The cars : Range Rover P38 Vs Jaguar X300

September 1994 and, as a new Jaguar XJ and Range Rover are launched during the same week, the fortunes of their respective manufacturers take an upward turn.

Keith Adams compares the two protagonists to see which one made the more impressive car for captains of industry then, and which has stood the test of time better.


Jaguar XJ (X300) vs Range Rover (P38A)

Range-Rover-Jaguar-XJ

On 28 and 29 September 1994, we finally saw a changing of the guard for two of Britain’s leading car manufacturers. The Jaguar XJ (X300) and Range Rover (P38A) were launched on successive days, and both had fearsome predecessors to replace…

With the benefit hindsight, it might seem odd that Jaguar and Land Rover launched their two most important cars to go head-to-head in the same week, but it’s easy to forget that the two companies were both fiercely independent of each other between 1984 and 2000 and widely regarded as competitors.

The two new models were aimed at different buyers, but there was still a very strong rivalry between the two. For Jaguar, independence from British Leyland was a long time coming after years of underfunding and general apathy – as such, it had a point to prove. This was a big week for the British car industry.

Jaguar X300: the background

In 1990, Jaguar ended up being bought by Ford for a whopping £1.6bn and, almost immediately, the Americans set about modernising the company and its products. Aside from renovating Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory in Coventry and green-lighting plans for smaller, more modern Jaguars, Ford’s investment allowed Jaguar to press on with plans to replace the XJ40 with a more profitable car – although only released in 1986, the XJ40 was already looking old hat thanks to its super-long gestation period.

The X300 was the first to appear on 28 September 1994, and it emerged as a halfway house between all-new model and heavy facelift. On the one hand, it carried over the XJ40’s glass, roof, suspension and dashboard as well as many of its structural components. However, on the other, it was restyled under Geoff Lawson and carried over many of the visual cues that made the XJ40’s planned replacement, the ill-fated XJ90 (below), such a beautiful car.

Fortuitously, the X300 ended up looking great. So, although wasn’t quite the clean-sheet car that Jaguar would have liked to introduce for the late-1990s, it was a very clever remix of an enduring great. It also didn’t get the all new AJ-26 aluminium V8s that were in development (they would come with the later X308 in 1997), but its bulletproof slant-six engines were heavily updated from AJ6 into AJ16 form.

Jaguar XJ90 and its design team

Range Rover P38A: the background

Meanwhile, over at Solihull, times were changing rapidly too. Unlike Jaguar, which had loads of money heading its way via its new American sugar daddy, Land Rover was still very much under Rover Group’s umbrella. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s Rover had become increasingly dependent upon Honda for its technology and was being starved of investment firstly as a Government-funded organisation and then under the ownership of British Aerospace between 1988 and 1994.

However, during this period, Land Rover remained resolutely all-British. These years had been good to the original Range Rover (often now retrospectively referred to as the Classic) – this had been developed very effectively into a brilliant upmarket off-roader, but a new model would be needed in order to help it flourish towards the new millennium.

Work on the P38A began in 1988 under the codename Pegasus, with engineering and styling work being focused upon at this point – but no deadline for launch was set. It wasn’t until 1990 that the project to replace the Range Rover was formally started with a deadline of September 1994 under the codename of Project 38A (so called because of P-for Pegasus and 38a was the name of the huge building housing the car’s Design Team).

Range Rover P38

Differing design criteria

Unlike Jaguar’s rival X300 project, the P38A looked very different from the car it replaced, although it was still very recognisably a Range Rover. It received some criticism at launch for being a bit derivative, but how do you replace an icon like the original Range Rover, and not be criticised for something?

Like the X300, there was a degree of carry-over underneath – its underpinnings were similar to the LWB Classic’s ladder-frame chassis, but with a number of detail changes. A great deal of care and attention being put into making it a more refined driving experience. It was stuffed full of the latest tech and safety kit, meaning it could face the challenges of the 1990s with confidence.

The best piece of news was that the Classic’s Rover V8 with suitable development remained part of the mix. Two versions were available from launch, the 4.0-litre with 190bhp and 236lb ft torque and the 4.6-litre with 225bhp and 277lb ft. Both were well-suited to the Range Rover’s character, unlike the straight-six 2.5-litre BMW diesel, which was also used – and proved surprisingly popular.

Developed on a shoestring

It’s fair to say that both were built by embattled and under-resourced companies and developed on less budget than Lexus would have ploughed into a year’s advertising for its LS400 model – the X300 and P38A were designed and developed, and updated or new production facilities created for both, at a total cost of around £200m apiece.

