When automakers build executive sedans, they need to make them as luxurious as a Dubai penthouse suite, yet at the same time athletic, able to hit 60 mph in under 5 seconds and twist through turns with the grace of Gene Kelly. So is the 2011 Jaguar XJ Supersport, a big cat if any car deserved the name, more comfortable lazing on a thick tree branch or running down prey in the jungle undergrowth?
The Supersport version of the new XJ is a limited-edition model that uses the same supercharged 5-liter V-8 as the XJ Supercharged, but with horsepower tuned up to 510. That kind of power makes the XJ Supersport leap forward with neck-snapping acceleration, taking only 4.7 seconds to get to 60 mph, according to Jaguar.
At the same time, the XJ Supersport is long, 16 feet, 10 inches, with a roomy cabin. Its very raked-back glass and rear roofline make it look almost like a fastback, and the tail of the car shows a refined lack of ornamentation, giving the body panels a liquid smoothness. But the front end, with its bulky fenders and hood, means business.
Just looking at the wood trim on the inside of the doors, with its lighter-shaded inlaid pieces, you know Jaguar took the coachwork seriously. Where there isn't wood in the Jaguar there is leather, and plenty of it. The various buttons feel solid, although Jaguar allowed more plastic pieces in this interior than in the Jaguar XF. But the massage seats uphold the luxury standard.
Similarly to the XF, the shift dial rises up from the console when the car starts, and accent lights turn on. And along with the central LCD powering on and showing a Jaguar symbol, the entire instrument cluster lights up with the same symbol.
Fully digital instruments
In a bold move by Jaguar, the XJ Supersport does away with analog gauges entirely, replacing them with an LCD showing representations of gauges. There are advantages to using a screen, such as making the gauges and warning lights all easily configurable by Jaguar engineers. The left-side dial, which usually shows fuel level and engine temperature, switches to a full-color route guidance display when the car's navigation system is working. Likewise, this dial also shows the current audio source.
The only problem with the LCD instrument cluster is that the graphics, while attempting a 3D style, still look flat and a little washed out. Jaguar should really take a look at the Mercedes-Benz CL550 for inspiration, as it is difficult to tell its LCD speedometer from the real thing.
In recent Jaguars, the main LCD suffered from sluggish response times, useless animations, and an interface that was busier than necessary. For the XJ, Jaguar fixed some of these problems. The onscreen buttons still take a firm push to make them react, but there is a small twinkle effect on the button borders that indicates the button was actually pushed, a useful bit of feedback.
Jaguar did away with the sliding button animations, which were really just time wasters, in favor of a simpler layout with direct access to most infotainment functions. A few of the buttons are not all that intuitive to use, but this interface is a huge improvement. Also nice is that Jaguar keeps a row of onscreen buttons at the bottom of each screen for access to audio, climate, phone, and navigation.
One of the real highlights of the XJ Supersport is the Bowers & Wilkins audio system, its quality hinted at by the metal speaker grilles set around the cabin. Twenty speakers and 1,200 watts create almost perfectly defined music reproduction. Every layer and every sound from audio tracks comes through. But the system goes further, using Audyssey MultEQ XT digital signal processing to make even lower-bit-rate MP3 tracks sound good. For us, this Bowers & Wilkins audio system made all types of music extremely pleasurable to listen to in the XJ Supersport.
And the car does not lack for audio sources, bringing in practically every digital device available today. It has two USB ports, one for iPods and one for flash drives and other storage devices. There is Bluetooth streaming audio and there is space on the car's hard drive for music storage. It offers satellite radio and HD radio. And the car can show video on its LCD from a variety of sources, such as a USB device or the car's own DVD player.
Although this audio system is as good as or better than anything found in executive sedans from Audi or Mercedes-Benz, the navigation system does not quite rise to those technological levels. The XJ's navigation system is very good, and ticks off all the right boxes, but the maps don't have the lush 3D detail that Audi provides. Instead, the XJ's maps look pale, with washed-out colors.