If you're late to the party, a grand entrance can mollify the masses. But you have to be somebody to begin with. Nobody notices a bit player.
That's a fair description of what Jaguar has done with its 2013 sedans -- the midsize XF and the big XJ.
In this instance, the party is populated by luxury cars, almost all of which are fulfilling a prophecy made decades ago when some automotive soothsayers predicted that one day all luxury automobiles would have all-wheel drive.
That has mostly come to pass with available all-wheel drive models from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Lincoln and Infiniti. The lone holdout besides Jaguar is Hyundai's Equus, a relative newcomer.
But now Jaguar's portfolio is complete, and not only with all-wheel drive. The 2013 models feature a new engine and transmission. They are oriented -- as are most vehicle enhancements these days -- toward improved fuel economy without any loss of performance.
The Jaguar entrant is its new 340-horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged V6 engine, which replaces the previous V8. It is linked to a new eight-speed automatic transmission and a system Jaguar calls "instinctive all-wheel drive."
Like others of its ilk, it apportions power between the front and rear wheels, in this case via an internal clutch that decides, through sensors and computer wizardry, where to ship the power.
In ordinary driving, it sends about 95 percent to the rear wheels with just a teeny bit of bite to the front to make sure things get going. If winter conditions are present, it can send as much as 30 percent to the front wheels, which enhances control in slippery conditions.
One bit of clever engineering, used to maintain the Jaguar sedans' low and sleek profile, routed the front drive shafts right through the oil pan, sort of like sticking your finger through the doughnut hole.
Never shy, despite its mottled record of ownership, Jaguar introduced its new all-wheel drive sedans in Canada's Quebec province where traffic is sparse, and ice and snow-covered roads are abundant in winter.
They proved up to the task, no doubt benefiting from the fact that Jaguar and Land Rover now are part of the same company, still a mainstay of Great Britain despite --or perhaps because of -- its new owner, Tata Motors of India. Tata makes the world's cheapest car, the $3,000 Nano, for the poorest places on the globe, but had the good sense not to mess with automotive royalty.
As a result, these new Jaguars display fine automotive manners regardless of the conditions. Of course, that doesn't mean you can flog the XJ or the new XF -- the subject here -- to a fare-thee-well. Even an all-wheel drive car will careen into the trees if you don't exercise skill and care.
But it will rescue some novices who get in a bit over their heads. Usually, all that is required is some judicious working of the throttle and steering wheel. It is a comfort. The eight-speed automatic transmission intelligently decides what gear is needed.
The new V6 engine provides more than adequate power, with a 6.1 second acceleration time to 60 mph on a dry road, according to Jaguar's specifications. That's marginally slower than the rear-drive model, which does it in 5.7 seconds. But it's a difference without much distinction. Almost anybody would give up that four-tenths for the security of the all-wheel drive.
On the other hand, the all-wheel drive does add $3,500 to the sticker price. But if you live anywhere that doesn't have routine nasty conditions, you could have a Jaguar XF or XJ and spend the leftover money on a Nano -- although that little tin can is a long way from being certified for U.S. consumption.
The XF with all-wheel drive has a starting price of $53,995. For that, you get a host of luxury features, including full safety equipment -- the stability control works seamlessly with the all-wheel drive -- and the usual plush leather surroundings, adjustable motorized seats, entertainment connectivity, and all the rest.
With options that included an $8,575 "sport portfolio" package and a $4,250 premium package with navigation, the bottom-line sticker price of the tested XF worked out to $75,445. Should you desire more impressive surroundings, you can order the long-wheelbase XJL Ultimate, which comes with a supercharged 510-horsepower V8 engine. It costs north of $155,000 but doesn't come with all-wheel drive. Leave the driving to your chauffeur.
Model: 2013 Jaguar XF AWD four-door sedan.
Engine: 3.0-liter V6, supercharged, 340 horsepower.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 95/18 cubic feet.
Weight: 4,145 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/26/19 mpg (19/30/23 with rear-wheel drive).
Base price, including destination charge: $53,895.
Price as tested: $75,445.
(Contact Frank Aukofer at driveways6(at)gmail.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, shns.com.)