Consider that the Ford Mondeo – launched a year earlier – was part of a £4 billion development programme, and you get the idea. That the Jaguar and Range Rover emerged as competitive as they did showed exactly what miracles the two British companies were capable of performing at the time.

Look at them today, and it’s clear that, in terms of styling, time has been considerably kinder to the Range Rover than it has the Jaguar. It’s not that the Jaguar isn’t a great-looking car. Far from it – it’s nicely proportioned and has some fantastic detailing, such as its headlights and grille. But it’s just that the understated and once-criticised Range Rover looks even better and seems to fit more readily into the modern-day United Kingdom.

Jaguar XJ (X300)

What is the X300 like to drive?

Getting behind the wheel of the Jaguar is most interesting. It’s lashed with wood and light-coloured leather but, go for a Sport model, and they’re darker and more sporting looking – and none the worse for it. You sit low and are cocooned by a high centre-console and bulky door cards. The XJ’s lack of headroom isn’t an issue for for anyone under about 5’10”. Within seconds, it’s impossible not to adopt a fingertips-on-the-wheel, arms-on-the-window edge driving position. It almost feels like the law…

The 3.2-litre slant-six hums into life unobtrusively. With 216bhp and 223lb ft, it should feel reasonably pacy, but with the maximum power and torque developed at 5100 and 4500rpm respectively, you do have to work quite hard to have it feeling anywhere near as quick as its 0-60mph time (8.6 seconds) and 137mph top speed would have you believe.

And more interestingly, following a colleague, who is assertively driving the Range Rover along A- and B-roads, I’m having to give it plenty of revs, and lots of throttle, too. Still, that’s no bad thing, as it sounds nice and deep-chested when revved, and the automatic gearbox is nice and responsive.

On the motorway, it feels planted and happy to drive long distances without fatiguing the driver at all. Wind noise could be lower, but there’s no escaping the age of the structure of this car. However, like all Jaguars, searching out B-roads is well worth the effort, as it’s a masterclass in combining ride quality with assured cornering. Thankfully, by the mid-1990s, Jaguar had ditched its silly finger-light power steering set-up for something altogether more communicative – and, dare I say it, fun to drive. No way does this feel like a five-metre long car designed for plutocrats.

Range Rover (P38)

What is the P38A like to drive?

Jumping into the Range Rover is a real culture shock after the Jaguar. The interior is light and airy, and you sit high, looking down on the instruments, controls and outside world through huge side windows. The contrast is extreme and welcome.

Inside, the Range Rover looks fantastic with a nicely-designed dash and excellent use of colours and trims, but doesn’t feel as high a quality place to sit in as the Jaguar. You don’t have to look far to find carry-over controls from more humble Rover Group products, but they don’t look out of place, and it’s also an issue – to a lesser extent – for the Jaguar, too.

The 4.0-litre engine is more vocal and charismatic. If you like the Rover V8, you’ll love the P38A. It burbles and rumbles and, when you snick it into Drive, it responds crisply once you’ve dialled-in to that long-travel throttle. Performance is more leisurely than the Jaguar, but it gathers pace in an effortless manner, and all the way up to motorway speeds, it’s quiet and relaxing as you’d expect from car that cost 5 Series money back in the day. Yes, it wanders a little and doesn’t have the solid feel of the Jaguar at the 70mph cruise, but it feels reasonably at home on the motorway.

B-roads are more of a challenge, as you’d expect. The commanding view and surprisingly compact dimensions make it easy to place on the road, but the woolly and uncommunicative steering undo a lot of that work. Also, despite being on fully-functioning air suspension, the ride is choppy and unsettled, which comes as a disappointment considering the car’s luxury pretensions. However, in town, it’s a great tool to get from one end of a busy city to the other and, thanks to its adjustable ride height, it’s also blessed with great ground clearance and traction, making this the best off-roader of its type at the time and for the money.

Range Rover (P38)

Conclusions: Jaguar or Range Rover?

It’s a done deal that both cars still stack up on the roads. The cocooning sense of well-being you get when driving the Jaguar XJ is highly reassuring, while it’s difficult not to feel like the king of the hill as you loftily lord it over the hoi polloi behind the wheel of a P38A.

