Forget the Aston Martin — If I was Agent 007, I’d want the new Jaguar XJR.
A four-door chauffeur-mobile by day; hopped-up-on- horsepower mad-machine by night. Perfect for squiring around M and Q to headquarters as well as chasing down a villainous Bond girl on the back roads to Budapest.
The XJ is the best looking of the full-size luxury sedans. At 17.2 feet in its long-wheelbase form, it was never exactly the shy type. But Jaguar decided that its flagship should get the “R Performance” treatment, giving it more kick mechanically and visually.
Pricing of the XJR starts at $116,895 for the regular, and $119,895 for the long wheelbase model. The latter is almost five inches longer, with the extra room in the back seats. If you’re buying a big expensive car, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t opt for it.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz have long had successful performance divisions. It makes sense that Jaguar (now owned by Tata Motors Ltd. and in the throes of a full-fledged renaissance) is vigorously pushing its own R Performance line. Added power and performance parts means pricier cars, and Jaguar has become very serious about its sporting side.
For example, the aging XK coupe, which starts around $80,000, is now on offer as the XKR-S GT for a staggering $174,000. The midsize XFR-S costs $100,000 and gets 550 horsepower. I’m looking forward to the eventual R treatment to the brand-new F-Type convertible, which is already a tire smoker.
The XJ has seen an R treatment before, but the previous 2004 model-year XJR was a much fustier machine with an antiquated design. The latest body shape is more compelling.
There’s an allure to the glossy sheen of its large surfaces and the deep resonance of the overpowered engine. The XJR L is a Lear jet that never lifts off four wheels.
The base XJ L starts around $82,000 and has 385 horsepower. The XJR L uses the same engine, a 5.0-liter V-8, but it is supercharged to a rating of 550 hp and 502 pound-feet of torque.
Jaguar says that will get you to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds and an autobahn-ripping top speed of 174 mph. Gas mileage is average for the segment — i.e. poor — at 15 city, 23 highway.
But first, the inside. Leather, leather, everywhere, wrapped tightly and form-fittingly around all of the contours, including three humps that rise from the dash containing dual air vents and an analog clock.
This triple mountain of luxury speaks to materials in the model of British bespoke craftsmanship, but still comes off as clean and modern.
That modernity extends to Bond-worthy digital gauges that are found on all new Jags and Land Rovers, which flick to life in a dynamic sequence when the car is first turned on.
The company’s designers like theater, and it’s a bit of fun frippery. The air vents even light up as part of an extraneous $1,700 “illumination package.” Otherwise the car I tested was without silly options, coming to $122,295.
On one drive I had two people in the back and I was trying to overhear their conversation. The car shuts out most road noise but I still couldn’t hear them clearly. Why were they whispering? They weren’t, actually, they were just that far away. Long wheelbase indeed.
All the seats are comfortable, but the front buckets keep you from slipping around under hard driving.
There are clues to its forceful nature on the outside, including side sills that extend off the body and a lip at the trunk edge that works as a spoiler. The car I tested had 20-inch wheels with a stormy gray finish on the rims. The downside to these performance tires is the car doesn’t ride as evenly as a standard XJ, despite an adaptive suspension.
Put the driving systems in dynamic mode and the XJR becomes a hot rod. The torque is incredible, moving the Jag along so quickly that it imperils reason. It powers around corners like a locomotive. I soon came to realize no legal road in America was up to its potential.
So I went onto a racetrack, pretending that I was on a European back road in hot pursuit of the bad guys.
The Jag has an electronic active differential that keeps the power to the tarmac even accelerating out of corners. It happily does things a big sedan simply shouldn’t be able to: squealing tires, solar-plexus-hammering launches and G-force turns.
I would have felt bad treating it this way, except that it is exactly what the XJR L is designed to do. Unnecessary? Totally. Unless, of course, you’re a superspy.