Testing the Best: The 2011 Jaguar XJ, an Elegant Beast

An account of driving the XJ. Get ready to get jealous

Jaguar XJ in Fog

Courtesy Jaguar

The 2011 Jaguar XJ has gotten a lot of attention for its looks: the elegant, curvaceous lines that Ian Callum brought to the car in this much-needed, wholesale redesign. That's for good reason: The car is gorgeous, with an elegant exterior and showy interior that give the XJ an appropriately foppish swagger. But as soon as you steer the XJ onto the turnpike on-ramp and step on the gas, you'll forget about the car's looks. You'll only be able to think about how monstrously powerful and ridiculously fast it is.

That, at least, was my experience one weekend earlier this fall, when I drove the 470-hp supercharged version of the new XJ from New York City to Washington, DC and back. The sky was clear, the pavement dry, and on command the XJ's V8 gurgled and growled and slung us forward with sports-car vigor. Thanks to the aluminum chassis, the XJ feels light and nimble, and if you underestimate the ease with which this car accelerates hard, it can start to get away from you.

At 201.6 inches long, the XJ is a big car. (That's actually the standard wheelbase; the XJL, "L" standing for "long," is 206.6 inches.) Get a big car going fast and you might worry about your ability to stop quickly. Yet here the XJ proved a merciful champ.

On the way home, traveling at approximately 70 mph on the freeway outside DC, I had to put the XJ's braking ability to an unfortunate test when two cars directly ahead of me suddenly slammed on the brakes and smashed into one another. How many seconds did it take to reach a full stop? How many feet did we travel? Don't know and don't care. For the guys in front of us, it could have been a lot worse: some sheet metal got bent, but both cars managed to make it the shoulder under their own power, and no one appeared to be injured. But for us, the XJ halted as if it hit a tripwire. It left us slightly shaken up but untouched, free to enjoy another couple hundred miles of highway cruising. Phew.