The Range Rover’s link with its illustrious predecessor and the (not all good) legacy it left for its replacement are far more intact than the 1990s Jaguar XJ, which seems to have been left behind by Ian Callum’s reboot of Jaguar in the mid-to-late 2000s. That’s not to say that they aren’t both great classics – because they are. The Jaguar’s traditional styling and proportions mean it’s already well-established classic, especially now that the worst of the crusty, neglected examples have started to disappear from our roads.

The P38A is more of an enigma. The best V8-engined examples have found their place and are on the up, but the Land Rover community still looks down its nose at it, viewing it was an awkward in-betweener that’s not exactly blessed with reliability.

That said, the more flawed Range Rover makes far more sense. It’s a more likeable car to drive, and its styling and image are just getting better with age. It’s likely to have better investment potential, it’s certainly more fun and usable on the roads and, as long as you have an understanding specialist who will keep on top of its electronic and structural issues or you’re a hands-on wizard, you should enjoy the full modern classics experience more completely with a P38A.

What these cars both do with crystal clear clarity is put the past three decades of evolution into great perspective. They have both left fabulous legacies. With the still fresh-looking Range Rover, the passage of time is worn much comfortably – while, for the retro-styled and more compromised Jaguar XJ, it may as well be a lifetime.

Range Rover (P38)

Keith Adams

13 Comments

  1. The AJ engine version was definitely a bit if a let down, but the 1997 update with the V8 and replaced dash was the pinnacle. In fact most motoring journalists at the time recommended the fab XJR over its German opposition.

    The Rangie I think is a nice car, but having known people with them still, they are a bit flimsy and poor reliability against the XJ, especially that air suspension!

  2. I am afraid I am going to have to correct you on P38A:- “it retained a stiffened (by 18%) version of the LWB Classic’s ladder-frame chassis”. The chassis was all new. Siderails went down the sills on 38A between the wheels (Classic was straight front to back). This was to improve side impact and to re-package the fuel tank under the rear seat rather than at the back to the car. Also the drivetrain (transfer box and propshafts) ran down the right on classic and on the left on 38A to improve footroom for LHD cars and make use of a new t-box.

  3. Unabashed X300 fan here… especially the X305 I’ve been flogging. Dirt cheap, dead reliable. I agree the Rover is a more modern concept. Here in USA, in the company parking lot, there about 100 employee vehicles, and maybe five are sedans. Nobody buys “cars” in USA any more, and the Jaguar is a car. Cars are old fashioned just for being cars. That means the Rover is more akin to what we expect of vehicles today. But screw that! There is no commanding position to an SUV when everyone has an SUV. I like being on the ground, slinking around in that Jaaaaaaag.

    • @ John, the traditional American V8 sedan is dead and buried and station wagons vanished in the nineties. While there is a market for mid size sedans like the Toyota Camry and premium European badged conventional cars, the three best selling cars in America are huge pick up trucks and the rest of the top 20 is dominated by SUvs of various sizes and crossovers.
      There are reasons why these cars are so popular in America. Gas is still cheaper than Europe, meaning an SUV with a large engine is affordable to run for many people. Also someone living in the Rockies with bad roads, terrible winters and the occasional hazard like a cougar crossing the road needs a four wheel drive vehicle that is safe and can handle the snow, whereas a car like a Ford Fiesta wouldn’t cope. Then, as well, there is the image thing; A fully loaded Jeep Cherokee looks more impressive on the drive than a amall Honda.

  4. I can’t help disagree on the P38’s styling. To my eyes, it looked like an unholy mash-up of a London taxi and a Talbot Horizon when new and time has not done anything to improve this.

    Despite being a lifelong Range Rover fanatic, I have never warmed to the P38. It has been suggested that my dislike of it is mostly psychological, because it had the audacity to attempt to replace the Classic, which I’ve always adored, and maybe this is true! Still, my ownership experience has skipped it as I went straight from Classic to L322 and it still leaves me cold.

    Mind you, the tales of woeful reliability from a both a friend and a work colleague who own P38s hasn’t helped. My cars seem to have been paragons of virtue by comparison!

  5. The boxy Range Rover looks like it was designed with a ruler. There’s no way it would be made today. London TXI, MGRV8, New York Ford taxi, Rover 800, Scorpio all got the flabby curvy styling that’s so 90s. PS: Post 1997 is not pedigree Jaguar to my eyes.

  6. The conclusion here is the opposite of what the press thought in 1994. The Jaguar was seen as a bit or a miracle, converting the previous boxy, cheap and nasty model into something that looked and felt how a Jaguar should – by effectively just a facelift. The Range Rover was seen as a big let down – as noted above looking like a carbodies Taxi with worse build quality than an R8 Rover 200. To this day it is seen the runt of the RR bloodline that was only rescued by BMW in 2000.

