Touch screen system slow to boot up, odd rear-view camera angle.

THE BOTTOM LINE

An instant head-turner that is as fun to drive as it is to be seen in.

ALSO CONSIDER

Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

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