2014 Jaguar XJL Portfolio AWD review: Jaguar's biggest cat is pricey status symbol

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Starting at $119,000

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.1 Overall
  • Performance 7
  • Features 5
  • Design 7
  • Media & Connectivity 5

The Good The 2014 Jaguar XJL's elongated chassis grants it a planted, stable ride that glides over imperfections in the road. Additional rear-seat legroom and an optional Premium Rear Seat package pamper passengers, while the Meridian premium audio system fills the cabin with rich, strong sound. Cabin materials are mostly top-notch, with heated and cooled massaging seats available.

The Bad The auto stop-start system experienced hiccups in stop-and-go traffic. The infotainment system is aging and the voice command system is slow. Plastic bits in the cabin feel out of place in a car so expensive.

The Bottom Line The smooth and quiet 2014 Jaguar XJL makes driver and passenger comfort its top priority. This luxury sedan and its tech may be aging, but they're doing so gracefully.

The XJ is the largest vehicle that Jaguar makes, and this XJL version is the biggest of the big. Longer from nose to tail and more spacious on the inside, the 2014 XJL shifts even more of its focus toward keeping its driver and passengers swaddled in the lap of luxury.

Largely unchanged since its debut in 2010, this generation of XJ and XJL is starting to feel a bit dated, particularly where tech is concerned. However, its flowing design has stood the test of time and "old luxury" never really goes out of style.

The second-best seats in the house

The primary difference between the model we're looking at today and the 2013 Jaguar XJ that we tested last year has everything to do with that extra letter "L," which indicates a long wheelbase. The XJL adds 4.9 extra inches to its wheelbase, which translates directly into the same amount of extra legroom for back-seat passengers.

By itself, that's a huge step up in rear-seat comfort and luxury, but our example doesn't stop there. We've also got the Premium Rear Seat Package: a $7,750 option that overhauls the second row. The rear outboard seats gain motorized reclining and upper-back articulation. A multimode massage function and heated surfaces pamper passengers while seat memory keeps them from having to futz around too much with getting just the right seating position.

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The extra wheelbase translates directly to extra legroom. Premium seating is the icing on the cake. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The package also adds electric rear side sunblinds that reduce glare on the dual 10.2-inch screens for the Rear Seat Entertainment System. From their positions on the front seatbacks, these non-touch-sensitive displays can be controlled via an included IR remote control to display infotainment, navigation data with ETA for the current trip, and video sources. Audio for this systemis either piped through the main stereo or via a pair of wireless headphones, allowing up to three different A/V sources throughout the car (front, right-rear, and left-rear). Just below the displays, completing the first-row-airline-seat illusion, are dual "business tables" that can be folded out to hold a laptop or, as I learned, a messy barbecue lunch.

Between the upgraded outboard seats is a wide center armrest console that folds up, allowing the XJL to seat up to five people. However, that center seat isn't really a pleasant one for anyone but a small child thanks to the transmission tunnel hump and shoulder room that's generous for two, but a tight squeeze for three passengers.

An electric rear sunshade for the rear window is not part of the Premium Rear Seat package (although I believe that it should be) and is a ridiculous $670 additional charge.

As nice as they are, the rear seats are not the best seats in the house. Up front, our XJL was equipped with the optional $800 front-seat massage system, which is even more customizable with more programs than the rear's thanks to its touch integration with Jaguar's infotainment system. That's on top of the 18-way power adjustment, heated and cooled ventilated seating surfaces, and memory functions for the driver and front-passenger seats, features that are standard on the XJL but optional on the shorter XJ.

The XJL's cabin uses a visually interesting variety of high-quality materials, ranging from pleasant-to-the-touch leather trim for most of the dashboard and doors to shiny chrome trim and glossy wood. Though I'm not a fan of the fingerprint-magnet black gloss trim that makes up most of the XJL's center stack and console, it is also nice to look at when it's clean (and not reflecting errant sunlight directly into the driver's eyes).

