2011 Jaguar XJ Road and Track Test Review

Jon Rosner - CAP staff
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In 1949 war-torn England was desperate for the income generated by any kind of exports. If you wanted materials from the government, you REALLY had to justify your product. The XK 120/140/150 fit that need in spades.

Competition was fierce and Jaguar bucked then widespread English automotive trend to recycle bland, but readily available, and paid-for, pre-war body styles by developing a lovely body called the Mark Five to wrap around a very advanced chassis. Meanwhile out of the public eye, enthusiastic Jaguar designers were burning the midnight oil, creating a second car on the same new chassis. The Jaguar 120 Aluminium Super Sports, introduced at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show, was a sensation. This led to the XK120s, which were followed by the XK140 and the XK150, superb performers that sold in volumes helping to drive England's return to industrialization.

In 1951 the C-type took a 45-minute lead to score a memorable first Le Mans win for Jaguar. It was the first car to cover more than 3,500 km (2,174 miles) at Le Mans. In 1953 some rivals were more powerful, but the introduction of Lockheed's aircraft-derived disc brakes gave the C-type a huge advantage going into corners. Jaguar again won Le Mans; the first time in the event's history that a car averaged over 160 km/h (100 mph) in the race (this was despite Hamilton suffering a broken nose, the car incurring a smashed windscreen from a bird hitting it at speed).

In 1956, Jaguar had the best-ever performance by any marque in Le Mans history – five cars entered and five cars were running at the finish, taking first, second, third, fourth and sixth. In 1957 Jaguar scored another memorable one-two victory and shortly thereafter dropped out of racing.
In short, the C Type took Le Mans in 1951 and 1953. The D-type took Le Mans wins in 1955, 1956 and 1957. This was followed in 1988 with the Jaguar XJR-9LM, a V12-powered Group C car. Another outright victory would follow in 1990 with Martin Brundle in the Jaguar XJR-12.

Le Mans is the most grueling annual road race on the calendar. With a total of seven wins between 1951 and 1990, Jaguar is the single most successful British make in Le Mans history. With these wins, performance expectations were now fully established. But Jaguar was not just about performance; design, style, grace always played their part.

To this end Jaguar has a tradition of being fearless in making radical shifts in design. The bold move from the pre-war designs to post-war XK 120/140/150. The evolution of the design of the XK 120/140/150 to the XKE, or the Mark Series leading to lovely but typecast 1968 XJ sedan style that lasted well into the 2000s.

The new 2011 XJ and XJR are a clean sheet design with the usual understated Jaguar attributes. When Jaguar built their XK120/140/150, they were true derivations of the Le Mans winning car technologies, including the first effective implementation of the aircraft derived Lockheed braking systems. When Mercedes challenged Jaguar and raced the 300 SLRs in the 1950s they built a racecar with a tube-frame chassis that was only skin-deep different from their monsters that ruled the pre-war tracks. The 190 SL that sold to the public looked the part and was sturdy, but it was simply a chicane on the road for the Jaguar to pass. Most European marques that challenged Jaguar for market share offered vehicles with great style. Jaguar had raised the bar in terms of a combination of style and performance, with advances that went unmatched.

With the shift from the XK 120/140/150 to the XKE, Jaguar had lifted the best of their race-proven technologies and put them on the street. The truly radical factor in the XKE was the fact that in 1962 it offered a fully independent suspension, inboard rear brakes, superb weight balance, and usable torque. Porsche, Mercedes, Ferrari, Maserati, and virtually every other major European manufacturer were still offering solid axles, drum brakes, and recirculating ball steering across the board. It took another decade for them to catch up with the effective and efficient technologies that Jaguar had transferred to their street cars.

The same is true for the new XJ ad XJR. Being able to pound each of the luxury car entries from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, et al at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in March 2011, drove home a point. Western Automotive Journalists Media Day events give the press the opportunity to go back-to-back-to-back in a variety of vehicles and see how the performance dynamics function when the vehicle is pushed from five to nine-tenths in a safe and controlled situation. This gives each journalist a solid idea of how the car is going to perform when you throw it into a variety of situations.

The XJR, being the supercharged version of the XJ, offered the same power and similar weight to the BMW Alpina and bigger Benzes. The difference was that the XJR was far better balanced, far more linear in its prodigious power output. It felt slower and more controlled than the German competitors, but was actually significantly faster, both on the straights and by cleanly carrying the speed through the different corner types.

