Jaguar's "Alive" Driving Experience - The XJ, XF, and XK
Written by Colin Masterson, June 2012
When speaking about the auto brand Jaguar, one of the most iconic sports cars of all time comes to mind. Timeless and authentically British, the E-Type defined Jaguar and established the brand on the world stage as an automaker of extraordinary ability with a keen sense of form and function. Being fortunate to have seen an E-Type in person, even today the E-Type is capable of captivating one's attention in a way that few cars can. Since then, Jaguar has produced many cars and yet despite their many attempts, nothing has seemed to surpass the bar that the E-Type set. Moreover, when mentioning the name, more so in the past couple of decades, Jaguar is associated with that of luxury rather than of sports cars. But that is no longer. As of late with all the changes over at Jaguar headquarters, it shows in Jaguar's latest models. With a renewed interest in showing that it is still a company that is competent in providing both power and luxury, Jaguar's newest line up proves that they can indeed obtain both in a package that would surpass much of its competition. On June 24th 2012 when the opportunity to test Jaguar's 2012 XJ, XF, and XK, there was no hesitation to experience firsthand what Jaguar had in store and to provide the answers to many of the questions that have been posed.
Introduction - Jaguar's XJ, XF, XK Driving Experience
First, there was the quick rundown of the day and the segments we were to experience. Our programme prompter warmed us up with humour while enticing us with what was in store for us throughout the day's events. With an XJ, XF, and XK flanking him, they emphasized his words and were a keen reminder as to why we were here, which by itself was more than enough to grab our attention. Keeping it brief though, the prompter was quick to let us out to the waiting line of idling Supercharged XJLs that were begging to be driven.
Being that this was our introduction to the Jaguar's new lineup and the day's events, it was only fitting that we were to begin with the most elegant and stately of the group on a pre-decided course out onto the streets. Driving Jaguar's flagship car through a residential section, an industrial park, and through a forest on a rare sunny day did indeed seem more like a commercial than the typical rainy Washington day.
Looking at the Supercharged XJL, it was indeed the luxury saloon it was designed to be. The lines were a great mix that would fit one who desired a slightly aggressive feel with the overall presence of a refined and stately affair. The sloped and formed bonnet followed the front of the car to its nose where its grille with its Jaguar emblem played host to a pair of angled Xenon headlamps that were great to stare at - not too harsh on the eyes but almost hypnotizing as they glowed. The 20" wheels fit the car perfectly while showing off massive front and rear brakes proving that it was more than ready for the power it was capable of. The tail lamps were unique as they were in a vertical orientation giving it an unmistakable feel while not being overbearing to the rest of the car's design.
Upon getting in, the Supercharged XJL seemed much larger than it appeared from the outside, which was dominating in of itself. With plenty of room, its beautifully spacious dash was very well laid out and one could tell that it was designed for ease of use. Everything was of immaculate build quality and felt as if it had a purpose. All the controls were crisp and precise as they did just as one would direct them to. There was no play in the controls and every adjustment that was required before, during, and after driving was met with the feel and sound that the action requested was received and performed with purpose and without flaw. The telescoping control knob for the drive settings was a great feature and easy to use while not feeling cheap or too sensitive. The front seats were amazing as they provided one with so many adjustments and features that it would be hard pressed to find someone who would not be satisfied by them. Although the rears lacked all the features, they were just as comfortable and for one who was sitting in them, it was very comfortable and provided for a comfortable amount of leg room. The lighting was very soothing as a phosphor blue bathed the controls, vents, and in the treadplates themselves (depending on model and package).
The all digital gauge cluster was amazing as it held a host of information that indicated more information than the expected speedometer, tachometer, battery and water temperature indicator. One of the better features that would indeed be helpful was that while the car was parked, it would have an interior map of the seats and which were occupied with or without a seatbelt. A small detail but a helpful reminder that could save one from a ticket, which we all know is something to avoid.
The touchscreen infotainment screen plays host to the climate controls, audio system, navigation, telephone, and backup camera. Although not fast, the responsiveness was capable and seemed without difficulty. The touchscreen sat below a pair of circular vents and an analog clock within a center console that appears to have been built into the dash itself. As per the backup camera (available on the XF and XK as well), the touchscreen is invaluable as to look out the rear window proved pointless. The rear window was small and the blind spots created by both the C-pillars and the rear seat headrests proved to be cumbersome if one was to navigate solely on sight. However, the video displayed by the rear cameras was amazing as it provided a full 180 degrees of view. The emphasis of the camera was toward the ground where on the screen one could see the direction they were going as per a set of twin yellow lines indicating as to the car's direction and space it would take up. When coming close to something, red boxes would appear on the screen indicating what part of the car was in close proximity, which was accompanied by a chime alerting the driver of a possible collision.
