What is it?
Something that can’t come a moment too soon for Jaguar in colder climates. All-wheel drive models account for almost 50 per cent of the US market for larger saloon cars (even higher, at around 80 per cent, in the Snow Belt states and in Canada), and it’s something Jaguar has always been without in its current line-up until now.
That ‘now’ is a new Jaguar-developed all-wheel drive system being offered on the Jaguar XJ and Jaguar XF saloons for the 2013 model year in Jaguar’s left-hand drive markets, but sadly not for the UK. The system is available exclusively with the firm’s new supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine.
To fit the new system, which uses sister firm Land Rover’s expertise rather than technology, into the XJ tested here required a thorough re-engineering of the luxury saloon’s underpinnings.
A new front sub frame has been fitted, along with a revised steering rack, a new exhaust system, new engine mounts, new front knuckles, new damper mounts, new front and rear differentials, a new prop shaft, new cross members, a new undertray, and acoustic heat shields to hide the noise from the transfer case.
On the dynamic front, all-wheel drive XJs get unique tuning for the suspension bushes and dampers, a unique steering set-up and a re-calibrated V6 engine, which is the only engine that can be equipped with the new all-wheel drive system as it was developed with the technology specifically in mind, the sump designed specifically to work with the driveshaft.
The all-wheel drive system features a transfer case control module mounted on the back of the revised eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a continuously variable system, which can split the torque 100/0 per cent front or rear, and any combination in between, depending on the situation.
What is it like?
A revelation. Ignoring just how well the system works and how much confidence it inspires, the sight of a big long-wheelbase XJ being able to even move at all in such treacherous conditions requires a double take.
So used to we of the sight of big rear-wheel drive Jaguars being as close to useless as it can get when we get a dumping of the white stuff, that it doesn’t even require getting out of first gear to understand that this is an XJ like no other.
Jaguar has engineered the system to retain the feel of a rear-wheel drive car in its performance. Drive it in Normal or Dynamic modes, and 95 per cent of the torque will be sent rearwards as default, so it’ll still slip and slide around when pushed, but the system will send torque forwards to get you out of trouble when the rear wheels spin. That said, the winter tyres fitted to our test car also helped.
The third driving mode is Winter, which when selected turns the XJ into a true all-weather machine. The feeling of a rear-drive car is retained with 70 per cent of the torque heading backwards, but it felt much more confidence-inspiring and sure-footed on the snow and ice-covered roads on our test route in Canada. In Winter mode, the car will always pull away in second, which all but eliminates any wheel spin.
Hill-starts, quick lane changes, fast B-roads: the all-wheel drive XJ can tackle them all in even the most treacherous of road conditions. Should you turn into a Finnish world rally champion on you snowy commute, the all-wheel drive XJ is also a real drift machine, and nimble enough to belie its size. And the engine is a smooth, refined and, when needed, a potent tool, particularly at low speeds, although economy is predictably harmed by the four-wheel drive system.
That all-weather performance does come with some downsides, which would expose themselves more in warmer months. The ride of the all-wheel XJ remains firm next to its rivals, although the trade-off is a level of engagement Germany’s finest limos can only dream of. There’s also a fair amount of tyre roar from the winter rubber, and listen closely with the radio off and you can hear the transfer case in action.
Should I buy one?
It’s definitely a shame you can’t in the UK. The Jaguar XJ 3.0 V6 AWD is a very competent all-weather dynamic tool, and proof that Jaguar’s first foray into all-wheel drive is a success.
Should you live in snowier parts of Europe, Russia, the US or Canada, then we’d wholeheartedly recommend the all-wheel drive XJ as a way of getting off your snow-covered drive in the winter months.
While the all-wheel drive XJ, and the XF that will follow it in three months’ time, might not be destined for the UK, Jaguar has committed to developing all its future models to be able to be equipped with all-wheel drive should the market demand it.
Should the big freezes of Britain in recent years continue, all-wheel drive Jaguars should be with us by the middle of the decade in the next-generation of models. So, altogether now: ‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’.
Jaguar XJ 3.0 V6 AWD
Price: TBC; 0-60mph: 6.1sec; Top speed: 155mph (limited); Power: 335bhp at 6500rpm; Torque: 332lb ft at 3500-5000rpm; Engine: V6, 2995cc, supercharged petrol; Installation: front, longitudinal, all-wheel drive; Economy: 19mpg (US cycle); CO2: 234g/km; Gearbox: 8spd auto.