Flash back a decade or so, and a funny little rock in the North Atlantic was riding a once-in-a-generation cultural wave of being cool in America. From Doctor Who to the Arctic Monkeys to Top Gear to Adele and Daniel Craig’s Bond movies, Britain had a nice moment of cultural relevance in the early 2010s. And Jaguar wasn’t going to be left behind. With the sharp XF midsize sedan already making waves, Jaguar’s next move was a thoroughly modern revamp of its flagship XJ sedan.
To head the range, Jaguar prepared a rare sleeper for war with the Germans. Meet the elusive, rapid, and seriously characterful Jaguar XJ Supersport.
While lesser XJs of the time featured a 385-horsepower naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 or a 470-horsepower supercharged version of the same, the Supersport rocked the 510-horsepower XFR-spec tune which was good enough for zero-to-60 in 4.7 seconds. American publications found the Supersport was quicker than that. Car And Driver clocked zero-to-60 in 4.1 seconds and the quarter-mile in 12.4, meaning this understated cruiser is neck-and-neck with the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG of the time.
Well, it would be until 155 mph, because while the S63 runs into its governor, the XJ Supersport is on its way to 161 mph. Opt for the Speed Pack on the Jag and you won’t hit Vmax until 174 mph. That’s rapid by any measure. Best of all, power was sent exclusively to the rear wheels through a remarkably sharp six-speed automatic transmission and an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential. How’s that for a party?
In addition to a serious straight-line pace, the final XJ drove lighter than its silhouette suggests. Sure, it wasn’t a fifth-generation Maserati Quattroporte, but it almost made the Mercedes-Benz S63 feel like a very quick Lincoln Town Car. Beyond fast variable-ratio steering, double wishbones up front, and adaptive dampers, weight was its biggest ally.
Despite casting a huge shadow, the XJ’s secret was its bonded and riveted aluminum platform that kept the weight of the Supersport at 4,281 pounds. To give some context, a 2011 S63 AMG carried a curb weight of 4,916 pounds, and a 14.8 percent weight delta is what I’d call noticeable. Not only did this relative lightness help the Supersport gain a certain agility over the competition, but it also helped it ride like a Jaguar should.
Mind you, it’s not as if anyone would notice the XJ Supersport for something special. Sure, it looks mostly gorgeous and that blacked-out C-pillar has aged better than expected, but that’s every X351 XJ. Aside from a set of 20-inch Mataiva wheels and discrete badging, the XJ Supersport looked identical to a base naturally-aspirated model. The only way the layperson would be able to tell an XJ was the Supersport model is by how quickly it fires its occupants toward the horizon.
Passengers will most certainly notice a difference between a regular XJ and a Supersport, but not for the reason you might think. Here’s my favorite bit about the Supersport: You know how every hi-po luxury sedan’s interior has the same sort of color scheme you’d find on a men’s deodorant label circa 2005? The XJ Supersport didn’t. Instead of more black and red than a lumberjack’s flannel, it leaned into luxury and came with all the trimmings.
Beautiful semi-aniline leather in off-white, tan, Bordeaux, or black if you must, massaging thrones in both rows, inlaid wood, rear seat entertainment, winged headrests, the works. Even in 2023, this cabin still looks fabulous.
So why is the XJ Supersport a rarity among Jags? It all comes down to its more popular little brother. The XJ Supercharged had a similar name to the Supersport, still offered a lavish level of equipment, gave up only a few tenths in zero-to-60 acceleration over the top dog, and could also make a trailing Audi S8 disappear in a cloud of tire smoke.
Plus, the XJ Supersport started at $111,075. It’s not hugely surprising that the Supercharged trim is more frequently-seen since that one cost $22,500 less and didn’t have a massive performance delta.
And believe it or not, the XJ Supersport wasn’t the most expensive or rarest XJ sold in America. Jaguar brought five fridge-equipped four-seat Ultimate models to the U.S., but it wasn’t as performance-focused as the Supersport. Sure, it used the same 510-horsepower supercharged V8, but it wasn’t available in a short-wheelbase model and the rear suspension was tuned more for ride comfort. Car and Driver reported that one cost $155,875 in America at the time.
It sounds great if you’re being chauffeured, but the Supersport is still the sweet spot if you prefer to do your own driving.
As for the lifespan of the XJ Supersport, it only lasted two model years before being replaced by the 550-horsepower XJR. While the XJR is a hair quicker, a squeeze more powerful, and carries a touch more grip, it’s also more shouty. The trim bits and sex dungeon interior meant that it actually sold, but it never felt quite as luxurious as the Supersport. Considering how severely traction-limited these cars are, I’d happily trade some power for a plusher interior.