The model we were given had the four zone climate control, which was well placed and worked without issue. Yet, what is a four-zone climate control? It is a system that can be tailored to four zones (driver's, passenger's, and each rear passenger independently) with controls both in the center console for those in the front and between the front seats within the back of the center console for those in the rear. Sitting in the rear was quite comfortable and even in the XJ, which lacked the extra 5 inches of legroom of the XJL, there was no need to feel cramped or uncomfortable.The Drive
Driving the Supercharged XJL was just the beginning and it did not disappoint. Being the flagship, it was comfortable (if possible overly comfortable making for a great place to take a nap), torquey, and overall a joy to ride and drive. Outside the car, the engine sounding through the mufflers growled in a well sounding baritone while inside the car, one could still hear the growl giving the satisfaction that the big saloon still had plenty of power despite its emphasis on luxury. The keyless entry and pushbutton start were great features giving the car a welcoming demeanor and a sense of ease.
During the first trip, the outing was done in regular "drive" mode, which was satisfying enough. Although not immediately apparent, it took a moment to recognize that within the side view mirrors there were a pair of shaded squares on it. It was only when driving when they became apparent as they were fitted with amber lights that would light up indicating as to the possibility of a vehicle in the driver's blind spot (an additional option package). This was quite useful for as mentioned before, between the design of the windows and the c-pillar, looking at one's blind spot was not the easiest.
Half-way through driving it dawned as to why there was a single detail that kept nagging in the back of my mind. All the windows were amazingly clear and seemed virtually invisible. In my experience, this seems to be a rarity in most cars as one is consciously aware of being inside a construct. Adding to the clarity of the windows, the front and rear panoramic sunroofs added the feel of a large interior. The controls to the sunroofs were within easy reach just behind the sunshades and were easily controlled. In the front, the sunroofs were quiet and efficient in its actions while in the back, they were even better as one could see up into the sky without obstruction.
The drive ended far too soon but it was enough to prove that Jaguar's flagship was capable of bearing its name without fault.
After returning, we were ushered back into the room where we first started. Our prompter returned full of humour as he was keen to observe our reactions to our drive. After letting us settle in, he began by as asking our opinion and even eliciting if there was any criticism. He made sure to find who were the past and current Jaguar owners in the group and inquired as to their experiences with past models, how the current models compared, and if there was any preference. After receiving some feedback, he went through Jaguar as a company, their direction, and goals with their new lineup. He introduced the XJ, XF, and XK while citing some of their specific attributes and what type of audience they were targeted for. It became clear that the lineup was designed for the driver, whether they were wanting luxury or a sports car. It was here that we found the specifics of each model.Jaguar's 2012 Lineup: XJ, XF, XK
The XJ is Jaguar's top model saloon and has been designed to be full on luxury. With more options, interior bits, and a more gentle appearance, it is obvious that this model was the most stately of the three. The model we had to drive was the XJL of which the L stands for "long wheelbase", which gave the car 5" more room in the back. The XF is Jaguar's mid-range saloon that seeks to fit those who are looking for a four-door but not wanting a full on luxury car while at the same time wanting a bit more of a dynamic driving experience that is typical of a coupe. Interestingly enough, it is the lowest pricing of the three models, making it largely available to potential customers. And then there is the XK, the coupe sports car of the three. For most cases, the XK is in the same price-bracket as the XJ, which is fitting being that it is the company's premier sports car. Despite its cost and loss of space when compared to the XJ and XF, the XK has proved more than capable as it is Jaguar's top selling model, which the prompter was more than happy to promise that we would soon understand as to why.
Winding down the discussion, the prompter took a slight deviation from the current lineup to give us a few tantalizing tidbits about the upcoming F-Type (soon to be unveiled at Goodwood Festival of Speed) and the even more anticipated Jaguar hybrid-supercar C-X75. Tying up his presentation, he handed us over to another Jaguar prompter who escorted us out to their private lot that had been mapped out with four tracks. Not holding us up, she quickly ran through a description of pre-set tracks then split the group up into three and sent us on our way. From there on, was up to us to decide what we wanted to experience and in what order.
