I parked the all-new 2011 Jaguar XJL in front of the post office and started for the front door.
The middle-aged woman parked next to my lovely and talented test car rolled down the window of her aging Chrysler minivan.
"That's a beautiful car," she said. "Is that a new model?"
"Yes, it is."
"I had a Jaguar once," she said, perhaps wistfully. "Anyway, it sure is beautiful."
"Thank you," I responded, as if the car were mine.
The woman with the longing in her voice certainly got the XJL's aesthetics right. This is one gorgeous car, inside and out. It's also extremely comfortable, and quite performance-minded for a large sedan.
The term roomy also comes to mind.
By stretching the standard XJ wheelbase to a whopping 124.3 inches (the "L" in XJL stands for long wheelbase), an additional 5.2 inches of rear-seat legroom results, leaving you with more space than you'd get in a Mercedes-Benz S550.
I mean, with the driver's seat set for a 6-foot-2 operator, you could seat an NBA "big" behind that driver, and those guys start at 6-10. (Of course, head space might be a problem.)
This new flagship is yet another celebration of Jag's arranged marriage of elegance and performance. First, the aesthetics. This redesigned Jaguar is a dramatic styling departure from the previous XJ, and an arrestingly original design exercise. The styling just exudes cleanliness and grace, without sacrificing masculine aggression.
I particularly liked the delicate grille, which hovered somewhere between mesh and egg-crate, and the chrome inserts in the body-colored door handles.
The inside is yet another testament to the fact that no one creates interior ambience like the British.
The tester featured a generous use of leather and elm veneer, set off with saddle stitching and ubiquitous chrome trim. Beige beading separated the perforated leather seat centers from their smooth leather bolsters. (These seats are all leather, by the way, not just where they touch your body.)
A couple of particularly interesting interior notes:
Pulling back the roll-top-desk-like cover on the console reveals the world's most exquisite cup holders. Each of the two was chrome-trimmed with a silver disk for the cup bottom to rest on. You're left wondering which you'd rather do most, drink or drive.
And then, there's the chrome cylinder that rises into view when you press the engine start button. This cylinder, which recedes back into the console when you turn the engine off, is used to select gears. Think of it as Mr. Turret meets Periscope Man.
This new long-wheelbase model can be adapted to different pocketbooks and needs for speed. The tester, base-priced at $79,700, was powered by a 5-liter V-8 that develops 385 horsepower. That's enough to get this guy from 0 to 60 in a scant 5.4 seconds.
The supercharged version of this car ups the ante to 470 horsepower and drops the 0-to-60 time to about 4.7 seconds.
The supercharged XJL justifies its higher price tag ($90,500) with additional performance enhancements such as the Active Dynamics System, which continuously adjusts the suspension to changing driving conditions.
Both the normally aspirated and supercharged models deliver the power to the rear wheels via a silky, six-speed automatic transmission.
Speaking for myself, I would be quite happy to live with the normally aspirated "budget" XJL.
Zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds is still very rapid transit. Also, the XJL is a surprisingly agile automobile for its considerable size.
True, this is a luxury car with a certain amount of ride bias baked into the suspension, but it still handles very well. Body roll is largely absent in a fast turn, and those 19-inch tires are tenacious in the corners.
The XJL's adroitness derives in part from its almost perfect fore-to-aft weight distribution. Its handling also benefits from the fact that the car is quite light for its size. Its aluminum construction shaves more than 300 pounds.
2011 Jaguar XJL
Base price: $79,700.
As tested: $81,075 (including shipping).
Standard equipment: 5-liter engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, and every sugarplum you can think of, such as a panoramic glass roof, navigation system, and blind-spot monitor.
Options: Wood and leather steering wheel.
Fuel economy: 15 city and 22 highway.
Engine performance: Excellent.
Ride quality: Patrician.
Warranty: 5 Years / 50,000 bumper-to-bumper.
The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; Three Bens, good; Two Bens, fair; One Ben, poor.