However, here and there, it's possible to see hints of cheapness that stand out starkly in the XJL's otherwise immaculate cabin. The most heinous examples are the paddle shifters located on the steering wheel, which are made of dull, hollow plastic that you'd expect to find on an economy car, not one bearing an as-tested price over $100K. Usually, automakers spend more materials budget on these "touch points" where the driver comes into regular and direct contact with the vehicle, but Jag seems to have overlooked this issue. I'd expect metal shifters on a car in this price class or -- when you consider that the XJL isn't really a "performance car" anyway -- no paddles at all. As is, they feel like an afterthought.

The tech: What's here, what's missing

This generation of the Jaguar XJ has been around since 2010 and its dashboard infotainment system for nearly as long, but the tech has aged gracefully and seems to fit well with the XJL's "old luxury" feel.

Based around an 8-inch color touchscreen, the system puts navigation, Bluetooth telephony, and an ever-broadening range of digital and analog audio sources at the driver's fingertips in a well-organized way. The navigation system uses 2D maps and doesn't feature any of the connected technologies or 3D-rendered graphics that you'd find on the car's competitors from BMW or Audi, but the maps are crisply rendered, featuring traffic data and smooth animations.

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The Jaguar infotainment system is getting a bit long in the tooth, but is aging gracefully. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

However, the standard voice command system requires the driver to slog through too many tedious prompts for address input and needs too much confirmation. Seriously, after half a dozen prompts for city, street, number, and the like, the system asks you if you want to input the address and then asks again if you want to begin navigation. Why do you think I went through the trouble of inputting, Jaguar, if I didn't want to go there?! Let's go! It's just faster to have a passenger key the address in, which thankfully is possible.

Also missing from the feature set is Bluetooth MAP support, which would augment the hands-free calling functionality with the options to have incoming text messages read aloud and to auto-reply, reducing driver distraction by removing the temptation to reach for the phone for every notification. However, I doubt the XJL's prospective clientele will miss it.

Standard audio sources include USB with iPod/iPhone connectivity, Bluetooth audio streaming, HD Radio and satellite radio, CD/DVD playback, and auxiliary audio and video inputs. Our Premium Rear Seat-equipped example also featured a dedicated rear USB port and auxiliary video input, as well.

Audio reproduction duties are handled by the Meridian Reference Audio system: a 1,300-watt, 26-speaker, brilliant sound system. Dual subwoofers account for two of those drivers and three speakers located in the rear of the front seats beneath the monitors provide dedicated audio for the already pampered passengers.

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The 1,300-watt Meridian Reference audio system scatters 26 speakers throughout the cabin. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The top-tier Reference Audio system has a unique feature called Conversation Assist, which places microphones above each seating position that pick up the occupant's voice and amplify it slightly via the audio system. This means that the folks up front don't have to shout to speak to those behind them and vice versa. In the already quiet cabin, the subtle effect was transparent; you probably wouldn't notice it had I not pointed it out.

(Oddly, Jaguar's online configurator won't let you choose both the Meridian Reference system and the Premium Rear Seats, but our example was surely equipped with both.)

Two other Meridian audio systems are available for the XJL: an 825W Surround system with 20 speakers for $2,300 and the standard 380W Premium system with 14 speakers.

Standard safety tech includes blind-spot monitoring and a rear camera with front and rear proximity sensors at this trim level. Adaptive cruise control is available as an option for $2,300, but wasn't equipped on our test vehicle. Our example was equipped with a Visibility package, which adds Adaptive Front Lighting that steers with the front wheels, automatic "Intelligent" high beams that deactivate when oncoming traffic is detected, and cornering lights. For $850, this Visibility package is worth every penny.

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The cat's-eye headlamps are augmented by an optional Visibility package. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

On the other hand, our example's $1,700 Illumination package feels like a bit of a rip-off. The option adds illuminated "Jaguar" doorsills and cool blue LEDs to the air vents and around the cabin. The result certainly looks cool, but not $1,700 of cool.

While I'm nitpicking, there's a confusing relationship between the front and rear infotainment systems and I had a hard time figuring out how to send a front source (say a DVD) to the rear displays and how to relinquish control of the rear source to allow back-seat passengers control over their own audio sources. I was also disappointed to see a rear-seat entertainment system that lacked an HDMI input, which would allow for better video quality and a wider range of sources, such as video stored on a smartphone.

