Because I’m cheap and didn’t want to pony up the cash for airfare for me, my wife, and our two young daughters, we were doomed to drive down to Charleston, South Carolina from Toronto, Ontario for our annual trip to visit the southern arm of the Cooney family. The idea of spending two 15-hour days trapped in my 2010 Mazda5, however, seemed like a recipe for hours of crying and screaming – and the kids wouldn’t like it either.
|Engine: 3.0L supercharged V6 makes 340 hp, 332 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.
Price: Long wheelbase AWD models start at $85,625.
As luck would have it, the Editor in Chief of AutoGuide.com sits right behind me and I asked if he might be able to find a car to save my vacation – maybe even a really nice one? This is the part of the story where you readers might like to reach through your computer screen to poke me in the eye, but a couple of phone calls later and a 2014 Jaguar XJL was waiting for me.
I’d like to tell you it’s the car I’ve always dreamed of, but I’ve never had such lofty goals when it came to car ownership. The idea a car tickling the $100,000 mark was so preposterous that I could scarcely fathom getting behind the wheel of one.
While I was excited about my chance to drive a true luxury car, I still had reservations about the trip. The only other time I’ve made the Toronto to Charleston cannonball run with children was two years ago in a fully kitted Toyota Sienna minivan. Only the sheer size of the Sienna made the trip tolerable (my youngest was just 10 months old and righteously pissed off about sitting in a rear-facing seat for an entire day). Square footage makes everything better, especially when it comes to the sounds (and smells) emanating from an ornery family of four.
In my near 40 years, I’ve had many thoughts and opinions that I’d later realize were dumb. The most recent example of this was the idea that even if I suddenly inherited a pile of money large enough to swim in Scrooge McDuck-style, I wouldn’t needlessly spend it on an expensive car. Surely a nice BMW 3 Series would do the trick?
When I first laid eyes on the Jaguar XJL I was still pretty confident with this preconceived notion. It’s a nice looking car from the outside (especially the optional 20-inch Kasuga wheels), but it didn’t exactly make me feel all aflutter. It was when I opened the door, sat down in the black leather seat and basked in the interior that I quickly realized why rich people buy nice cars. And it only got better from there.
Embarrassment of Riches
Beyond adjustability like I’ve never seen before, all four seats (the test car included the premium rear seat executive package) offer both heating and cooling. I’d never sat in a cooled seat before and I now wish I never had to do without it again. South Carolina is freaking hot and having cool air circulate up to keep my bits and pieces temperate and funk-free is a luxury I’d happily pay for. A massage feature was much appreciated on the long drive, though it would have been nice if it was also offered on the bottom of the seat to sooth my aching trucker butt. One caveat about the massage – if you are holding your pee between gas stops, the rolling massage might make you wet your pants. I also liked how you could squeeze the sides of the seat into you at the push of a button – a reassuring hug from the car. I’d take a pay cut if I could replace my chair at work with one of these seats.
Big bonus points go to the sizeable LCD touch-screen monitor up front, which includes a GPS. Other niceties include paddle shifters on the steering wheel (encouraging you to use the more aggressive Sport mode) and a rotating gear shift knob that disappears into the center console when the car is turned off.
My daughters were treated to matching dual 10.2-inch LCD screens, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because their zombie-like enchantment with an array of Disney movies and Backyardigans episodes meant they were too drunk on entertainment to complain about the long drive. If we were smart enough to pack headphones for the kids we could have put the movies on “limo mode” so we could listen to music in the front. A curse because kids will fight over who gets to pick the next show and complain (briefly, before the TV-inducing dopamine kicks in again) that they “hate that movie.” Another issue is that even on short five-minute drives they demanded the TVs be turned on. I love the back-seat entertainment for long trips, but there’s no way I’d want it in my daily driver.
Staying in the rear of the car, fold-down tables emerge from the back of the front seats, which is pretty damn cool. We didn’t tell the girls about that feature, as the youngest is still in a proper car seat and wouldn’t be able to use it. If you’ve got two kids of a similar age, any imbalance in the Force is best avoided.
While the benefit was lost on my small rear seat passengers, adults can really stretch out back there with 44.1 inches of legroom.
Trouble in Paradise?
One minor downside for the driver is that the rear window is rather small, leaving you with some substantial blind spots. Jaguar rectified this with a back-up camera and blind-spot detectors that go off in the appropriate side view mirror.
Another check in the minus column, and this is no fault of Jaguar’s, is that people would come up to me and compliment me on the car. That has never happened to me before and I didn’t know how to deal with it. When I’d get a compliment, I’d immediately feel guilty about having such a nice car and explain that it wasn’t really mine – that I only got to drive it because of my job. That only made things worse, because now I’ve got an awesome car and I didn’t have to pay for it! I’m not good at having nice things.
We decided to drive back to Toronto through the night, so the kids could sleep and we wouldn’t have to hear Elsa sing “Let it Go” quite so often. It was wonderful cruising along the interstates with almost no traffic. The XJL is an incredibly smooth and quiet car to drive. My test car had the base 340-horsepower supercharged V6, though 470 and 550-horsepower V8 options are available. Despite its rather large size, it proved an adept handler. At one point when everybody else was asleep and I was cruising along at a good clip, I drove up on a deer standing in the middle of the highway. I swerved to the left and barely avoided contact, waking up my wife and almost having a heart attack. Good times.
I had never thought about the fact that would-be thieves and troublemakers might look at me differently now that I was driving a Jaguar. When we stopped for gas at a not-so-nice spot in West Virginia, I suddenly felt like a target for the first time. A lot of people were milling around and only one window was open for paying – nobody being allowed in the store was a red flag. Loud music was playing, alcohol was in the air, and a cast of characters you’d think I was making up was waiting in line in front of me, including one couple with a two-year old (pregnant mom chose to forgo shoes for fuzzy pink slippers) that ordered nothing but chocolate milk, Dr. Pepper and two types of cigarettes – all good reasons to keep a toddler up in the middle of the night. When I finally got to the front the young attendant asked if I was driving a Tesla…while I was paying for gas!
I didn’t get back to the car for 20 minutes, where my panicked wife legitimately worried I’d been robbed and beaten. To top it all off, the station was out of premium gas and the fuel light was on. Fortunately, we found a much nicer place to buy fuel five minutes down the highway.
By the time I reluctantly gave the Jaguar XJL back I’d put about 2,300 miles on it. Its generous 21.7-gallon tank had no trouble going 500 miles between fuel stops. It is a dream to drive on the highway, though not ideal in the tight confines of city parking lots.
My oldest daughter was less than pleased that I’d returned home with our old Mazda5. So was I. Maybe after my kids are finished with college I can buy one.