2014 Jaguar XJL Portfolio AWD review:

Jaguar's biggest cat is pricey status symbol

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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.

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.

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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