Driving the 2011 NCE Jaguar XJL Convertible
Sedan Roominess in a Convertible Package
By Patrick Paternie, Contributor
Odds are the person who coined the phrase “relegated to the backseat” spent more than a few miles riding in the back of a convertible. It’s often a miserable place thanks to incessant wind, constant noise and typically cramped quarters.
Then there’s the backseat of Newport Convertible Engineering’s (NCE) Jaguar XJ convertible. It’s still wind-blown and loud in back, but in this convertible there’s plenty of room to stretch out. So even if you don’t necessarily feel comfortable, you’ll look as if you are.
An Interesting Perspective
The first time we take a good look at this soft-top 2011 NCE Jaguar XJL it’s from the rear. It’s not the most flattering angle to begin with, given the already controversial shape of the standard taillights, which are usually mitigated somewhat by the sweeping C-pillars.
Replacing those metal C-pillars and sloping rear glass with a convertible top only exaggerates the height of the rear end. The result is a not very flattering bustlelike rear quarters, reminiscent of the Murano CrossCabriolet, or Kim Kardashian depending on your preferred frame of reference.
The view improves dramatically from the side. Newport’s Al Zadeh definitely got his sums right with the secret formula he has devised over the years to make the top sit as low as possible without interfering with its ease of operation. Zadeh fabricated an aluminum header to allow the top to mate seamlessly with the stock windshield frame. From there, a gentle arch maintains headroom as the top flows smoothly into the car’s rear flanks. From a distance, it almost looks like a vinyl-covered roof, for better or worse.
Top down, the side view remains pretty sleek, marred somewhat by the protrusion of the B-pillars and attendant roll bar. Even if you were willing to sacrifice safety for appearance’s sake, the B-pillars are still a necessity because they carry the tracks for the power windows.
Given the pedigree of our ride, we chose to cruise along some of Orange County’s most affluent waterfront communities to assess the Jag’s impression on the area’s automotive fashionistas. The car drew admiring looks and comments. What surprised us, however, was that almost no one recognized it as a Jaguar. Most thought it was a concept car.
And what was it like to drive? About how you would think a Jaguar XJL with a convertible top would drive. On rough surfaces, there was some vibration transmitted through the steering column but no cowl shake, top up or down. When raised, the top structure exhibited some shake when we passed over larger bumps. Overall the ride was smooth and quiet with no creaks, groans or wind whistling.
Zadeh considered its conversion the biggest challenge of his nearly 30-year career.
Our biggest issue was coping with limited rear vision through the small oval-shaped glass rear window. Still, that was better than peering over the bulge of the top when lowered. Given the top’s overall length, we don’t think Zadeh could have mounted it any lower, but it still protrudes enough to impede rear vision, including the rear three-quarters view.
With such limited vision from the driver seat, we decided to try out the backseat. Thanks to the unchanged rear doors and the abundant legroom, getting in and out was a breeze. Headroom is not compromised at all with the top raised either. It features three-layer construction that consists of a soft suede headliner, foam insulation and an exterior covering of German canvas.
Lower the top and the experience feels absolutely regal. Just settle back and cruise elegantly along as the rest of the world rolls past. From the backseat, the XJL provides one of the best convertible rides on the planet.
The 99 Percent Solution
“My objective was to keep the car as original as possible,” Zadeh had told us. “Ninety-nine percent of the cars need some alteration of the rear seats; not on this car, it is all intact,” he declared.
Most of the trunk is intact as well, leaving a generous amount of space even when the top is lowered.
Because of the Jaguar’s unique aerospace-style construction of bonded and riveted aluminum, Zadeh considered its conversion the biggest challenge of his nearly 30-year career. He used aluminum sheeting and tubing to build up a box frame that runs along the rocker panels to maintain stiffness after removing the car’s huge panoramic roof.
At the rear he added an aluminum platform that bolts into the trunk to support the base of the top along with its operating hardware and hydraulics. And of course the big roll bar that lines up with the B-pillars. According to Newport, the convertible conversion weighs a mere 40 pounds more than the stock sedan.
Chauffeur Not Included
The 2011 NCE Jaguar XJL Convertible will run you $49,000 plus the cost of the stock sedan. So you’re talking $130,000 to start. That includes a three-year warranty that can also be extended to five years.
To enjoy it fully, though, you should also consider a driver. It’s the only way to fully appreciate how enjoyable it is to ride in the backseat of this convertible. Yeah, there’s still some wind and considerable noise, but you can’t match the view.
Newport Convertible Engineering provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.