Powerful, stable, but not sporty

We've already discussed the last XJ's performance during our last stint behind the wheel. It was no corner carver and this long-wheelbase XJL is even less so. The 4.9 inches of additional length increases the turning radius slightly, but it also helps to stabilize the vehicle. All-wheel drive helps even more with stability, but doesn't seem to help with dynamics (although without a back-to-back drive in an RWD variant, it's difficult to tell). What I can tell you is that the XJL grips like the big cat that she is and can surprise you with her tenacity in hanging in on fast sweepers. Tighter turns, on the other hand, are a challenge for the long, black beast.

The additional length comes with a complementary increase in mass and the XJL is 88 pounds heavier than the standard model. That reduces the zero-to-60 time to a still respectable 6.1 seconds.

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The longer, heavier Jag will still hustle, but it won't be rushed. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Output from the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 is stated at 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, which is pretty good for a car of this size. The standard eight-speed automatic is a great box of gear as well. However, an apparent lack of rev-matched downshifts means that you can't really rush the Jag to change attitudes. Transitioning from a cruise to a sprint takes a few seconds if you don't give advanced notice with the paddle shifters or the Sport and Dynamic transmission and engine programs. Sure, the Jag'll hustle if you ask it to, but it'll do it in its own time.

The lack of "dynamism" doesn't mean that the XJL is a disappointing performer -- far from it, actually -- but backroad blitzes and corner carving seem beside the point of a vehicle like this. What's most important is comfort for the for or five souls onboard and the XJL delivers comfort in spades; even more so than the standard XJ thanks to its heftier, more planted ride.

To help save fuel, the supercharged 3.0 is fitted with a stop-start anti-idling system that didn't bother me when it shut down the engine at stop signs and traffic lights and restarted the power plant ultrasmoothly when I lifted from the brake pedal to resume. However, passengers asked why the car kept turning itself off, and stop-and-go traffic could confuse the system, triggering sporadic coughs as the engine shut down and restarted almost instantaneously. Fortunately, the system can be disabled in these situations with the touch of a single button, so I'm not holding it against the Jag.

The EPA reckons the all-wheel-drive XJL is good for 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 19 combined mpg. My testing (completed mostly sans passengers and over mostly smooth highway miles) landed me in line with that estimate at 19.9 mpg.

An expensive status symbol

Head-to-head, I'd say that the Jag is nowhere near as high-tech as a similarly priced Audi in this class; it's not as dynamic round a bend as a Bimmer; and some of the options are priced rather bizarrely. But the Jaguar XJL is still something special. It's a gorgeous vehicle with a private jet's interior that doesn't really set out to be a rolling gadget or a bullet on wheels.

$84,700 with an $895 destination charge is the starting point for the 2014 XJL Portfolio AWD, which is nicely appointed with many standard features that are optional on the shorter XJ. We've also got the Visibility ($850), Illumination ($1,700), Meridian Reference ($4,180), and Premium Rear Seat ($7,750) packages, as well as $670 for the electric rear shade and $800 for the privilege of having your bottom rubbed by the front buckets.

That brings us to the $101,545 as-tested price, which is a bit much. Were it a wristwatch, the XJL wouldn't be a tech-forward Moto 360 or a rugged, GPS-enabled Garmin Fenix. The XJL would be an expensive status symbol like feature-simple gold Rolex -- albeit, a gold Rolex with plastic paddle shifters.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Jaguar XJL sedan
Trim Portfolio AWD
Power train 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 16 city mpg, 24 highway mpg, 19 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy 19.9 mpg
Navigation Standard Jaguar navigation with traffic and voice command
Bluetooth phone support Yes
Digital audio sources HD Radio, satellite radio, DVD/CD, USB, Bluetooth audio streaming
Audio system Meridian Reference audio system, 1,300 watts, 26 speakers
Driver aids Standard blind-spot monitoring and rear camera, optional Visibility package
Base price $84,700
Price as tested $101,545

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