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)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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