I’d also imagine that several XJ Supersports ended up off the road for good due to the 5.0-liter V8’s propensity for eating its own timing system components. It’s certainly a DIY-able job to install new tensioners and guides since Jaguar makes these components fairly foolproof, but the level of disassembly required is extensive. It’s an expensive job at a shop due to the sheer book time involved, although the components themselves aren’t terribly expensive.
The XJR may have been slightly quicker, but for those with a truly refined palate who want everything, I think the XJ Supersport is the one to have. It melds pace with plushness in a way few other large modern luxury sedans have, and it’s still a lesson to German automakers that fast sedans still need to be comfortable over the road. I’m looking at you, BMW M5 Competition.
(Photo credits: Jaguar)
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.
The Jaguar XF S Sportbrake Is The Rare 380 HP Supercharged Wagon Of Enthusiasts’ Dreams: Holy Grails
Jaguar’s Upcoming Reinvention Will Be ‘Exuberant, Fearless’ And Expensive
The Jaguar F-Type 75 And R 75 Special Editions Remind Me Why I’m Going To Miss The Absolute Hell Out Of The F-Type
The Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance With 1,055 Lb.-Ft. Of Torque Is A High-Tech Dinosaur In All The Best Ways
The Bonkers 2023 BMW 7-Series Is A Luxury Beast With An Absurd 31.3-Inch TV Screen
Got a hot tip? Send it to us here. Or check out the stories on our homepage.
I used to work as a lot lizard at a high-end car dealership back when these things were new, and one time we had taken in two of these XJs as trade-ins. Both were barely a year old with a normal amount of miles.
I especially appreciated the ASL (no not that) auto speed limit feature, where you could set a max speed (say 50 mph), absolutely boot the accelerator, and the car would accelerate like gangbangers all the way to the set limit, whereupon it would run into a ceiling of jello preventing you from exceeding that speed. Great fun.
Anyway, one of them had a sunroof shade that wouldn’t close (because of course it did) so we took it to the Jag dealer down the street to get it fixed. The other valet followed me in the other Jag to pick me up. Not to be left out, we didn’t get 100 yards from the Jag store when the second XJ overheated (because of course it did).
I’ve driven a lot of new cars, and none were ever as junk as a new Jaguar.
That’s glorious, but I take exception with the XF being described as “sharp.” That thing is a blob that was shaped with an ugly stick and brings shame to its family.
Despite the ridiculously high used car prices these days, you probably could find one of these for under 10K. /s
I think the X308 and X350/358 were probably the sweetspot for Jag design and – thanks to substantial Ford investment – reliability! These cars were a legit alternative to the German luxonauts in both comfort and performance, especially if you opted for the XJR supercharged variant. Sure, the X308 4L had timing chain guide issues, but most if still on the road, have been updated and now benefit from the later metal guides.
The problem with the X351, admirable performance not withstanding, was it was neither pretty enough nor reliable enough to entice someone away from the German brand establishment. Only dedicated Jag enthusiasts need apply.
I suspect that with the brand moving solely to EV crossovers, there will be nothing to distinguish Jaguar from the sea of already on sale / soon to be introduced BEV crossovers. My advice: stash away a warehouse full of X308 and X350/358 XJRs and watch the collectors swoon in to relive the glory days of what was once a “Jaguar saloon”.
Agreed. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how solid my X350 has been, and relatively easy to work on (okay, the air suspension’s a minor PITA, but I still prefer it to a conventional setup). It’s been good enough that I’ve been watching for and just bought a second XJ8 to fix and probably drive. Incredible cars that can be bought and kept running for very skinny money, if one can turn their own wrenches. Even the naturally aspirated cars are plenty quick.
Now, the X351… Gorgeous in person, properly luxurious. I want one. Badly. I keep watching for them online, but know better. I really do wish there was an easy way to retrofit the 4.2 V8 into one for the sake of reliability, relatively speaking–god knows there’s enough broken X351s for sale around the country. Similarly, I’ve been avoiding looking at XFs post-2009 for the same reason. XFs seem to get used really hard, and the hooptie cycle runs shorter/more intensely than for a typical German car. Sad.
Shhhhh! Don’t say that too loudly or the secret will get out that X350s are proper bargains.
I do get the appeal of the X350, although I’ve never found the styling took that well to modern proportions – I know the X308 is quite a bit more cramped, but just looks so much better, even if the X350 was a huge mechanical leap forward. The X351 (and XF and such) might not 100% work, but still have presence, and I get what they were trying for (trying for design language that seemed a bit more forward looking, given that they were quite modern cars in their 60’s glory days).
