After years in the wilderness, Jaguar Land Rover turned its business around and had a great 2012.
Sales were up 19 percent in the UK and up 11 percent in North America, largely thanks to the Land Rover side of the brand, while Jaguar sales in the US dropped 2 percent.
To shore up that side of the equation, Jaguar wants to expand the appeal of its sedans. To do so, it has opted for something it has done only once before: all-wheel drive (AWD).
The first attempt, executed while JLR was owned by Ford, was the X-Type. Produced from 2001 to 2009, it never hit its sales goals.
Take two, orchestrated under the ownership of Tata Motors, will bring all-wheel drive to the 2013 XJ and upcoming XF.
Jaguar may be late to the party — Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Cadillac all have AWD offerings — but it has not shown up empty-handed.
We were invited by Jaguar Land Rover last month to go to Montreal to drive the new all-wheel drive XJ, and were quite impressed.
Disclosure: Jaguar Land Rover paid for our travel and lodging expenses to drive the Land Rover 2 and Jaguar XJ.
Putting The AWD To Work
The big advantage of AWD is that it appeals to drivers in regions where snow and ice are facts of life — what Jaguar calls "key snowbelt markets" — like the northeastern US.
Now that it can be driven in rough conditions, the new XJ, with its sleek roof line, luxurious interior, and brand appeal that comes with the Jaguar name, is a suddenly viable option for many more buyers.
Equipped with AWD, it still operates most of the time like a typical, rear-wheel drive Jaguar. But in snow and ice, it sends as much as 50 percent of the 3-liter V6 engine's power to the front wheels, so the car can get moving in just about any condition.
To prove its capability, Jaguar brought us to Mecaglisse, a motorsports complex north of Montreal. There, we worked with professional drivers to put the car through its paces on snow covered hills, hairpin turns, slaloms, and a circular ice track.
We did each station three times: once in winter mode, once in dynamic mode, and then once with all the driver-assistance settings turned off.
The difference was clear, especially on the ice circle.
Dynamic mode was not especially impressive, but with winter mode on, we drove in tight circles without a problem. The car constantly shifts power to the wheel with the most traction.
That shifting produces an off-putting grating noise, but the result is that there's no risk of going off the track.
Driving on the ice with AWD and winter mode turned off turned into an impromptu drifting lesson that ended quickly, with our car in some deep powder.
The Rest Of The Ride
On the plowed highway, we enjoyed the relaxing ride in automatic.
But to really put the new V6 to work — and enjoy its 340 hp — requires shifting the XJ into manual mode and rowing through the eight gears using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Even on a day that focused on the car's performance, we were impressed by the XJ's luxurious interior. The heated leather seats, plentiful leg room, and good entertainment and sound systems were everything that one expects from a sedan that starts at $76,600.
The Future Of Jaguar
Jaguar Land Rover says its 2013 lineup is its strongest ever. The AWD XJ is rolling out now, to be followed in a few months by the AWD XF.
It has finally gone back to its sports car roots with the new F-Type. The hugely powerful XFR-S, which debuted in November, does not have the sleek beauty that is Jaguar's hallmark, but it delivers 550 horsepower, with an electronically limited top speed of 186 mph.
If these offerings match up with the XJ AWD in terms of quality, it is a very good sign that Jaguar Land Rover's business will keep booming this year.
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