There's a fine line between "classic" and just plain old-fashioned, and it appears the people at Jaguar came to agree a few years ago with critics who thought the flagship XJ's 1960s styling had crossed that line -- perhaps sometime during Ronald Reagan's presidency.
So, for 2011, we have an all new XJ. Whether the styling is an improvement is your call, but it is unquestionably a radical change, to a very contemporary look that retains some of the original's personality. There's nothing like seven years of slumping sales to get a carmaker's attention. And the change seems to have paid off; Jaguar's sales were up 12 percent last year over 2009.
The new XJ is whisper quiet and possesses that always difficult-to-attain combination of a comfortable ride and competent handling. The suspension automatically varies the damper settings to both road conditions and the way the car is being driven.
One drawback to the new styling: severely hampered rear visibility.
The tester's supercharged 510 hp. V-8 delivered push-you-back-into-the-seat acceleration and, surprisingly, still managed an average of 18.5 miles per gallon during my week with it. Jaguar says zero to 60 miles per hour takes 4.7 seconds with this engine.
My only other big complaints about the tester were overly-sensitive accelerator and brake pedals. XJ Series sedans begin at $73,575 with freight for a 2011 version with a 5.0-liter, 385 hp. engine and range up to $114,075 with freight for the Supersport with the 510 hp. supercharged version. All versions are rear-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is unavailable.
The interior is, of course, sumptuously appointed in leather, chrome and real wood and has a roomy rear seat. Ergonomics are pretty good. Lacking are rear-seat side air bags, however. Neither the federal government nor the private Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has published crash test ratings for the XJ.
For prospective buyers, there's cause for concern in Jaguar's poor performance in J.D. Power and Associates most recent surveys of owners after three months and three years of ownership: the marque is way below average.
Jaguar notes, correctly, that it had been doing very well in the Power surveys and attributes the recent poor showings to early glitches in the XF model in 2008 and 2009. "We are firm in our mission to continue to provide an extraordinary level of customer satisfaction and vehicle quality," said spokesman Stuart Schorr.
Happily, the brand did very well in another Power study, released in the fall, of satisfaction with the sales process - scoring highest among luxury brands.