I’ll disagree with the hive mind, this is a fine looking car and overall nice car. The only problem with it, and every other car that comes for that sweet sweet S-Class market share, is it lacks a Sliver Star on the front. Mercedes could double the size of a Smart car, paint it black and put S550 on the back and still control the market. But every brand for some reason feels like, “Yes we are the ones to take down the S-Class”. Hell, Audi stuffed that sweet ass V10 in the A8 and sold like 3 of them. Genesis is kinda making headway competing on a field MB doesn’t care about, price. The S-Class is like the 911 for people people who pray to Jack Welch and Henry Kissinger every night. They ain’t buying any but those black boats, even if you offered them the sickest whip since Pimp my Ride. They aren’t even buying the cars, they are buying a mutual conversation topic with Gaddaif, the Sultan of Brunei, Every member of the house of Saud, and most/ if not all of the European Royal family. The road to hell is an S-Class traffic jam
> The S-Class is like the 911 for people people who pray to Jack Welch and Henry Kissinger every night.
Disagree, I loathe those bastards but the S class is my jam.
God are those some ugly cars. Plus they are probably rare because they mostly fall apart.
The ass end specifically is unattractive.
You spelled beautiful wrong.
I get sprung.
These are some kick-ass Buicks!
These are so bland looking (and I drive a Chevy SS!!!)
You could take the badges off and tell me it was made by pretty much any automaker and I’d believe you. “Why yes, that is the new Kia K900”.
Jaguar’s reputation had and has a lot of ground to make up; their powertrains were and are fine but not world beaters, so they pretty much always need handsome and striking styling. This wasn’t that.
I’m really sad that these sorts of Jaaaaaaaags (Clarkson voice) are pretty much all dead at this point. Enthusiasts and luxury buyers alike sleep on Jaguar more than they should. They’re not the most prestigious. They’re not really the best at any one thing. They’re far from the most reliable…although it’s not like their German competitors are any better.
But what they have in spades is character. Their powertrains are interesting and usually sound great. Their designs are unique and elegant. And in a world of luxobarges that all more or less blend together at a certain point Jaguars stand out. I’d love to have an XJ personally. I think they’re fantastic. My aunt currently has an F Type with the supercharged 6 that she absolutely adores…and she had multiple manual Porsches before it so she legitimately knows her stuff.
Jags are just plain cool. It’s a damn shame that they’re all about to either die or become a fleet of EV crossovers. The brand has a lot of history and a lot of character. People are going to look back and be upset that they didn’t jump on stuff like this when they should have…but fortunately for the rest of us the depreciation on these is still brutal. You don’t have to look too hard to find a reasonably priced Jaguar sedan with an interesting powertrain.
I know it’ll be a headache but so would owning a German sports sedan…and it’s not that hard to find mechanics who specialize in British stuff.
The problem is that to say they are not the most reliable is an understatement. Its a brand that has been plagued with absolute atrocious reliability issues. The ONLY halfway reliable ones were more or less the ones made when Ford owned them and gussied up a few Fords… and Ford isn’t exactly known for its stellar reliability either. There is a guy who lives up the street from me. I don’t know what his story is but he has THREE Jaguars: Two sedans and a F-pace. At any given time, there is almost always a dealer courtesy vehicle replacing one of them. They are always in the shop. I already would never buy a German vehicle for reliability concerns. I certainly would not buy a Jaguar. I suspect the brand will not be around much longer anyway as it doesn’t really have many competitive models now and with Brexit it makes no sense to make them in the UK anymore.
I’d be more inclined to deal with British unreliability than German unreliability because I’d at least be getting some driving character and personality as part of the equation. Outside of stuff that’s way outside of my price range (Porsches, M5s, etc) I’m not sure if the Germans have much of anything that offers either at the moment, and electrification is only going to make it worse.
I absolutely adore my Jag, a 1988 XJ6 Vanden Plas. Even though it’s sort of a red-headed stepchild in the Jaguar family I think it looks great and I really enjoy how it drives. The look and feel of the wood Momo steering wheel and the heady smell of that Connolly leather make the interior a really nice place. Mercs are perfectly fine but my Jag brings a metric ton of personality to the table. It’s sexy in a way no Merc/BMW/Audi can match.
I also have to note, mine has not been unreliable. I’ve had to do some work and get some work done on it, but frankly no more than any other car of that age and in general costs have been quite reasonable. My Jaguar specialist just charged me less to do two shocks than my usual mechanic charged me to do two on my Suburban.
With the massive depreciation you can get beautiful examples for next to nothing. I got mine in pristine shape 6 years ago with less than 40,000 miles on it for $5600. Since then I’ve put in about $1200 for five wheels and tires (went from Dayton wire rims back to stock wheels) and about $1800 for mechanicals, most of that going into a new steering rack, new front shocks, and fixing the oil pan that some quick lube gorilla wrecked by stripping out the drain plug threads. None of those items are shocking for any 30 year-old plus car, much less a “Jaaaag”.
I am a fan of Jaguars. I know their faults, but there’s something about them that just tugs at my heart and connects with me in a way no German car ever could. The combination of heart, elegance, luxury, and performance is something that will be missed if the Jaguar marque goes away. <end fanboi rant>