Wheels – A Modern Classic

Jaguar’s new XJ packs power, comfort, and pizzazz in a lighter, brighter design

Pat Devereux Shopping

Nothing was wrong with the outgoing Jaguar XJ, other than the fact that no one could tell when you had bought a new one. Wearing broadly similar curves as the first XJ, launched in 1968, and nearly identical to the previous model, it didn’t matter that it weighed less, went faster, had a lighter thirst, or any one of 100 other qualities. It looked old; and therefore, whatever the facts might have been, it was old.

Enter the 2011 XJ, and all that changes. In the split second it takes your brain to compute that this is the new version of an old favorite, a totally new recording rather than a remix of a tired tune, you realize it’s safe to let Jaguar back into your head, rather than just your heart. Gone are the trademark rolling creases in the hood; the neat, tapered, flat-topped trunk; the low roofline; the distinctive three-box profile; and the proud chrome door handles.

In their place are confident, modern lines that bulge with muscularity and intent. The grille is larger, squarer, and more upright. Glittering slivers of jewelry — replacing the traditional round headlamps — highlight the XJ’s new shape as brilliantly as they light up the night road ahead. And it gets avant-garde at the rear. Instead of conventional taillights, vertical red LED strips mark its rump. Having sat at the back of the design class for a decade or more, the XJ is now at the front.

The interior is as daring and unreser-vedly new as the exterior. From the rotary gear selector that rises up to greet you to the high-definition instrument panel that replaces regular dials and gauges with a crystal-clear rendering, the XJ reclaims its position at the forefront of automotive design. All the luxury touches remain: the fabulously smooth leather, military-precision stitching, and fit and finish that you would have trouble faulting using a microscope. They match the technology you expect in a 21st century executive car.

Offering a selection of normally aspirated and supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engines, the XJ spears forward with urgency and intent. In normally aspirated form, the engines feel athletic and free-revving. But supercharged, they are little short of explosive. With more than 500 bhp on tap in the most highly tuned form, the long and lean XJ empowers the driver with the knowledge that few cars on the road could beat it. That’s because, despite many competitors having a similar amount of energy in their range-topping models, Jaguar accomplishes the feat with less heft.

Exploiting the aluminum chassis technology that debuted (ironically, under a prehistoric skin), the new XJ weighs a whopping 400 to 500 pounds less than its competitors from Germany and Japan. This makes the engine’s power go farther and faster — and use less fuel while doing so.

This lack of ballast imbues the XJ with excellent ride quality and handling. While you can feel irregularities in the road, they don’t jar or unsettle the car. And the steering has an immediacy that lacks the touch of latency you find when changing direction quickly in other executive cars. This is true in both the short- and long-wheelbase versions, so you’ll lose nothing by signing up for the model with extra room at the back.

Other standout features include the 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound system and seats that you are genuinely reluctant to get out of after a long journey.

If you think all this newfound modernity and style comes at a premium to the customer, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Despite being built in the fearfully ex-pensive U.K., the new XJ is as equally light on the financial scales as it is on the real ones. With drive-away prices starting at less than $75,000 and rising to a must-have-it-all $120,000, you can justify it to your accountant as easily as you can to yourself. And now when you replace your XJ, your neighbor will notice it, too.