  7. Despite being a lifelong fan of the first generation Range Rover, I think the P38A Range Rover looks remarkably fresh for its age. Even those orange indicator units used up until the 2000 Model Year look pleasingly retro compared to more recent bland themes, while the featured 4.6 Autobiography example (T525 JOP) with its special order colour-coded body styling package further adds to the P38A’s charm. In essence, this is to the Range Rover family what the R129 generation Mercedes Benz SL was until recently to the SL’s dynasty – ahead of its time in styling which has long divided opinion, but after many years is beginning to mature rather nicely and become more accepted. Remember, the P38A was the generation of Range Rover that provided much of the inspiration for the Range Rover Sport, while some of its detailing such as the dashboard architecture and clean exterior body lines still maintain an air of modernism about them.

    The X300/X308 Jaguar XJ6 is without doubt my favourite generation XJ and it still looks more appealing than the XJ40 on which it was based and also when compared against the later X350. However, at its launch I felt it it wasn’t quite finished because it had the XJ40’s rather angular looking dashboard design. The X308 addressed that with an XK8 influenced dashboard fascia, along with improvements to the rear suspension and some subtle enhancements to the circular headlamp ‘eyes’ and the shape of the chrome bumper ‘blades’. Despite this, it still wasn’t the comfiest of cars to ride in, with limited legroom and shallow footwells in the rear.

    Depending on model variant (entry level XJ6, Executive, Sport, Sovereign, XJR and Daimler) the X300 also saw the majority of them having their own specification of wood trim package and seat trim design, thus adding further individuality. I also liked the more vibrant exterior colour palette and dynamic looking alloy wheel designs; the latter of which could not have been said of the P38A Range Rover’s more staid wheel designs at launch.

    I have always stopped and admired the X300/X308 generation Jaguar XJ and probably always will do. But I am now finding I am often turning my head in the direction of a well polished, unmodified P38A Range Rover. I still have fond memories of the week I spent behind the wheel of a press demo 4.6 Vogue (W485 CJW) and how cossetting and effortless it was to drive, along with that unmistakable soundtrack from its Rover V8 engine. The first generation Range Rover as a design will always reign supreme in my eyes, but the P38A is now one I am showing increasing fondness for.

  8. I have to completely disagree with your conclusions! To me the X300 is a stunning looking car, a big improvement on the XJ40 and far more attractive than the podgy X350 and “marmite” X308. It feels like THE definitive XJ saloon (other than the S3), especially once the V8s came along.

    By contrast the P38A is the slightly underwhelming follow up to the iconic original, which doesn’t move things forward very much, and would start to feel a bit old fashioned to drive when compared to the new generation of sporty SUVs like the X5 (out in 1999). Without the BMW funded L322 which really moved things on, the Range Rover wouldn’t still be regarded as the ultimate luxury SUV still.

  9. I joined Rover Group in 1996 in a role described as Managing Director Land Rover UK National Sales Co. A role responsible for UK sales.marketing and distribution. It was not long after BMW had acquired Rover Group, and I had been drafted in having been Marketing Director of BMW GB in the past. I well remember my first P38 company car being delivered to my home, and my huge disappointment finding it had any number of obvious faults, had poor ride quality, and was very unrefined compared to the luxury cars it competed against.
    Sadly the company culture at that time inherited from BAE days was to encourage enthusiasm, positivity, and a blind faux loyalty ahead of objective critical appraisal. Hence I well remember my dilemma a week or so later when I parked alongside the then Solihull Plant Director Ian Robertson who beamingly enquired what I thought of the P38.
    Shamefully I bottled it and gave him the politically correct enthusiastic reply. But those of us in the company from a BMW background knew the truth. It was always a poor and uncompetitive product that managed to sell in the UK on brand provenance, distribution power, and buy British sentiment but abjectly failed to move the game forward for Land Rover outside the UK. We had to wait for the all new Range Rover hugely influenced and bolstered by BMW engineering and advanced electronics to produce a car that was truly competitive in the rapidly growing world market for luxury SUVs.

  10. My manager had P38 V8 which one he bought a new. He had to give it up, because after the warranty expired, the repair bills grew too big. After four years, when he sold the car, he stated that during the entire time there wasn’t a single day so that everything working. Always, something failed. He change the Range Rover to bulletproof Toyota Land Cruiser.

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