The new Range Rover will continue to dominate its class, and the F-Type will undoubtedly ruffle some prestigious feathers. Yet while these new products are setting high standards and the existing models score highly with JDPower, there are a number of holes in the vehicle line-up about to be plugged.
The plugging will be done on a number of fronts, with technology such as a very capable new 2.0L four-cylinder turbo motor, stop/start functionality, adoption of the ZF eight-speed transmission and all-wheel drive.
The latter is seen as one of the most important steps in the rebirth, since current XJ and XF models are only applicable to about 50% of their respective markets. Whereas optional AWD will expose them to about 80% of potential buyers. These are notably the northern states of America, Russia and northern Europe where winter traction is a strong seller.
With V8 engine sales dropping fast and V6 almost doubling in recent years, pairing its new AWD system with a brand-new 3.0L V6 supercharged engine is another smart response to the premium market, building on its existing strengths of elegant design, sophisticated interiors and good brand equity. So all we needed to do was discover if these new AWD cars were any good…
With the XJ arriving first, we’d be driving pre-production XF models to assess their ability but our appraisal began with a road test of the XJ AWD.
While this might be the first all-wheel drive Jaguar, it certainly isn’t the first for the Croup, with Land Rover lending its considerable expertise in this area to ensure it was on the right path.
The system adds a transfer case and control module to the back of the stock ZF 8AT, allowing torque to be pushed to the front wheels via its own driveshaft and axles. Drive is then distributed front to rear by an infinitely variable system that starts with 5 or 30% drive to the front wheels, depending on your chosen mode. If sufficient grip is found, up to 100% of the torque can then be transferred to the rear wheels to provide the characteristic Jaguar driving traits and to assist economy. However, when wheel slip is detected, up to 100% can also be transferred to the front. It can be distributed left to right as well using wheel speed and ABS sensors, allowing the power to go to the tire with the best grip at any time.
The AWD system is relatively simple and lightweight, only adding 256 lb to the XJ. It’s V6 engine was developed and tuned from the start for this application, including an oil pan that allows a driveshaft to pass through it.
The 3.0L provides 340hp and 332 lb-ft very effectively, generating a fluid power curve that ensures sharp throttle response at any engine speed. It revs cleanly to redline and pulls consistently, yet also allows precise throttle modulation in slippery conditions thanks in part to engine mapping that is softened when the Winter drive mode is selected.
Both the XJ and XF models have a new front subframe, revised suspension, new damper rates, springs, sway bars and bushings as well as steering re-routed to clear the front driveshafts while also receiving new bushings. The AWD cars get a revised exhaust system, new engine ECU that can communicate with the transfer module, plus an undertray and heatshield to maintain refinement.
With all the changes under the skin, there’s very little to distinguish these models other than badging and an addition drive mode button. The Winter mode alters throttle response, steering assist, traction control thresholds, transfer module settings and starts in second gear while ensuring the AWD system intervenes more readily.
We also got to experience the XJ AWD on ice and snow in Normal and Dynamic modes to demonstrate that while you can select sharper throttle response, the assistance is still provided but at a later point.
These livelier settings were more fun in known conditions where the driver wished to explore the vehicle’s performance, but we quickly reverted to Winter mode when we needed to make safe progress on unfamiliar roads where the conditions were unknown.
Despite snow-covered roads and inconsistent ice and tarmac underneath, Winter mode kept the XJ rock solid. It disguised all but the biggest surprises, with ice-packed corners causing a brief slide before the system gathered up the steering and the traction control snapped the car back into line. Under these conditions in a RWD model, we’d have been off the road and impaled on a tree within seconds, but the AWD system allowed us to keep pace with a rapidly driven Range Rover.
We should point out that Canadian traffic law sensibly demands winter tires in these conditions, something many American drivers choose to overlook, yet the added security is essential for winter survival and their absence is a false economy.
Although its about 20 lb heavier than the aluminum Jaguar XJ, the shorter wheelbase on the XF 3.0 AWD made it feel more nimble. It seemed to have moderately sharper reflexes as well but both cars were surprisingly close. Therefore, selection would inevitably be based on budget since both provide high levels of refinement and performance.
Our test route for both cars took us down some surprising roads. The Jaguar team wasn’t afraid to submit its products to heavily rutted surfaces and even gravel roads, yet both cars absorbed the poor surfaces expertly, maintaining speed and comfort that astounded us in the conditions.
We were even invited to approach a steeply banked incline in a sand quarry that we’d frankly hesitate to tackle in a Land Rover. And while very deep ruts caused some problems from a standstill, the XJ sailed over the worst and up the hill like an off-roader. It set us thinking that where the Range Rover has conquered many premium sedan sales, the XJ AWD could actually turn the tables and offer an alternative to premium SUVs…
With performance and refinement intact, and traction assistance available at a millisecond’s notice, the Jaguar XJ and XF AWD give motorists in North America’s snow belt a wonderful alternative to the current offerings. And since sales started in late 2012, you could be behind the wheel of an XJ model before the spring thaw arrives.
So if you’re in this price bracket and actively looking for a luxury sedan that suffers very few penalties for its incredible versatility, we’d strongly recommend you test drive this very capable machine.