The big Jag that makes sense
Mont Tremblant, Que. — To hear Jaguar tell it, the XJ not offering all-wheel drive was a bit like auditioning for the porn industry without the silicone enhancements; no matter how fine the offering, you're still alienating a majority of your audience. The company trotted out all manner of statistics — that 82 per cent of F-segment cars (think BMW 7s, Mercedes S-Classes, etc.) in the Northern United States and 40 per cent of all North American sales are all-wheel drive versions — that prove that luxury sedan buyers demand that all four of their wheels receive power. Never mind that you and I thought that its was hedonistic luxury, outrageous power and plutocratic presence that sold the big beasts; according to Jaguar's market research, what the filthy rich really want is an SUV dressed up as a luxury sedan.

Indeed, so adamant were the company's PR flacks to prove the new XJ's tractive abilities equal to a sport ute's that, after we had done the standard AWD-proving exercises of driving on ice and slaloming on snow, they had us beat the poor beast over an off-road course. I don't know what's more incongruous, splashing a big Jag through a puddle worthy of a Moroccan monsoon or crossing up a long-wheelbase XJ in full broadslide through a series of mud-slick switchbacks. All I know is that no other luxury car maker has ever demanded that I beat their poor über-luxury bolide like a Land Rover. And then, when I am grinning like a village idiot, demand that I do it again, but this time really put my foot into it. It's a little like watching Kate Middleton (pre-baby bump, of course; I'm not that crass) mudwrestling; you know it's wrong, but who's not going to watch?

A proper all-wheel-drive Jaguar

Jaguar XJ AWD system(Photo: Jaguar)

What's equally surprising is that, in its first in-house attempt at all-wheel drive (and, please, let's all continue pretending that the X-Type was just a bad dream), Jaguar has the audacity to claim the most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system in the segment, a headstrong boast considering that Mercedes' 4Matic and Audi's Quattro system have had decades of development. Of course, Jaguar has the advantage of being corporately twinned with Land Rover (parent company, Tata, owns them both) and it's unlikely that anyone, anywhere knows more about finding traction in places where there is none. So although the actual mechanical bits are a bit prosaic — the new XJ's rear differential is the same as the V8's, the centre diff is similar to the BMW 7 Series' while the front differential is made by Dana — how it transfers the V6's torque to all four wheels is unique.

The biggest differentiator compared with its competition is the Jaguar always defaults to being a rear-wheel-drive car. Oh, to be sure, the ability to drive the front wheels when a lack of traction dictates is absolutely crucial to its abilities. But its differentiator is that all of the engine's torque is sent rearward unless conditions dictate otherwise. That's in marked contrast to the typical Teutonic land barge which tends to default to something like a 60:40 or 50:50 torque split. That said, should the XJ's front wheels find themselves on dry tarmac while the rears rest on black ice, the system can direct 100 per cent of the torque to the front tires.

Traction aplenty

2013 Jaguar XJ 3.0 AWD(Photo: Jaguar)

Thrown into the mix is an electronic traction control system that works with the all-wheel-drive bits to minimize wheel spin no matter how poor the traction. Indeed, while driving through the Tremblant area's snow-covered roads, I deliberately tried to induce wheelspin by slowing to a crawl and then hammering the throttle hard. Said AWD and traction systems handled the 3.0L V6's 332 lb.-ft. of torque with ease, the response from the big Jag no different than had I been driving on a perfectly dry road in sunny Florida.

Not everything is fully automatic, however; the Jag does, as all sporty cars should, allow the driver some control over the proceedings. The XJ's Normal and Dynamic setting, for instance, start off with just five per cent of the engine's power being directed to the front wheels (95 percent rearwards) while the Winter mode, anticipating poorer conditions, sends fully 30 per cent forward. Throw in the ability to have the traction chaperone fully engaged, half engaged or completely shut off and there's a traction/performance combination for almost any situation.

Indeed, as I mentioned, reveling in the Winter mode's almost dictatorial control of traction, we were let loose on a muddy off-road track (like I said, Land Rovering in a Jaguar!) where, with the Dynamic mode activated and the traction nannie deactivated, we could really send the XJ sideways with generous application of the loud pedal. Few Jag owners will ever act so silly but it's still nice to know that the big cat hasn't forgotten how to have fun just because it's now more practical.