The first of three segments visited was focused on the technical and driving dynamics in an XFR.Interior and Exterior
In appearance, there are several differences between the XJ and XF as the XF was obviously designed for the spirited driver. Larger air ducts below the sharper and thinner headlamps and a heavily accented arced bonnet made the front look much more aggressive. The profile was very much as one would expect from a standard saloon but with lines that had more of a downward slope that gave it a sports car feel with curves to give it more of a luxury feel. A bit of both worlds yes, but one done very well. The daylight running "J Blade" LED lights were crisp under the full sun and added to the aggressive feel from the car while being distinct as compared to the more commonly associated LED daylight running lights on Audis. The rear lights were thinner and angular in a horizontal orientation that filled out the rear giving it a distinct and crisp feel.
The interior held many of the same features as the XJL from earlier had but in a different format. Lacking the rear climate control connectivity and a few other aspects, the interior was just as engaging. Despite the plethora of internal controls that were in the XJL, the build quality of those in the XF were just as solid and of the same quality. The dash felt a bit shorter than the XJ and the touchscreen was mounted between a pair of rectangular vents just above the center console, which appeared to be a separate unit and not quite as seemless as the XJL presented. The dash fit the interior well as on the whole, the interior was more apparent, and although very roomy, it lacked the impression of being as large inside as the XJL was.The Drive
Then it was to driving. On a designated track, the car was first set to the default Drive setting to get a base feel for the car. The first lap was to get a feel for the suspension, throttle response, and power transfer to the ground that the XFR had to offer. After that, the lap was repeated in Winter Mode and the change was immediately apparent that the suspension softened, the throttle response was retarded, and the traction was set very low. Almost sluggish in feel, it was a stark contrast to the third lap when the car was set to Dynamic. With the Dynamic mode set, the XFR became a very different car as its throttle response was the sharpest of the three, the transmission was very responsive, the active differential was much more apparent, and the suspension became very firm resulting in no bodyroll. It was instantly obvious that Dynamic mode best used when dry and for those spirited drivers who desired to break the confines of the typical daily saloon. The three different settings were more than capable for what they were design for but it was not the most amazing feature, which turned out to be Jaguar's Dynamic Stability Control. It was on an oil slick skid plate simulating ice that Jaguar's Dynamic Stability Control exceeded any expectations one could have and it was apparent in the comments coming from everyone. After driving onto the skid plate without any of the computer aids, under heavy throttle, the XFR slid around as its rear went to the right and the front went left, causing the car to go sideways and the driver to counter steer. With the Dynamic Stability Control engaged, the car was a completely different experience. With throttle full on, the XFR simply held in place as the car matched the friction of the surface below and quickly found the optimal output. The car moved forward slowly in the direction desired correcting itself without a hint of of losing control. It was astounding and can easily beat any other traction/stability control that is currently on the market. Being such an important part of the car, the Winter mode is available on each model so there is no need to worry about having to purchase an additional option, which is a great relief. With the power of the Winter mode and the control granted to the driver under its Dynamic mode, Jaguar has produced a driving system apt settings making it one of the safest and most capable cars under any environment.
After the technical/dynamic driving, it was time to take out the XKR. This opportunity let us drive as fast as we felt comfortable on another designated course autocross style so we could get a feel for how best to throw Jaguar's coupe around.Interior and Exterior
There is a lot different between the XK and the XJ and XF. Being a coupe, the lines are completely different as are all the body panels. From a profile, the XK is much lower to the ground and seemingly longer (in reality it is inches shorter than the XF) but with fewer lines, prompting a more organic feel to it. The grille is wider and thinner as there is a secondary grille that mirrors the main one that sits lower to the ground. Two air vents sit on the side of the lower grille just below the adaptive headlamps that also sit lower on the car than either the XJ or XF. The bonnet is less pronounced as the XF on the standard XK model but on both the XKR and XKR-S models, the bonnets have a bit more character to them as there are built in vents on either side of a central bulge. Understandable due to the lower profile and smaller rear, the taillamps are a bit more of an extended horizontal teardrop that fit well but almost seemed not as at home as the taillamps on the XJ and XF. It also seemed as if with the darker colours, the taillamps were much more in place than with the lighter colours. Despite the difference in taillamp choice, they are also distinctive and crisp as with the other two models. Drastically different and a bit more heavy on the exterior features, they add to the functionality of the car and giving it a much more aggressive stance; it is very much designed with the ideal of a sports car.
