Smooth operators

Times are no easier for Jaguar than they are for anyone else at the moment, but its long-term model programme incorporates some promising hardware, including a V8 successor to the XJ-S. And the long-awaited V12 version of the XJ saloon Ford should finally be with us this spring.

Meanwhile, we recently found other 1993 designs that are still far from fully appreciated at attractive prices. For example, the 3.2 XJ6 costs £25,728 with manual gearbox, and the more aggressive (223 bhp) four-litre variant will leave you a smidgeon of change from £29,000. We tried the latter with the added benefit of a £2870.04 sports equipment package.

Following the chancellor's abolition of car tax, the summit of the Jaguar range is the £48,864 V12 convertible, if you exclude the TWR-engineered JaguarSport models. Minor external changes — a replacement front spoiler and chunkier, 225/45 Pirelli P4000s — and a major cockpit revamp serve to differentiate the latest XJ6 from its predecessor. The saloon gains replacement front and rear seating, uprated air conditioning an an increase in the number of electrically controlled gadgets.

One example of the shift in cabin geography is the transfer of the seat adjustment buttons to the centre console, though I did not find this to be an improvement. It wasn't easy to locate these important controls, and it appears possible that a driver might actuate them in error.

XJ-S alterations for 1993 centre upon the introduction of manual gearbox for the four-litre convertible, and a softer suspension option for the 4.0 coupe, although the latter's standard 'sports' settings continue to provide remarkable ride quality.

Perhaps the most important change to the XJ-S is the revised steering wheel position. Now with an airbag fitted as standard, the wheel is two inches further from the driver than hitherto. The test car certainly had the air of a £30,000 investment. Additional equipment covered by the 'sports pack' deal includes uprated suspension and P600s on forged lattice pattern alloys.

The dohc, 24-valve, AJ6 motor has new camshafts (for reduced noise levels) and a lazy 5500 rpm limit. On the road, 136 mph from 3980 cc is of less relevance than the broad spread of torque, peaking at 278 lb/ft. Keep it between 2000-5000 rpm and the large Jaguar is most enjoyable. Try and hang on for the last few revs and you'll hear the motor's anguish. By 5000 rpm, it's almost as reluctant as the old XK series...

The performance of the uprated chassis is most impressive, as is the way that one can glide to 100 mph (at just 3500 rpm) with a complete absence of fuss. The ride and handling compromise simply eliminates bad manners and must make rival development engineers despair that they cannot do better with more modern running gear.

Unleaded fuel consumption was far from soothing after a cold start and cross-country mileage. Even the computer confessed to a thirsty 14-15 mpg, though a cross-section of town, country and motorway mileage hoisted this to 18.4 at an average 38 mph.

The latest Jaguars represent steady evolution of worthy themes. Nobody at Jaguar, especially ex-Ford engineering chief Clive Ennos, is under any illusion about the urgency of putting new products in place.

Meanwhile, there is probably no more soothing, yet satisfying, luxury driving experience than the 4.0 XJ6 with its sports handling pack. JW