I was going to title this blog Fat Cat but the car in question has got under my skin somewhat since then. I’ve had various liaisons with the XJ40 since around 1997. This was a car I always wanted to love, but always ended-up loving to hate it – please hum the Pet Shop Boys whilst reading this.
I’ve sold a fair few XJ40s, scrapped a few and ‘blocked (that is sent to auction) equally as many. I began to think it was my inherit socialism that stopped me from loving the Jag, but it wasn’t – I can sup champagne with the best of them. No, my problem with the XJ40 (forget your XJ81, X300, X308 code names, they’re just fancy facelifts) is that it’s just so amateurish as a car.
Take the packaging, my biggest beef. You sit very low in the XJ, which is not to my taste, and not to my comfort. To get under thigh support, I need the seat wound right-up. This makes the incredibly dated, upright and shallow windscreen too low.
While we’re here, just how close is that windscreen? It’s not often you come across a car which makes the Maestro look advanced, but this one does. A peculiarity of the XJ8 is the pedal layout, which makes the pedals fall right in the middle of my feet. Once this odd feeling was pointed out for me, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Moving to the rear of the car, we scramble into the back (there’s no dignified entry or exit here) to find there is no room under the front seats to put you feet. Headroom is okay and the airy feeling is nice, a by product of terrific visibility. Indeed, the cabin does give a sense of well-being and luxury if not true comfort. However, and call me naive, but there is not a single cup-holder anywhere in the cabin. Actually, there is just no oddments space.
The handbooks fill the small glovebox. This is pretty unforgivable in a car which must double as an office for the busy executive. How did ministers cope? Don’t mention the stretch model as that offends my eyes. Forget your fat Cubans too, the ashtrays are an asthma sufferer’s delight.
Finally, the boot. Criminal, really just criminal. It starts with that awful drooping arse-end, said to be a styling accident from day one. The original XJ40 did, at least, have a deep boot with the upright spare. You could accommodate a reasonably sized body in there pre-rigor mortis.
However, for the X300 facelift, they lay the spare down and placed ill-fitting hardboard over it. The luggage capacity was therefore effectively reduced to the sizr of a suit carrier. The CD multi-changer doesn’t really have a home either. You have absolutely no idea where the boot stops and a bump with the car behind starts either. Parallel park at your peril. This car has inverse packaging.
Ford should have thrown their money at fixing the back of the car instead of fitting those twin round headlamps at the front for X300. Apparently, those round lamps ruined the already poor aerodynamics whilst removing the best bit of the XJ40 – those chunky square lamps. That grille is tacky personified too. The VDP 1500 did this so much better. Oh, and forget the idea that Jaguars are well equipped for the money – I’ve always found them mean in the extreme and I’ve owned a few rival Mercedes.
Driving impressions immediately centre on that pillow soft ride – it makes a lovely change to the under-sprung Germans. Sadly, this translates into a bit of float at speed whilst the decent wheel travel is used-up rather rapidly on the really nasty stuff.
Indeed, while ‘tonning’ the tank (it’s £100 a fill these days) the rear springs compressed the whole time I pumped the sans plomb. How odd!
The steering too hardly screams sports car. There’s precious little feel but, in fairness, I don’t think there’s a lot to tell as the car does grip well. Ideally, for such little feel, the steering isn’t quick and lacks precision – it has a fair old ‘sneeze factor’ built in. I must, at this point, draw attention to the adjustable wheel. One handle adjusts rake, another does reach, old-fashioned or what? On the reach, the wheel was so stiff I thought it was seized or that the handle served another function. Imagine the name calling when a friend got it to move…
The noise in the cabin is reasonably well suppressed, but I’d love to hear the engine more. I feel this isn’t possible as the wind rustle and tyre roar are noticeable and, if the engine was allowed to intrude, the cabin would lose its hush. Disgracefully, this draught entering the cabin from around the door tops at speeds rapidly cools the cabin on a cold morning run. Body engineering just isn’t good enough whatever way you look at it, from solidarity, to weight, to corrosion. This is a ‘shell that will never make sense.
The car I’ve been using had covered just over 47k miles when I got to use it – it’s lead a sheltered live and I’ve known it for several years now. Nothing about the car screams top quality or neat design, no aspect of any XJ has ever done this to me. When working on them, you either conclude a component is old-fashioned, too complex, too cheap, too heavy or just crap. Seriously, that’s why we’ve disposed of some XJs instead of retailing them.
Compare it to the ruthless well engineered competitors from BMW and Mercedes and you wonder how Jaguar remained even remotely competitive. I can only image the despair at Whitley the first time they got their hands on a Lexus. How did Jaguar survive in the United States?
Maybe if Jaguar hadn’t been so stubborn and embraced BL more and looked to the future rather than backwards to the original XJ6, things could have been a bit different, a bit better from what went before. However, as it stands the XJ to me is a bad bit of BL.
The irony cannot be lost that Jaguar had to resort to a designing a V8 of materials and size similar to the Rover V8 to be competitive into the 2000s. The Montego, designed at pretty much the same time, would wipe the floor with it packaging wise. The irony will not be lost on you either that Spen King’s aluminium construction ideas for the X350 also embraced a packaging solution which owed more to Longbridge than Lyons.
Why, then, am I blogging about such an awful car? A car which I feel is terribly dated all round, even in image. Well, it seems that the Jaguar is still more Daily Telegraph that Daley, Arthur (RIP RB). We had to get from Newcastle to Surrey to see Top Gear being filmed on a wet Wednesday.
We took the Jag. It whisked us there at an indicated 90 (true 87) and coped with awful roadworks. It will go faster than 90mph, but that’s its best cruising speed and that’s fine. It got respect on the road and, in some cases, enthusiasm.
I felt embarrassed, I felt like I’d borrowed my dad’s car and that he should have been a pub landlord. However, it seems that day has passed. A Jag is nearly trendy again. My girlfriend liked it, which doesn’t happen with the usual tat I bring home with enthusiasm. We got out, well, feeling fine(ish) despite over five hours of tough, grotty driving conditions from start to finish.
We stayed in rural Surrey that night and the Jaguar tamed the rough roads. Next day we drove into Chelsea and the Jag made even more sense. You are so, so relaxed despite the awful London traffic and enforcement cameras. People let you in and out. People forgive your navigational mistakes. Hmm… From the Kings Road we went to High Gate to pick-up a Jag owning friend.
My friend adjusted the seat better than me to stop my back ache. From there, we went to Wembley and then Musgrove Hill. The traffic was awful from the minute we entered London, stop, stop start throughout the day – in fact, the traffic congestion didn’t relent until we eased into Toddington Services.
Unconsciously, we were enjoying ourselves in the Jag cab. I eased out of Toddington at precisely 1800 hours and landed home for 2130 hours, despite the ongoing Average Speed ‘Scameras’ which prevent true high-speed intercity travel on our roads. The Jag had got under my skin, especially when the figures were read out. 655 miles, at an average of 44mph given and – I still cannot believe this – precisely 25mpg.
What price Class?