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MORE THAN 40 YEARS AGO, Jaguar introduced the first XJ 4-door sedan. Its relatively low stance, distinctive grill, soft lines and other telltale Jag clues were echoed through the XJ series for nearly half a century. Sure, the powertrains and suspensions were changed, the frame converted from steel to lightweight aluminum and other such modern improvements made-but the exterior look remained.

In 2011, the Jaguar’s largest luxury sedan has been completely redone. Other than a familiar grill (from the smaller Jaguar XF), the new XJ has, indeed, an entirely new design.

As if it were secretly working out at the gym for the last year, the new XJ body dons a sporty coupe feel with a low, sweeping roofline that is integrated (rather than tacked on) with the trunk. Additionally, narrow, sharply angled rear windows and a roof that is mostly glass (covering dual sunroofs) does a fine job of lightening up the interior. The profile stance is lower, with very clean lines on the flanks-a theme that carries over to the trunk lid.

Like previous editions of the XJ, a variety of body and engine combos are available. For those who want the limousine-like legroom for the back seat passengers, the L (for “long”) model boasts an added 5 inches; perfect for your NBA-bound friends.

Performance choices range from jet engine to rocket ship. The “base” 5-liter V-8 produces 385 horsepower. Add a supercharger and the power is bumped up to 470; massage the powerplant some more for the 510-horsepower “Supersport” edition, and you’re all-systems-go for a launch of your choosing. A six-speed automatic, controlled by a pop-up dial on the console or paddles behind the steering wheel is the only transmission option.

Cruising around Honolulu in the longer wheel-based Supercharger model was a general delight. First, we garnered more than our fair share of second looks from enthusiastic passers-by. Yet the real thrill came on the road. The combo of the supercharged engine and a transmission that always seems to pick the right gear made for instant and breathtaking acceleration-especially for something with added interior space. Zero to 60 clocked in just under 5 seconds.

The sometime cushy ride of previous Jag sedans is tightened up with the Supercharged model. Far from harsh, the automaker clearly had tight corners in mind, which you can experience with no leaning. Most of our fair city’s dredged potholes were reasonably absorbed.

Unlike previous editions, the interior is less traditional on this Jaguar. Fret not: The dual stitched leather is still everywhere. Yet instead of traditional semi-mechanical gauges and huge chunks of wood, high-tech electronics are substituted nearly everywhere. In the dash pod are video gauges that provide basic information with an interesting feature: As the hand moves on the tachometer or speedometer, that portion of the gauge is illuminated.

Even entering the car incorporates electronics: Jaguar’s Smart Key SystemTM allows you to just walk up with “key” on your person and the door unlocks, the side mirrors spring open. A single push of the start button (once inside) and off you go.

In the center of the dash is a generous video screen that is controlled by touch. All your navigation, telephone, audio and climate functions are a tap away. Spin the transmission dial to reverse, and the screen provides a rear view with warning lines and sounds. Twenty buttons and paddles on the steering wheel (and behind it)- while seemingly more functions than you will likely ever need at your fingertips-do allow you to focus on what’s most important: the road ahead.

Keeping with the limousine theme, the rear passengers are not left out of the fun. We must emphasize the legroom is huge and the generous amount of headroom comes as a surprise considering the seemingly low exterior roofline. As in the Jags of old, small tables can be dropped from the back of the front seats. Added this time around are dual climate controls, along with shades for the side and rear windows, dual drop-down mirrors and a dedicated rear sunroof.

Jaguar certainly aimed to raise the ante in the 2011 luxury sedan market. With clear and distinctive styling upgrades and a full-fledged jump into the electronic era, the new XJ should be attractive to both Jag diehards, as well as a new audience of elegant gadgetry enthusiasts.

Luxury Asides

CONCEPTUALLY PORSCHE

It’s hard to say whether the deafening buzz heard at the Geneva International Motor Show emanated from Porsche’s departure from 40 years of design- or the fact that it will release a high-performance automobile boasting 720 horsepower that can achieve-wait for it-more than 75 miles per gallon.

Meet the 918 Spyder: A two-seat hybrid that makes use of three electric motors plus a centralized, gas-fueled rocket engine from which it draws its umph.

While still a few years out (Porsche hasn’t given an official release date, but 2012 is predicted), this is one concept car that has been green-lit for production. The estimated $650,000 price tag (yes, for one) hasn’t held green enthusiasts back: There have been two deposits put down in Honolulu thus far.

ANOTHER COUP D’ÉTAT

In 2004, Mercedes-Benz broke the four-door sedan mold with the CLS, styling the body around the looks of sleek two-door fastbacks. An instant hit, it put Mercedes ahead of the pack.

For the 2012 model year, keep your eyes peeled for an even further refined CLS four-door. The body flanks have been finely sculpted, while the neoclassic Mercedes grill is even more prominent, and with a redesigned, narrow headlight set-up. Power will come in the form of a 402 horsepower V-8 with a seven-speed automatic transmission. Estimated price is in the $75,000 range.

ROVING SUV

Speaking of styling trends, the folks at Range Rover are out to break new ground in the SUV market with the 2012 Range Rover Evoque (which will appear in 2011).

First we’ll see the two-door version (the four-door will release later in the year); narrow lines with steep drop-off angles are a big departure from the oversized and clunky boxes of the past. Likewise, the hood line is sloping and narrows the grill considerably.

Power for the American market will be a turbocharged 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder, 240 horsepower engine with an all-wheel drive system and controls to handle different terrains. Pricing will be approximately $45,000. With the smaller, albeit spunky engine and lighter weight, gas mileage will jump up considerably from the present Land Rover and Range Rover lineup.

JAGUAR XJL SUPERCHARGED SPECS:
Engine: 470 hp, 5 liter, V-8
Acceleration: 0-60: 4.9 seconds
Braking: 4 wheel disc brakes with ABS, Emergency Brake Assist, Electric Parking Brake, Electronic Brake Force Distribution
Sound system: 600 watt stereo system with 14 speakers and MP3 iPod connections and hard drive storage system
Price: Base is $89,650 as tested $93,000