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2012-Jaguar-XJL-Supersport-Cover

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km : First Drive

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16 August 2012

If we’re playing a word association game and I say “super sedan,” chances are “Jaguar” isn’t going to be your first response. More likely, AMG or M will spring to the tip of your tongue. After all, the Germans have spent decades perfecting the art of earthbound flight for four or more. But Jaguar also offers a genuine contender in the four-door hot rod arena. The XJ Supersport – a suitably modest name for a cruise missile designed to fly under the radar – was recently enhanced wit an optional Speed package for 174 mph.

The new Speed package is a stand-alone option on the 510-horsepower XJ Supersport, offered on either the long- or short-wheelbase configuration. While there’s no boost in output from supercharged 5.0-liter V8, the ECU has been tweaked to allow a higher top speed of 174 mph from the previous 155-mph cap. Uncorking the extra top-end required modest changes to the aero package, so Speed-equipped XJs wear a lower splitter below the front bumper to minimize airflow beneath the car as well as a lip spoiler on the trunklid to create downforce on the rear wheels to keep the big cat planted at higher speeds. Twenty-inch alloys are already standard issue on the Supersport, but mounted behind them are Speed-specific red-painted brake calipers decorated with the Jaguar script. Black mesh in the grille and side vents finish off the visuals.

All of these goodies ring up at $4900 when you’re checking boxes on the Jaguar configurator. Unfortunately for most American buyers, the cosmetics are the primary draw for the Speed package, as the standard 155-mph speed limit is already enough to get your license pulled in every state, and it’s damn tough velocity to reach even on a closed road course. Nevertheless, the rest of the world is offered this option, so Jaguar North America decided to bring the package over fully intact.

Luckily for us, we got our first taste the Speed option while visiting Jaguar’s Nurburgring test facility, nestled in the hills of Germany’s Eifel region just a few kilometers away from both the A48 and A61 autobahns. For several wide-open stretches, we were able to let our long-wheelbase Jag run free, all the way to its new limit. Passing 1.6-liter VWs and lumbering soft-sided delivery vans was no problem, as expected, but the runs from 155 to 174 mph happened surprisingly quickly. Covering a mile every 22 seconds or so is an intense rush, but it’s also a sublimely tranquil experience from the wheel of the XJ.

Those wisely added aero aids, combined our car’s longer wheelbase no doubt, left us supremely confident that all four tires would remain properly attached to the asphalt, even when the road took a turn. Romantic as it may seem, running flat-out on the autobahn doesn’t last for long these days, as congestion and speed-restricted zones change the playing field quickly. Transitional maneuvers and hard braking proved nothing in terms of upsetting the Sueprsport’s chassis.

At the legendary Nurburgring, the all-aluminum XJL Supersport proved surprisingly athletic, hanging tight with our lead driver, a former Formula One racer piloting an XKR-S. The suspension that felt so taut on the highway revealed itself to be more of a softie once we were making swift, hard transitions where it leaned over hard on its springs. Nevertheless, it held up to the punishment of the Green Hell, even the brakes which were still firm after our three-lap sessions. Only when the rain started falling did the XJL Supersport show its real weakness in being under-tired. The 275/30-20 Dunlops weren’t quite wide enough to put all the power down when traction was compromised.

Starting at $117,700, the Jaguar XJL Supersport (or $111,200 for the standard wheelbase) is a far better performance car than most drivers would imagine. Unlike its two main competitors from the Fatherland, there’s not a bit of steel in its body or chassis, and its lightness is a welcome surprise. Far more athletic than any S-Class for the same money, and more coddling than the similarly-priced BMW Alpina B7, the XJ Supersport is a luxo-performance sleeper. Add the $4900 Speed package and you have yourself a genuine bahn-burner disguised as a royal chariot.


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