Inside, the interior is much more standardized with what is seen in other cars of in its market. Although it is still a wide dash, it does not seem quite as long and has the typical rectangle vents and a less populated dash; being very similar to the XF it is in some way seemingly simplier. The gauges are analogue, which force much of the desired information usually displayed in gauge clusters onto an LCD screen that is placed between the gauges while the rest of the random information has been designated to the infotainment's touchscreen, which itself is placed in the dash above the center console. The steering wheel seems less extravagant and also standardized as one would see in other sports cars with several controls within finger reach on both sides of it. What all this is describing is a very standard interior that is well built and filled with quality but nothing is particularly eye catching (save the telescoping control knob in the center console). It is fairly nondescript and not a quite a letdown as the simplicity and the attention to being standard serves to not detract or attempt to provide the driver with extras that are unneeded or warranted, which is a good thing. The interior is solid and provides the driver with the feel that they are in a car that is meant to be driven (as compared to the XJ or XF), which after all being the sports car of the three, is the point of it.The Drive
Putting the XKR into Dynamic drive mode and switching the car to Sport Drive, it was indeed a beast to control. With so much power on tap, it accelerated extremely quickly and went through the gears without hesitation. The brakes were massive and when employed were capable of stopping the car with such urgency that it could almost hurt. With so much stopping power, it allowed the driver to accelerate and hold a higher speed into a corner and brake later than many other cars. Working in tandem with the active differential and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), the tyres were constantly screaming as the XKR became a driver's car: a true sports car. With so much power and control available, it made sense as to why the XK was the best selling model of the three, which in such a situation, it was easy to see how one could become so addicted to such a car.
The last car on our list and indeed the most aggressive of them all was the 550hp 502 ft-lb 5 liter V8 XKR-S. With a top speed of 186 and 0-60 in 4.2 seconds, this model is indeed the one that earns Jaguar its name in the field of sports cars. Unlike the other two that tested how the car performed under various conditions, this one was all about pure unadulterated speed as we were to take it at full throttle down a drag strip.Interior/Exterior
Starting off, there is much borrowed from the XK/XKR for this model. Looking at the profile, the XFR'S is fairly similar to that of the XFR save the wing on the boot. The wing itself was low slung and angled toward the car, which filled out the space behind the rear window nicely while providing adequate down force with a third brake light. The front is where most of the car has changed. The grille has been molded differently as it is more of an oval shape and has a dominant Jaguar badge in its center while a set of vents frame it on either side of it. A secondary grille sits lower than the main one but until the XK, it sits a bit lower, is wider, and is more of a rectangular shape. There are two inlets on either side of the center bulge in the bumper where it sits flush with the bonnet just inside of the headlamps. On both sides of the car, there are large vertical vents shaped into the bumper that likely help feed the air past the front wheels in an effort to lessen what turbulence that may be created by the wheels. So in short, the front of the car is not nearly as smooth as the other models and has a rugged way about it. Not quite saying that it has a face that only its mother could love, but it is very different than the typical sports car front and oddly enough, it seems to be able to grow on you despite its challenging ways.
Inside, the colours are much darker than on the XKR while it has a more serious feel and solid look to it. The dash and center console remain largely the same as the XK/XKR, which is what one would expect being that the XKR-S is a variant of the previous two. The front seats are form fitting and very comfortable bucket seats, giving the interior a feel fitting for Jaguar's ultimate sports car. And being Jaguar's ultimate sports car, there is much representation of what it was as the simple yet distinct R-S badge was prominently displayed the dash and seats.The Drive
In this scenario, the only concept was to rap out the throttle and go as fast as one could down a drag strip. This explanation only had to be said once as it was obvious that everyone who attended wanted to feel the power of the 550hp 5-litre V8 that powered the XKR-S. Only one run was available so not much could can be said about it besides it was thrilling and over all too soon. The power was immediate as the car hurtled itself down the track with so much more to give by the time the cones came up indicating that it was necessary to brake. It was over within seconds proving that Jaguar's claim that the XKR-S can do 0-60 just over 4 seconds is true. The roar of the engine even from inside the cabin was awe-inspiring and it alone could make one want to buy the car. The brakes were massive on the XKR-S and for good reason. With so much power, the need to stop is paramount and the stopping power on it was amazing. With more power and purpose, the XKR-S outdid the XKR, which did not seem possible after feeling just feeling what the XKR was capable of. It was too bad that the ride was over in so little time as it was too fast to really observe and take in all the details of the experience. But sometimes, noticing all the details are not needed when one just wants pure, unadulterated power.
