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2011 Jaguar XJL Supercharged: Luxury performance supersized

Old World quality in a state-of-the-art package
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Even the biggest Jaguar — the new XJL — looks fast standing still. And it goes even faster than it looks.

Jaguar has long used letters to designate its models, baffling non-aficionados who cannot remember that the XK is the coupe and the XF is the sedan and R means the high-performance version of both.

This will not be a problem with the all-new XJL, which everyone will likely call the Big Jag.

Although resembling the swoopy XF sedan, the XJ is larger in all dimensions, especially the L-version, which stands for long wheelbase. It is around six inches longer than the short wheelbase version. Like the Fleetwood versions of the Cadillac sedans in the 1960s and 1970s, much of the additional length goes into extra back seat legroom.

But unlike those cars - which are best remembered for carrying mobsters around in Charles Bronson movies - the XJL is no land yacht. Instead, the Big Jag is remarkably well-balanced performer, capable of easy around-town cruises, awe-inspiring blasts down the freeway or nimble jaunts along twisty country roads. Especially when equipped with either of the supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engines, enough power is always on tap to make the 5,200-plus pound car leap forward with the slightest encouragement.

The 2011 XJL is the culmination of the complete overhaul of the legendary Jaguar line that Ford bought in the 1990s and then sold to Tata Motors of India last year. Initial changes focused on eliminating the mechanical and electrical problems that had long plagued the original British manufacturer. Purists objected when Ford introduced smaller, more cotemporary-looking models like the X-type in 2001. The company preserved the traditional styling of the top-of-the line sedan with the XJ line and S-type until 2009, when both were essentially replaced with the last generation of the XJ, which looked more German or Italian than English.

The new XJ and XJL carries this theme even further, wrapping sleek sheet metal around wide tires mounted on 20-inch alloy wheels. The front air dam is even bigger than the last version, while the fastback seems to stretch on forever. The bulbous rear end is framed by vertical taillights as opposed to the vertical ones on the XF sedan. The result is a large car that looks sexy from any angle, as revealed by the stares it attracted wherever we went.

The interior is similar to the sensuous interior of the XF, but much bigger. The XJL is one of the widest cars we've ever tested, and there is so much rear leg room that the seatbacks include a fold down table, just like an airliner. Naturally, everything is wrapped in the highest quality materials available, including rich leather, deep wood and polished chrome. The stereo and climate control systems are first class. The front seats could be heated and cooled, and even the steering wheel could be heated. Practically every manufacturer offers one or more luxury cars these days, but the XJL offers Old World comforts in a state-of-the-art package.

Just about the only false note in our test car was the digit dash designed to look like analog gauge. Although a vast improvement over the gimmicky digital dashes of the 1980s, the gauges were never completely convincing. Why not just use real analog gauges, especially since the car uses an old-fashioned analog clock to keep time?

Another drawbacks was relatively reduced headroom when the front seats were far forward. This seemed caused by the space needed to accommodate the large panoramic glass roof. Lowering the seats as much as possible helped, but drivers with shorter legs should makes sure they can adjust the seatback enough to remain comfortable on long trips.

Of course this level of quality costs money. It's no coincidence the color of our test car was Caviar. The least expensive XJ starts at nearly $80,000 and the R-version for the XLR tops $110,000. But at least the back seat is big enough to live in.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2011 XJL Supercharged

• Manufacturer: Jaguar.

• Class: Full-size sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive

• Style: Four-door fastback.

• Engine: 5.0-liter V8 (385 hp); supercharged 5.0-liter V8 (470 hp - as tested); supercharged 5.0-liter V8 (510 hp).

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual mode and steering wheel-mounted shift levers.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 15/21 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at around $79,500 ($90,500 as tested).