When automakers build executive sedans, they need to make them as luxurious as a Dubai penthouse suite, yet at the same time athletic, able to hit 60 mph in under 5 seconds and twist through turns with the grace of Gene Kelly. So is the 2011 Jaguar XJ Supersport, a big cat if any car deserved the name, more comfortable lazing on a thick tree branch or running down prey in the jungle undergrowth?
The Supersport version of the new XJ is a limited-edition model that uses the same supercharged 5-liter V-8 as the XJ Supercharged, but with horsepower tuned up to 510. That kind of power makes the XJ Supersport leap forward with neck-snapping acceleration, taking only 4.7 seconds to get to 60 mph, according to Jaguar.
At the same time, the XJ Supersport is long, 16 feet, 10 inches, with a roomy cabin. Its very raked-back glass and rear roofline make it look almost like a fastback, and the tail of the car shows a refined lack of ornamentation, giving the body panels a liquid smoothness. But the front end, with its bulky fenders and hood, means business.
Jaguar did fine detailing in the woodwork for the XJ's cabin.
Just looking at the wood trim on the inside of the doors, with its lighter-shaded inlaid pieces, you know Jaguar took the coachwork seriously. Where there isn't wood in the Jaguar there is leather, and plenty of it. The various buttons feel solid, although Jaguar allowed more plastic pieces in this interior than in the Jaguar XF. But the massage seats uphold the luxury standard.
Similarly to the XF, the shift dial rises up from the console when the car starts, and accent lights turn on. And along with the central LCD powering on and showing a Jaguar symbol, the entire instrument cluster lights up with the same symbol.
Fully digital instruments
In a bold move by Jaguar, the XJ Supersport does away with analog gauges entirely, replacing them with an LCD showing representations of gauges. There are advantages to using a screen, such as making the gauges and warning lights all easily configurable by Jaguar engineers. The left-side dial, which usually shows fuel level and engine temperature, switches to a full-color route guidance display when the car's navigation system is working. Likewise, this dial also shows the current audio source.
The gauge graphics on the LCD instrument panel could look more realistic.
The only problem with the LCD instrument cluster is that the graphics, while attempting a 3D style, still look flat and a little washed out. Jaguar should really take a look at the Mercedes-Benz CL550 for inspiration, as it is difficult to tell its LCD speedometer from the real thing.
In recent Jaguars, the main LCD suffered from sluggish response times, useless animations, and an interface that was busier than necessary. For the XJ, Jaguar fixed some of these problems. The onscreen buttons still take a firm push to make them react, but there is a small twinkle effect on the button borders that indicates the button was actually pushed, a useful bit of feedback.
Jaguar did away with the sliding button animations, which were really just time wasters, in favor of a simpler layout with direct access to most infotainment functions. A few of the buttons are not all that intuitive to use, but this interface is a huge improvement. Also nice is that Jaguar keeps a row of onscreen buttons at the bottom of each screen for access to audio, climate, phone, and navigation.
One of the real highlights of the XJ Supersport is the Bowers & Wilkins audio system, its quality hinted at by the metal speaker grilles set around the cabin. Twenty speakers and 1,200 watts create almost perfectly defined music reproduction. Every layer and every sound from audio tracks comes through. But the system goes further, using Audyssey MultEQ XT digital signal processing to make even lower-bit-rate MP3 tracks sound good. For us, this Bowers & Wilkins audio system made all types of music extremely pleasurable to listen to in the XJ Supersport.
HD radio comes standard in the XJ.
And the car does not lack for audio sources, bringing in practically every digital device available today. It has two USB ports, one for iPods and one for flash drives and other storage devices. There is Bluetooth streaming audio and there is space on the car's hard drive for music storage. It offers satellite radio and HD radio. And the car can show video on its LCD from a variety of sources, such as a USB device or the car's own DVD player.
Although this audio system is as good as or better than anything found in executive sedans from Audi or Mercedes-Benz, the navigation system does not quite rise to those technological levels. The XJ's navigation system is very good, and ticks off all the right boxes, but the maps don't have the lush 3D detail that Audi provides. Instead, the XJ's maps look pale, with washed-out colors.