The Letdowns Even though all four cars were brilliant, there were still a few things that could be noted as possible critiques one may have with them. The list is small and is more of a personal nature but is of a few observations.The Steering Wheel
In all the models, the steering wheel was smooth, elegant, and easy to control. For the most part, there is no complaint as the steering wheel is solid, with features that are easy to access and use, and is very responsive. So, the problem is not necessarily the steering wheel itself but the lack of communication from it. It is emotionless. In the XJL and XF, it is expected that the steering wheel is to be smooth and emotionless as for both models, the target audience are those who want to enjoy driving from point A to point B and go about their business. However, the XKR (the XKR-S was over too fast to realize unfortunately) is a sports car. One would almost expect to feel something. Some form of communication or chatter from the car indicating that there is something going on between the car and the road below. The steering wheel, although brilliant and precise in that the car does exactly what the driver indicates it should, feels too clean; it is too crisp; it is uncommunicative and emotionless, which to some may prove to be lacking as one may desire such tactile feedback when driving such a car.The A-Pillar/Side View Mirror
Obstruction of view is a big deal. In the case of the A-Pillar/Side View Mirror on the driver's side, it seemed a bit too large and would cut away into the window's real estate. This was most apparent when going uphill while taking left turns or diving hard into left corners. There is a disclaimer though. One may be able to fix this by changing the way one sits or if they have a taller torso.Rear View Cameras
This is indeed a personal issue and would very likely be negated over repeated use. The Jaguar employees even noted when describing the features that there are many who have commented on this problem but with use, the rear view cameras do more than make up for the lack of rear visibility. This fact is very true as the image on the touchscreen is more than adequate. However, for one who is used to older sport cars with so much visibility, not being able to look behind the car and see the world is not too comforting. But it's not Jaguar's fault. The entire industry has had the rear visibility decrease rapidly to the point where it seems impossible for one to look through the back or rear side windows and see much at all.Paddle Shifters
Paddle shifters are brilliant. It is well understood that there are camps on both sides in either support or hatred toward the implantation of paddle shifters and the loss of a stick shift. Having driven sports cars with paddle shifters and owning two that are stick shift, I feel that paddle shifters can be great. There is no problem seen and it is the next evolution of the industry. So, in stating this, I am not taking a side as I love my cars with stick shifters as well; however, a personal observation on what was experienced (although use of the paddle shifters was not used in the XKR-S) when the paddle shifters were used in the XKR. When shifting up, there was no problem as the car changed gear without error or drama. It was when using down shifting that a problem was found. It seemed that the there was a distinct hesitation before the transmission shifted, and for one who is used to rev-matching and shifting down manually, it was a bit disconcerting. With paddle shifters, it would be best that when one uses it to shift up or down, the result is nearly seemingly instantaneous. When it is not, the delay is rather annoying. This does not mean that a solution is not present though. Ironically, it seemed best to not employ the paddle shifters at all and just put the car into Sport Drive. The cars did brilliantly when under this setting and would be the preferred setting in most cases. So for once, and I cannot honestly believe that it is even being stated, it seems that an automatic system worked better than the manual-styled system. Surprising, yes, but it was just as enjoyable if not more so.
So, besides being thrilled by Jaguar's new lineup, I feel that the brand has finally come around. After producing many great cars yet not quite living up to its iconic past, Jaguar can indeed say that it is back and with purpose and resolve. The right balance form and function has been found and realized in its three outstanding models. With such excellence that the XKR-S represents, one can only guess as to what Jaguar will do with its F-Type (due out in 2013). But one thing is assured, with its current lineup and proven capability, its F-Type will no doubt live up to the status that the E-Type set as Jaguar has proven with its current lineup that it has the qualifications to reclaim the world stage it did decades ago.
Personally, I have been a fan of the Aston Martin brand for the past two decades when I first began to look at cars with any seriousness and they have stuck with me since. It has been a goal of mine and one that I am set to fill. When asked about my preferences and mentioning the Aston, one of Jaguar's staff told me that Jaguar has been known to be the "poor man's Aston". That may be true but after experiencing Jaguar's current lineup and seeing the turnaround the brand has undergone, Jaguar has all the qualifications to be much more than the "poor man's Aston". And has me thinking as to whether I still want that Aston or maybe purchase a Jaguar instead... after two decades of dreaming, that is not a simple task. Nevertheless, I can still sleep at night for I know that Jaguars are still made in England and are a product of the excellent craftsmanship.NOTE: All pictures were sourced from using Google Search and are the property of the photographer. Used only to illustrate the text supplied in the previous blog written by Colin Masterson and not with the intent of producing any form of revenue.