Jaguar’s Big Super Sport

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Luxury car brands have reputations to uphold, with luxury (naturally) being one of them. Another one is performance. Never mind the fact that the performance of just about any new car is more than sufficient from the get-go. Buyers of prestige brands often want the option of paying more for more power.

When Jaguar launched its completely revamped XJ sedan last year, there were two states of tune available for the car. Standard with both regular and long wheelbase models is a perfectly fine V8 engine making 385 horsepower. Those who crave more output can specify the XJ Supercharged, again in regular and “L” lengths, with enhanced go power thanks to 470 horses from the boosted version of the V8.

But of course there are always a select few customers who simply must have the ultimate version of a car. Mercedes-Benz has AMG models, BMW offers M variants, and Audi will sell you S models that go above and beyond the same cars beginning designated with A in their names.

Now Jaguar steps up to the luxury performance plate with the XJ Supersport, a limited production model that offers ultimate power along with a bit of extra luxury in an already luxurious car. It also offers an ultimate Jaguar price tag of $110,000 or $113,000 depending on wheelbase.

First of all, the Jaguar XJL is downright huge, with a stately presence in a very sinewy cloak of sheet metal. A long, slender car with ample space for driver and passengers to stretch out. Even very tall people can find plenty of legroom in the rear seats.

It’s one thing to make a car large and comfortable, but it’s quite another to make it belie its own size when a road turns tight and twisty. Jaguar’s engineers have figured out how to give this car handling dynamics that are absolutely amazing. That goes for any version of the XJ, whether standard wheelbase or long.

The car’s tonnage is slimmed down thanks to extensive use of aluminum in its construction, along with other exotic materials. So when the accelerator pedal is pushed down hard, the big sedan leaps forward with a thrust normally reserved for small high performance sports cars.

That light weight helps contribute to relatively good fuel efficiency, considering the size and power of this car. Even the Supersport avoids the federal gas guzzler tax, which pretty much all its high performance competitors are saddled with. EPA estimates for the big supercharged XJ are 15 mpg city and 21 highway.

Since this is a Jaguar, and very much a British luxury car, the interior is as posh as can be. Leather everywhere, of course, but the really buttery-soft kind. Real wood surrounds you as well, and gleaming plated accents for things like the air conditioning vents and most of the knobs and controls. The Supersport even gets you a full leather and suede headliner.

Contrasting the old world woodwork and stitching is a high-tech LCD screen that replaces the traditional instrument panel. One the start button is pressed, a trio of traditional round gauges appear on the screen. If you select Dynamic mode (which recalibrates just about everything for more spirited driving), the instruments suddenly glow red, in an intentionally devilish way.

Since a car like this begs to be driven hard, it’s easy to wonder if it will be expensive to maintain. Jaguar has decided that all its 2011 models will come with something called Platinum Coverage for 5 years or 50,000 miles. That means everything maintenance-wise is on the house. Fluids, brake components and even wiper blades are covered. You’re just on the hook for gasoline and tires.

Not that premium fuel and 20” tires are cheap, nor is the six-figure sticker price. But finally, Jaguar can play with the other European marques in the performance game.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.

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