There are some 3D details, such as rendered landmark buildings. This system also shows traffic information and can reroute around traffic jams. When using voice command to enter destinations, you have to say each part of the address at separate prompts, unlike the latest voice command systems that let you say an entire address string.
This voice command system seemed very accurate when used to say the names of phone contacts. But, like many systems, when used with an iPhone it requires last name first.
No gas guzzling
The XJ Supersport is the most powerful model in Jaguar's current lineup, yet Jaguar boasts that it is not subject to a gas-guzzler tax. This feat was achieved partly through the car being a four-seater, but also its lightweight aluminum structure. The six-speed automatic and massive amounts of power let the engine run at only 1,500rpm even when cruising the freeway at 70 mph.
The fuel economy rates at 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. In testing, much of it spent exploiting the ridiculous amounts of power on tap, this car kept nicely in the midrange of its fuel economy, eventually turning in a comfortable 17.4 mpg average.
Direct injection and a supercharger give this V-8 510 horsepower.
A fast launch makes the XJ Supersport leap, then slow temporarily as its traction control reins it in, then leap forward again to exhilarating speed. But the supercharger whine and bass exhaust note largely go unnoticed by the driver, as the cabin is heavily insulated from exterior noise. The throttle is also well tuned to allow creeping through traffic without a lot of lurching, despite the 5-liter V-8.
Along with its 510 horsepower, the engine makes 461 pound-feet of torque. The supercharger plays a big part, but this engine also uses direct injection, giving it excellent efficiency.
The XJ Supersport's luxury character can be felt in the smooth ride, the way each wheel absorbs the imperfections of the roadway. It's a big, comfortable car, and the suspension is up to this task. Likewise, the steering wheel moves with little effort, making it easy to maneuver the big cat in a dense, urban environment. A rearview camera overlays trajectory lines, making bumper contact unnecessary when parking.
To engage the XJ Supersport's full performance mode, turn the drive selector dial past the D to the S, the sport mode. Then push in the checkered-flag button on the console, engaging competition mode, and all sorts of interesting things happen. Most noticeably, the LCD instrument cluster's background color goes from blue to an angry red. The throttle becomes more sensitive, ready to blast out more power, the suspension tightens up, and the traction control loosens.
The checkered-flag button near the drive selector puts the XJ in competition mode.
The suspension feel does not change dramatically--the car merely leans a little less in the corners, but still offers a comfortable ride. It corners very well in standard mode, but even better in competition mode. However, the XJ Supersport is not a hard-core sports car. The BMW 740i shows better composure when pressed hard. Jaguar has made more of a gentleman's sport sedan, not completely counteracting body roll.
That the traction control is loosened up in competition mode is apparent from the smell of rubber that pervades after going through a good set of turns. Disappointingly, the steering seems largely unaffected by the competition mode. It retains its luxury feel, offering little road feel, although it does seem to dial down its power assist as speeds increase.
The Bowers & Wilkins stereo system is a high point of the 2011 Jaguar XJ Supersport's cabin tech. But its phone and navigation systems are also full-featured. Adaptive cruise control and blind-spot detection add to the cabin tech package.
The XJ Supersport also has a lot to offer in the way of performance tech, with its powerful and efficient engine and active suspension. The competition mode really gives the car an edge. The only areas where it gets closer to the average are the steering, which could offer more sport tuning, and the transmission, which is limited to six gears.
The design of the car's interface is very good, much improved over the tech interface in other Jaguar models. And the car is a looker, with a big, distinctly Jaguar presence. The trunk is a little small, but otherwise the car has all the practicality of a big sedan.
|Model||2011 Jaguar XJ|
|Power train||Supercharged direct-injection 5-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/21 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.4 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD/DVD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, USB flash drive, Bluetooth streaming, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Bowers & Wilkins 20-speaker 1,200-watt 7.1 surround-sound system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$110,000|