Why? In spite of, or maybe because the XJR has softer springing it glided more softly over the road undulations and off-camber, switch-back, declining radius corners that make Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the top-level track that it is. Push the XJR into the corner and overdrive it on purpose and it transitions from superb grip to easily controlled four-wheel drift with ease.

The BMW Alpina B7 was large, nose-heavy, and plowed ponderously in most corners. It felt a bit touch and go. A total contradiction to the locked and loaded 335i and M3s that felt far more appealing and balanced, the B7 was perceptibly unsmooth and quite annoying. The Big Benzes, including the ultra-pricy Black Series, felt just as nose-heavy, equally pandering with their automatic braking, and clumsy. And while the power output of the Black Series was almost unequaled, it was also almost unusable. The luxury sporting coupe/sedan market today is loaded with cars that automatically brake this wheel or that to compensate for loss of traction. Technologies that electronically level the car when hard cornering should be swaying the car just a bit more to inform the encapsulated driver that something is about to go amiss if you don't slow a bit. Lots of failure-prone electronic nannies that decide for you, allowing the driver to come ever closer to the absolute limits.

Why does this matter? Because every once in a while enthusiasm gets the better of each of us, and we pass the limits of the vehicles we are driving. In that instance too many vehicles are beyond the control of anyone other than the very best semi-professional and professional drivers, and spell the word "ditch." The XJ and XJR offer control that exists in far too few cars today. Electronic nannies work up to a point. They allow us to drive our vehicles to the limit, a limit that many of us reach without realizing it. These are limits related to physics, traction, tire adhesion, et al. Reducing the effect of the electronic nannies means putting the control of the vehicle back into the hands of the driver. This means that the driver can now perceive when the limits are approaching. This is a far safer prospect than depending on electronic nannies that allow us to go to the max and then boom, gone, off the road or worse. This is not to say that anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control are not excellent technologies. They are, but their overly complex derivatives add weight and costs. They are also an attempt by the manufacturers to hide the fact that many of their most expensive cars are too heavy and poorly balanced from front to rear. And it lets us know that the manufacturer did not spend the money to fully develop their suspension systems before the application of the gizmo factor.

Once again, Jaguar has taken their recent Le Mans experiences and channeled the results into real design improvements that place the XJ and XJR, in this case, years ahead of the competition in the areas that are not always obvious to the potential automotive purchaser. Bottom-line is that while the XJ and XJR offer fewer fully active electronic gizmos than the competition, the car is dynamically superior in terms of on-road control. In reality, Jaguar has built a safer vehicle that offers better balance between acceleration, braking, ride, handling control and comfort. And not only a better ride, but superior control under the worst road conditions.

Most competitors will soon have to make fundamental changes that will have to be done from a clean sheet, as were the XJ/XJR. The XJ/XJR clearly show that Jaguar has spent the money in the development process. Jaguar has shifted the market to the next generation of design not only in terms of technical prowess, but styling and design.

Will we see eighty-pound microturbines powering up the latest in lithium ion batteries as in the stunning and revolutionary Jaguar XC 75? Maybe, maybe not. Does Jaguar already have the chassis dynamics, balanced braking and other features that would make the application of these technologies practical? Yes. Could Jaguar take the eighty-pound microturbines powering up the latest lithium ion batteries, and drop them in? Yes, the chassis on the XJ and XJR is simply that well sorted and balanced.

If you were expecting a review on the great features and stunning beauty of the new XJ/XJR, sorry but this isn't it. This author feels that style and design choices are best done by seeing if the eye is pleased, the leathers pliant and soft to the touch, the colours balanced, the wood handsomely applied. Here the author is developing a soft spot for the XJ/XJR.

The 2011 Jaguar XJ and XJR are beautiful, for sure, and technically are very impressive cars. Is the market sophisticated enough to see that the premier Asian brands are disguising poor chassis development with massive applications or electronic gizmos, or that the average European luxury/sports car weighs thousands of pounds more than its recent predecessors? Jaguar has once again departed from the well-trodden path and is going its own way, and this author is impressed.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Luxury Sedan, Jaguar, 2011, XJ Series, $75,000 - $99,999,

Organizations: Jaguar

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