Motoring: At last – the Jaguar of your dreams
You never quite know what you are getting with a Jaguar. Yes – its body curves sensuously, its interior is wood and leather, its engine is probably a powerful twin-cam six-cylinder. But won’t it go wrong? John Simister was pleasantly surprised.
Jaguar XJ6. Nice idea, but buying one always seemed perversely jingoistic when something German and presumably perfect (BMW, Audi, Mercedes) was a more logical way of spending lots of money. Wasn’t there a touch too much left over from the time when the British car industry was itself going wrong? Wasn’t there always a frisson of surprise and delight when your Jaguar worked – when given the money you had spent, it should have been an outrage if it didn’t? And weren’t middle- aged ones just a bit, you know, Arthur Daley?
All this has been the driving force behind many “This time we’ve really got the quality right” assertions from Jaguar. Well, take a deep breath: the latest Jaguar XJ-series is, finally, a truly terrific car. In place of the 24-valve straight-six that has powered most XJ saloons since 1986, comes the fine V8 motor launched a year ago in the XK8 coupe. And all the saloons, now generically known as XJ8 instead of XJ6, also gain the improved front suspension from the XK8 and a new interior which exchanges craggy squareness for curvy cohesion.
The task of hauling the heavy car along is now shared between eight cylinders, but engine sizes are the same, at 3.2 and 4.0 litres, giving 240 and 294bhp. Prices start at £34,475 for an XJ Sport 3.2. But there’s also a 375bhp supercharged version of the 4.0, replacing both the old V12 formerly found in the grandest XJs, and the supercharged straight-six used in the sporty XJR.
In the Daimler Super Eight, most palatial of the XJ family, the supercharged engine gives a pace and a driving experience reminiscent of a Bentley Turbo R’s. In the XJR it’s equally extraordinary. The old XJR was prone to odd steering habits, and the engine always seemed to be huffing and puffing to excess. This new XJR, though, is sensationally rapid – I timed it at 5.6 seconds to 60mph – and it both sounds and feels much more all- of-a-piece.
The engine emits a distant “woofle” typical of a V8, but it’s overlaid with an oddly harmonic supercharger whine that gets louder the harder you accelerate. And, unlike the old engine, the new one revs eagerly and is matched to an automatic transmission of almost intuitive gearshift management.
This gearbox is made by Mercedes-Benz, incidentally, because no one else’s can handle the awesome torque output while still operating smoothly. Intriguingly, it has two reverse gear ratios, though which it uses depends on whether you are in normal or “sport” mode.
No Jaguar, including the XK8, has better steering; at last, you can feel what is going on without the sensation of being in limbo as you enter a fast bend. The whole car feels balanced and agile. Huge tyres on 18in- diameter wheels give ample grip, although an amusing powerslide is always possible if you switch the traction control off.
So far, the XJR sounds like an ultimate sports saloon. But it’s comfortable, too, thanks to “Computer Active Technology Suspension”, and the new interior is a great improvement. Cabin space has never been the XJ’s strong point, partly because the roof-line is so low, but redesigned seats liberate extra room. The black-lacquered wood remains.
From the outside, you can tell the latest Jaguars from their predecessors by new, rounded bumpers, a smoothed-off grille and headlights with little chrome bulb shields. It’s enough to tell you that you’re looking at that rather novel thing, a thoroughly-honed Jaguar. And of all the new Jaguars, the greatest is the XJR.
Specifications: Price: £50,675. Engine: 3,996cc, V8, 32 valves, 375bhp at 6,150rpm. Five-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive. Top speed 155mph, 0-60 in 5.6sec. Fuel consumption: 17-22mpg
Audi S8, £61,545: Ultimate four-wheel drive, aluminium-constructed A8. Sculpture on wheels, at a cost
BMW 750i, £68,325: Big V12 engine, lots of gadgets, but less fun to drive. Imminent M5 version of smaller 5-series is a closer match
Maserati Quattroporte V8, £58,695: Twin-turbo V8 engine gives potent pace, but ride is poor, driving position uncomfortable
Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, £60,000-plus: Not yet available in UK, but AMG- tuned V8 E-class Benz will be discreetly entertaining