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Friday, December 14, 2012

Jaguar XJ AWD (2013 onwards)

New Jaguar AWD system adds genuine newfound abilities to the pretty XJ, without spoiling the driver-focused dynamics. Compromise-free all-weather luxury.

What: Jaguar XJ 3.0 S/C AWD
Where: Montreal, Canada
Date: November 2012
Price: N/A
Available: Not on sale in UK

Key rivals: Mercedes S-Class 4MATIC, BMW 7 Series xDrive, Audi A8 quattro, Range Rover

We like: Greatly extended abilities in all weathers, unobtrusive 4WD operation, no visual differentiation over standard car
We don’t like: Not for UK, no diesel, need XJ L for good rear space.   

Find a cheap used Jaguar XJ on Auto Trader
Read another Jaguar review on MSN Cars
Jaguar F-Type makes US debut

Jaguar XJ AWD (© Jaguar)


This is Jaguar’s snow-busting new XJ. In the US, all-wheel drive luxury saloons take half the luxury car market: in the snowbelt states, this rises to 80%. As America is also Jaguar’s largest car market, it has thus suffered through not having a competitor in this sector.

Not any more. For 2013, Jaguar has launched an XJ AWD, using a new and fully automatic four-wheel drive system that gives the XJ all-weather capability for the first time in over four decades. Forget the dreary old X-Type: THIS is the first real Jaguar made for snow and ice.

Could we get it here if we really wanted?

Not UK snow and ice, though. It’s going on sale in Europe, and Russia, and other left-hand drive countries with inclement weather, but it’s not been built for right-hand drive production. Only the 3.0 S/C petrol engine fits the XJ AWD, for starters, but the market here for four-wheel drive saloons is also so small, Jaguar says it’s not worthwhile.

But could we get it here, if we really wanted? Well, admitted, Jaguar, it’s of course possible to buy a left-hand drive car in Europe and import it. But unless Jaguar sees real demand for it – and gets a new range of specially engineered engines – the snow and ice-busting XJ will not come to Britain.

Onlookers probably wouldn’t notice if it did. Save for an ‘AWD’ badge on the bootlid, the four-wheel drive XJ looks identical to the regular car. Even the ride height is the same. Intentionally so: luxury buyers want the extra capability, not the extra visual flash of AWD. They let the fact it continues going in the snow where others cannot do the talking…

This is the second XJ variant to get the new supercharged 3.0-litre V6 engine destined for the 2013 F-Type. It’s a deliciously smooth motor with a nice whirr when revved and impressive pace even with the four-wheel drive running gear.

The supercharger means it responds immediately and the power delivery is very linear – enhanced by the superb eight-speed automatic gearbox. It performs as well as the regular RWD car then; the differences with the AWD are not felt in the power itself, but the enhanced way in which you can use it…

Jaguar XJ AWD (© Jaguar)


Snow and ice is where the Jaguar XJ AWD comes into its own – because it feels like… a regular XJ. The four-wheel drive system is biased rearward (most drive is sent to the back in the dry) but can split drive up to 50:50 front/rear, which it does in milliseconds. Thing is, you’d never know. The electronic stability systems are far more apparent than any differences in the actual ‘drive’ of the car.

You’d never know… until you step out, fall over, and realise your entirely neutral XJ has been driving with tenacity on snow and sheet ice. This is the amazing part: how it finds grip and traction in situations the standard XJ wouldn’t have a hope of coping with. Even the icy chill of the wintry Canadian launch didn’t faze it.

The system can even ‘feed forward’ drive to the front wheels when grip is low, to preload the drivetrain and thus anticipate any loss of grip or traction. This is another reason why it’s so indistinguishable – it doesn’t even need to wait for a slide in order to react, as it’s already anticipated it.

The dials turn blue when this is selected

Jaguar enhances it with a modified Drive Control system, which features a winter mode (neatly, the dials turn blue when this is selected). This mode further increases the degree of ‘feed forward’ and also primes the stability control system to work better in slippery conditions. Through a snow-covered test slalom, we drove faster in this mode than with the supposedly faster ‘Dynamic’ mode…

Overall, it’s the combination of clinically precise division of drive front to rear, combined with some very comprehensive electronic aids, that makes the XJ AWD unbelievably competent when grip levels are low. You’d never believe a Jaguar could perform so well in the snow: that it’s just as engaging as the rear-drive model is icing on the cake.

Elsewhere, Jaguar admits it’s taken the opportunity with the 2013 XJ to tweak the ride quality: the suspension is a bit more softly damped, to make it smoother and respond to comments from some that it was just a bit too sporty. It’s still nicely taut (an S-Class is still smoother-riding), but more fluid and cosseting than before.

The interior of the XJ is the most charismatic and exclusive of any luxury car in its sector. Genuinely different, it’s more like a bespoke Bentley Mulsanne alternative than the posh Mercedes C-Class feel you get from an S-Class. Nothing can match the Jaguar for interior wow factor.

You need the long-wheelbase version for proper levels of rear space (the AWD system has no impact on interior space, mind), but all deliver comfortable sports-lux seats. This is enhanced by, for a luxury car, an unusually low and sporting feel to the interior. Even in the rear, it feels racier than the competition.

Jaguar XJ AWD (© Jaguar)


Jaguar prides itself on building in technology too. It’s right, to an extent: the central touchscreen is fiddly but feature packed, and the fully electronic dials are divisive but also clever and comprehensive (they even change colour depending on what drive mode you have selected).

The technology isn’t quite a match for an S-Class or Audi A8, though. The sat nav is also rather dated and it doesn’t have the latest in-car internet and wifi capabilities of those cars either. Such is the style of the interior, you can forgive it, but Jaguar needs to work on this if it’s to keep up with the competition.

Enhanced traction, stability and ability in all weather makes the XJ much safer in inclement weather. Instead of becoming unstable or simply stuck, like a rear-drive car, the AWD XJ continues driving on wherever there’s the merest hint of grip – no matter what wheel it’s beneath.

It makes every driving situation safer: pulling away uphill, avoiding sudden obstacles, cornering, manoeuvring, the lot. The Canadian test route roads were worse than you’re likely to see even in a fierce winter here (-25deg, packed snow, the lot) but the XJ didn’t miss a beat. This is a huge safety boon.

The 3.0 S/C engine is more economical than the old V8 it replaces, but AWD does have an effect on overall consumption, albeit a surprisingly small one. It’s more the fact it isn’t a diesel that stymies it coming to the UK, though: it’s around 19mpg less efficient than the 3.0 V6 diesel, something that tax-conscious Brits wouldn’t swallow despite the extra ability. Roll on the next-gen diesel engines…

4 stars

In Britain, an AWD Jaguar XJ would, in the winter, make sense. It would keep going in the snow where its rear-drive sibling would get stuck, and would generally be safer and more stable all-round when conditions became grotty. But, as it’s petrol-only, and predicted sales would be in the tens rather than the hundreds, we’re not getting it.

We might get future variants, though: a diesel model, for example. It’s also going to the XF – an XF 2.2d 200 AWD Sportbrake would make a LOT of sense in the UK. For now though, only the US will enjoy Jaguar’s impressively discreet and driver-focused four-wheel drive system. So impressively did it perform in wintry Canada, it’s hard to see how it won’t succeed.

Find a cheap used Jaguar XJ on Auto Trader
Read another Jaguar review on MSN Cars

Jaguar XJ AWD information

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