Jaguar XJ AWD - First drive

This isn’t an ordinary XJ, but a brand-new all-wheel drive version and it’s the reason that the suits at Jaguar’s head office are hoping for many cold winters to come


Price: TBC (not on sale in UK)
Engine capacity: 3-litre supercharged petrol
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 335 @ 6,500
Top speed (mph): 155
0-62 mph (seconds): 6.1
Fuel economy (mpg): 19
CO2 emissions (g/km): 234

Shifting a Jaguar XJ down a frozen track at 60mph in the back of beyond of sub-zero eastern Canada was always going to end badly. And sure enough after one four-wheel drift too many on a deserted track, the front tyre warning light clicked on and blinked menacingly at me.

I’d hit a snow-covered rock at the edge of the obscured gravel road and a four-inch gash in the tyre meant a nervous stop and a tyre change in -15C temperatures. Hardly ideal but this isn’t as mad as it sounds, because while I may been sitting (on a heated seat) in a luxury saloon fit for CEO, it wasn’t totally bonkers of me to take it into the back country during the middle of a North American winter. That’s because this isn’t an ordinary XJ, but a brand-new all-wheel drive version and it’s the reason that the suits at Jaguar’s head office are hoping for many cold winters to come.

The standard logic is that it’s the firm’s stable mate Land Rover that benefits from cold weather (visits to its website treble), but with the new XJ (and soon the XF) Jaguar is hoping to boost its share of the lucrative luxury-saloon market in America, Canada, Northern Europe and Russia.

Let me explain; until now you’d have been bonkers to try and live with a rear-wheel drive sports saloon when the ground is covered in snow and ice for much of the year. That’s why 80 per cent of the US Snowbelt opts for all-wheel drive in its luxury saloon choice and luxury German manufactures all offer it – that’s an awful lot of customers Jaguar has been missing out on.

Front tyre replaced (blame the driver not the car) my test continued with some hill starts, high-speed turns, a slalom and some drifting at a special test facility at Mecaglisse, north of Montreal. This is all great fun, and going sideways in an XJ is something to behold but it’s the spirited run home on the highway that is really enlightening. Jaguar has installed a system that, unlike its rivals, can switch up to 100 per cent of the engine’s torque (it’s pulling power and how a car gains traction) to the front or rear wheels depending on conditions.

In normal conditions only 5 per cent is directed to the front to retain the XJ’s handling characteristics (it remains one the best luxury saloons to drive rather than be driven in), while in winter or dynamic mode more power is transferred to the front to cope with more challenging conditions. This isn’t exactly new – Audi, BMW and Mercedes have been at it for years – but it is very intuitive, keeps the XJ firmly planted and means you can progress rapidly but safely across the most treacherous of road with peace of ease.

From the outside nothing has changed and the XJ is still a resplendent thing to look. If you live in the Rockies or the Alps - and are in them market for a £100k luxury saloon - the XJ is now a solid rival to the Germanic offerings from BMW, Audi and Mercedes. In Surbiton or Solihull it’s less useful, and that, sadly for British drivers, is why Jaguar won’t be offering it for sale in the UK.

Why should a British driver be interested then? Aside from the boost to the UK’s export tally that is. The answer is that the AWD technology will be available for all future Jaguar saloons in years to come and could (speculation is rife outside the company) be part of a possible Jaguar SUV at some stage in the future. In the meantime all that we can do is pray for very, very icy winters and hope the financial controllers at Jaguar decide that the British market isn’t so cold after all.

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