Jaguar has been on a roll lately, stealing the limelight with the F-Type — its first two-seater sports car since the E-Type — and the 550-horsepower XFR-S. The latest trick from the leaping cat: an all-wheel-drive system for the Jaguar XJ and XF models, one the British make claims can handle snow and ice better than an Emperor penguin in Antarctica.
While the headline belongs to only the second all-wheel-drive setup in Jaguar's 90-year history (after the ill-begotten X-Type), there's a more important debut under the hood: a new 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine, producing 340 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, that will soon see service across the Jaguar range, including in the F-Type. The motor pulls well and feels responsive throughout its range. It packs a solid punch and, although the sound is slightly underwhelming, as a whole, Jag has done a wonderful job with the new mill.
But driving up 45-degree slopes covered in snow has been a task that Jaguar traditionally left to its Tata Motors mate Land Rover. Instead of testing the setup in Antarctica, Jaguar invited us to a locale with a fractionally lower chance of freezing to death — Mont-Tremblanc in Canada.
While Jaguar leaned on Land Rover for four-wheel expertise, the unit was designed expressly for Jaguar, with the goal of making the system as invisible as possible while still performing in all potential climes. Three modes are available — normal, dynamic and winter. Normal and dynamic start the car with 90 percent of the engine's power flowing to the rear-wheels, whereas as winter pushes 30 percent to the front wheels. Unusually for a luxury car, all of the engine's power can be fed to either the rear or front wheels as needed. Jaguar engineers also re-balanced the suspension to compensate for the additional 150 lbs that AWD requires.
On the snow-covered roads from Mont-Tremblanc to Mecaglisse the grip level was impressive. I felt as confident in my AWD XJ as I would in a Chevy Tahoe. The difference winter mode offers is immediately evident. The throttle becomes unresponsive in icy conditions as the stability, traction and AWD systems work in unison to overcome a treacherous surface. With winter mode selected even an iced over skid-pad proved impossible to spinout — and turning off the systems made one guaranteed. A Canadian man decided he would test the cars' ability to withstand a tree. Let's just say he didn't win.
From the icy skid pad we turned to a gravel rally road, not the kind of surface usually tested by a pre-production Jaguar XF. Nonetheless, the car handled it magnificently. Even in dynamic mode the systems prevented the rear from breaking loose. According to Jaguar, up to 30 percent of slip should be allowed in dynamic. I'm not sure I buy that, as I could barely get the back to move an inch before the systems shut me down as abruptly as Napster. Still, given that the goal with Jag's AWD was not to create a rally car but a machine suitable for Eskimos, I think we can call this a success.
Offering AWD opens up a much larger market for Jaguar. With V-6 sales having doubled the past few years (Jag's AWD is only offered with their new 3.0-liter V6) and the AWD market growing rapidly, the Indian-owned British firm sees great potential in an area they have never fought for — leaving the luxury AWD sedan space to Mercedes and Audi.
From an engineering perspective, Jaguar's new AWD system is a resounding victory. It can morph into the car you require it to be, based upon the conditions you face, and then return to normalcy. There are few better ways to get across the ice when dressed in a penguin suit.