New Cars: Jaguar XJ6

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For once a major new model from a British manufacturer has not been heralded as a ‘make or break’ effort. Steadily escalating sales of the Series Ill over the past few years have given Jaguar a cushion against which the several postponements of the launch of the XJ40, as the new car was coded, have had no detrimental effect. Rather, claims the company, this has ensured that all development problems with the all-new vehicle have been countered.

With its standard-setting ride and handling, plus the distinctive Jaguar style inside and out, the Series III XJ6 provided a challenge for the engineers to improve on; yet the new car, still called XJ6, has turned out to be even better all round.

Absolutely everything is new about the car, apart from the name (Chairman Sir John Egan says he wants to introduce some discipline into model titles): the long-serving XK engine is supplanted by two new all-aluminium sixes, both suspensions have been redesigned, a hydraulic brake servo also powers self-levelling and ABS, new high-reliability circuitry incorporates seven microprocessors — even the paint process is new.

One of the two engines, the 3.6-litre four valve unit, has already appeared in XJ-S, but base XJ6 models will be equipped with a new single-cam 2.9 two-valve engine producing 163bhp and 176 Ib-ft of torque, compared with 221bhp and 248 Ib-ft of torque for the 3.6. Both engines outperform their respective predecessors of 3.4 and 4.2-litres, as well as being considerably lighter, and use the same bore to reduce manufacturing costs, but whereas the short-stroke utilises separate Bosch electronic systems for ignition and fuel injection, the larger unit introduces a new fully-integrated Lucas management system. Apart from very precise control of timing and injection, a motor-driven idle control compensates for varying loads, and the system boasts a fail-safe facility whereby instead of halting the car when a sensor fails, it switches to a simpler regime allowing the driver to get home.

Warning of such a fault appears on a small screen on the instrument panel which displays either trip computer readings or any warnings in both symbol and written form. Concentrating all auxiliary information in this neat little LCD dot-matrix device has allowed Jaguar’s designers to maintain a very traditional style inside with analogue speedometer and tachometer (although both are in fact electronic, which has dictated the use of an electronic mileometer) and bar-graph auxiliary gauges all neatly housed in a conventional-looking binnacle. A very sophisticated air-conditioning system now includes humidity, bi-level, and rear seat controls, and the central locking system automatically shuts windows or sunroof if left open when the car is locked.

Other equipment on top models includes such minute niceties as heating elements in mirrors, screen and headlamp wash nozzles and door locks, plus electrically-adjustable front seats. Such intense usage of electronics requires high reliability, and this should be ensured by the new car’s low-current switching system with its positive-mate connectors, weighing only half as much as conventional wiring harnesses.  A computer diagnostic system monitoring all sensors and the seven microprocessors is an integral part of the electronics.

To provide the high fluid pressures necessary for the ABS to operate, the usual vacuum servo is replaced by a hydraulic pump which also supplies power to the steering and to the rear self-levelling device which is optional on base models (simply called XJ6) and standard on Sovereign and Daimler, the two upper versions.

When it came to the front suspension, Jaguar’s engineers felt that the Series III design incorporated all the requirements they were looking far, and so the XJ40 uses the same geometry but with lighter, simpler parts: but at the rear there has been much change.  The drive-shaft still forms the upper link of the double wishbone system but there is now only a single damper per side, the differential rests in a simpler cage, anti-squat and anti-dive have been built in, and the brake discs have been moved out to the wheels — apparently unsprung weight is not necessarily a bad thing. More important is the ratio of wheel bounce frequency to body flex frequency, but what will please owners and mechanics alike is that checking and changing pads is now far easier

A new tyre is introduced on the car, jointly developed by Michelin and Dunlop, the TD tyre has a bead design which helps to retain the tyre when punctured, and contains a sealant gel to close small holes and provide a degree of “run flat” ability.

As on the 3.6 XJ-S, the Getrag five-speed gearbox is used in manual models or there is a four-speed ZF auto unit which includes an overdrive top with lock-up. This is controlled by what Jaguar calls the J-gate — P, R, N, and D are in a line as normal, but to engage 3 or 2 the lever is moved across to the left and then forward again, enabling sporting use of the box without the danger of finding neutral or reverse.

Building the new car is simpler, and therefore cheaper, thanks to the new body having fewer elements, which also makes it more rigid.  A lot of time has been spent improving air penetration by rounding the front corners and reducing the rake of the traditional radiator grille, and stability is maintained by a small lip running around the boot lid, rather than by adding a spoiler, which the company felt would not fit with the company’s styling image. But to this writer at least, it seems as if an opportunity has been missed. It is true that XJ40 is very obviously a Jaguar, but it is so close to the Series III in proportion as to seem only a year or two in advance of it. The company makes much of tradition, the Jaguar style, the conservatism of its customers, but invoking Sir William Lyons’ name only reminds one that his designs were invariably fresh as well as beautiful, whereas the XJ40 looks more like a re-skin than an all new car.

That is not to say that it is not attractive — it is both nicely proportioned and well detailed, a very handsome car indeed, but any design has a limited shelf-life, and this one looks now as if it had appeared two years ago. In four years time it will have fallen noticeably behind its BMW and Mercedes rivals. Let us hope that the conservatism of its customers will continue to offset this.

From inside, though, the new XJ6 is a delight, and it has astonished many people by achieving what Sir William consistently did with his new models — undercutting its rivals, for the basic XJ6 model starts at £16,500, putting it right into Rover 800, Ford Granada and Audi 100 territory.  It is possible to spend another £10,000 up to top Daimler specification, but that goes on extras (sunroof, electric seats) which are available on some very ordinary cars; what even the bottom model possesses is the name, the prestige, that superb ride, and the looks. As far as the onlooker is concerned, an XJ6 is the same car as a Daimler, and that alone should draw a new type of buyer into the fold.

Nor will he be disappointed in the smaller engine.  It is willing and flexible, if anything quieter than its four-valve brother, and quite capable of propelling the big saloon at respectable rates. Perhaps the gear-change is notchy, but refinement is excellent, with little road or wind noise, and the steering has better, heavier weighting to it. With the 3.6 the chassis can be stretched a little further to show that the occasional wallow which caught out Series III has been removed, endowing the car with excellent poise even on a series of crests, and handling overall is superb, allowing the driver to enjoy exploiting the roadholding.

Seat comfort is good, as is the replacement of most of the controls; I found that the column stalks, which adjust for reach with the wheel, were too low-set for my ten-to-two grip, but all the instruments were visible, and the air-conditioning was easier to operate than most. Luxury performance in its most relaxed form — despite my carp about the styling, Jaguar’s new offering deserves its place as the Series III successor.  — G.C.