Jaguar XF testing, Jaguar AWD System

All-wheel-drive prototypes of the Jaguar XJ (left) and XF (right) are tested at the Jaguar Land Rover proving ground in Arjeplog, Northern Sweden.

When it comes to luxury sedans, Jaguar’s midsize XF and large XJ have won plenty of accolades, yet have been perennial also-rans behind rivals from BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes, and even those from Acura, Audi, and Infiniti. But that may begin to change.

What is the Jaguar Activity Key?

In recent years, all of the above manufacturers have joined innovator Audi in offering all-wheel drive as an option to standard front- or rear-wheel drive—all, that is, except Jaguar. Well, I take that back. One could argue that the Jaguar X-Type compact of 2002 to 2008 not only offered all-wheel drive but came standard with it. However, others might counter that that slow-selling, ill-fated anomaly could hardly be considered a true Jaguar, being as it was a gussied-up European Ford Mondeo that resulted from Ford’s 1990 buyout of the regal English marque. (That union has since been dissolved, Jaguar having been purchased along with Land Rover by Indian manufacturer Tata in 2008, leaving the X-Type a conveniently forgotten footnote in Jaguar’s otherwise glorious history.)

Jaguar AWD System

An AWD-equipped Jaguar XJ tests its new grip on a slalom course.

What is the difference between 4WD and AWD?

For 2013, Jaguar is looking to correct its all-wheel-drive oversight by adding it to members of the XF and XJ lines. By doing so, the company is hoping to get on the radar of the roughly 50 percent of luxury buyers who have previously been forced to look elsewhere.

The benefits of all-wheel drive are hard to ignore. While an understandable staple among luxury cars in the snow belt, it also helps in milder climates. Wet roads and prodigious power output can overwhelm the traction available to just two wheels, and its added cost is easily obscured by the lofty price tags found in this segment.

In all-wheel-drive form, both the XF and XJ boast a new powertrain: a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that puts out 340 horsepower through a new 8-speed automatic transmission. In on-road tests, the combination proved very smooth, very quiet, and perfectly capable of making these big cats leap on command. Other attributes are little changed.

The value and efficacy of Jaguar’s all-wheel-drive system were demonstrated on a specially prepared track outside Montreal, Quebec. Ice-covered slaloms, hills, and a particularly devious donut served to show that the appeal of Jaguar’s luxury sedans was strengthened with the added security of all four paws delivering power.

What this additional security adds in price is relatively insignificant—especially considering what it returns in higher resale value. A rear-drive XF with the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 (replacing the base model’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four) starts at $50,000, whereas the all-wheel-drive version starts at $53,000—and adds 19-inch wheels in place of 18s. In the case of the big XJ sedan, all-wheel drive adds $3,500 to either the base short- or long-wheelbase models, AWD versions of which start at $76,700 and $83,700, respectively.

With that, Jaguar leaps onto the consideration list of a whole new segment of potential buyers, meaning it is poised to become a much more prominent player in the luxury-car field.

First Spin: 2017 Jaguar XE

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