Big, overpowered sedans are not usually my favorite to drive on public roads, as I can barely tap their performance potential. But the 2014 Jaguar XJR managed to give me a fat, wide grin when I slogged it down a twisty back road.
With the Dynamic mode engaged, adding a red mist to the instrument display, and the transmission's Sport mode keeping the revs high, this big cat's engine broadcast its throaty growl across the surrounding cow pastures, changing pitch at each gear change when I braked then accelerated out of turns. The thick tires held onto the pavement and the suspension controlled the body's load shifts with finesse.
Two things in particular delighted me about the XJR. First, the eight-speed gearbox completely trashes the slushbox reputation of automatic transmissions. When driving with intent, braking and accelerating hard, a glance at the tachometer showed that this transmission was holding the revs up around 5,500rpm in the turns. The Sport program on this transmission was near-telepathic, finding the right gears before I knew I wanted them.
Second, Jaguar incorporates some extremely useful tricks into its LCD instrument display. The virtual gauges on this display look a little flat, but what I like is how Jaguar dynamically highlights the numbers around the ends of the speedometer and tachometer needles. I found it really easy to pick out the car's velocity and the engine speed on the gauges with a quick glance.
Top of the line
The XJR model, new for 2014, sits atop the XJ lineup in power and price. As for cabin amenities, besides some R badges and carbon fiber trim pieces, the XJR and its lesser XJ siblings are the same.
As Jaguar's flagship sedan, the XJR measures close to 17 feet long. The front shows off the classic Jaguar grille, wire mesh painted black for the XJR version. The roofline sweeps back toward the trunk, making a graceful line without hampering rear headroom. In fact, the rear seats are very comfortable and roomy, and would make a fine place to sit if the car weren't so fun to drive.
A curved ridge, what a sailor would call a gunwale, comes lined with carbon fiber and runs around the front of the cabin, undercutting the windshield. Glossy carbon fiber panels line the doors, while the console is topped by the round, metal dial of the drive selector. That's another thing I like about the XJR. Jaguar does away with the fiction of a gear shifter, acknowledging that the transmission's modes are electronically actuated. It's nice to see an automaker think beyond legacy controls.
The cabin design is, to use an appropriate Britishism, quite posh.
However, I wasn't as impressed with the glossy black plastic surrounding the car's touch-screen LCD. It flexed and creaked with the feel of cheap electronics when I poked at it.
The standard cabin electronics in the XJR follow those I've seen recently in the, not exactly cutting-edge, but serviceable. The touch screen responds reasonably quickly and the information is well-organized. The graphical design is far from elegant, though, and could use restyling to fit the upscale Jaguar brand.
There is also a voice command system, but it only covers the basics. Sure, I could place a phone call by saying the name of a contact stored in my phone, but I couldn't do more with the stereo other than choose an audio source. Entering addresses for navigation required tediously saying each part -- city, street, and number -- after a prompt.
The navigation system's maps also look a little crude and washed-out compared with what you might expect from a luxury brand, although they do show in plan and perspective views. Jaguar integrates traffic information, which route guidance can use to detour around traffic jams. But this system doesn't show the expanded traffic coverage over more surface streets I've seen in other cars.
Voice prompts for route guidance didn't call out street names, which was disappointing, but I liked the graphics for upcoming turns. And I especially liked that those graphics appeared on the left side of the instrument cluster, another good use of this LCD panel.
Jaguar incorporated all the usual audio sources into the stereo: Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD Radio, and satellite radio. There is no option to rip CDs to the hard drive in the dashboard, not that I missed that feature, and there are no online music apps incorporated into the car. Jaguar has, so far, kind of ignored the whole connected-car idea embraced by other automakers.
Focusing on more traditional luxury technology, Jaguar gave the XJR a superb Meridian audio system. I was previously impressed by the Meridian audio system in the, and the XJR's version confirmed this brand's quality. With an 825-watt amp and 17 speakers, this system produced excellent clarity and depth.
Playing The Who's "My Generation," the system broadcast each instrument with incredible distinction. I could hear the complex fluttering of John Entwistle's bass strings and the shrill raucousness of Pete Townshend's guitar. Roger Daltrey's stuttering vocals came though like I had never heard them before. Whatever type of music I fed this system, it consistently gave me a very satisfying listening experience.
While driving the XJR fast along backroads, it was almost tough to choose whether to listen to the stereo or the engine. Almost.
In normal driving, crawling through city traffic or buzzing down the freeway, the purr of the XJR's supercharged 5-liter V-8 was inaudible, mostly because the transmission and engine control software kept the engine speed down to around 1,500rpm. Stopped at red lights, the XJR's idle-stop feature turned off the engine entirely.
Idle-stop features are still a bit controversial, as all but hybrid drivers get a little anxious when their engines turn off while stopped in traffic, but I think Jaguar has this system tuned well. The company says that the engine comes back to life more quickly than you can move your foot from brake and accelerator, which proved true during my time with the car. It never delayed my starts, and I appreciated that gas wasn't wasted when I was stuck at a light.