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Dailying an old Jaguar XJR-6 ~ 90 day ownership review. Believe it or not, it can be done.
What have I done?
Three months later, I can say with some confidence: I bought a nice car. More than that, it really seems like I bought a good car.
Before I expand, I'll give a brief background on me, because it's important to understand the writer's perspective in a review. I'm 30, I live in Toronto, and I'm a bartender (read: not made of money, especially these days). I'm competent with troubleshooting and diagnosis, just barely handy enough to tackle smaller repair jobs, and have good a relationship with my mechanic to pick up where my abilities end. I've almost exclusively owned youngtimer-age BMW and Mercedes cars, including a 535, 540, 635, 400E, 450SL, and the aforementioned E55. I like engaging driver's cars with personality, practicality, and durable, pragmatic engineering.
I can get into a pretty much any Mercedes or BMW from 1980-2000, drive it for 5 minutes, and I know what it's going to need, where I can get it from, how much labor it's going to call for, and how much it's going to cost. Buying this Jag was a bit terrifying because all that goes out the damn window. It's a foreign entity. A dice roll.
So, what's it like?
It's so desperately pretty. Like a well fitted cocktail dress, it steals the show without being ostentatious. In a town riddled with shiny new German compacts and crossovers, this big cat stands out in a big way. Low, long, wide, curvaceous, and oh so very green, as opposed to the usual neutral drab that cloaks every car on the road. It's kind of a fun thing in conversation too - despite it being an 'also ran' in the premium car market, the Jaguar name still has power. This isn't my first nice car, but it is my first car that normal people are drawn to. I'm aware this all sounds pretentious, but it's a real thing and it's been interesting to pay attention to. Even my fiancé, who does not give a damn about cars and can't tell a Ford from a Ferrari, loves it and supported its purchase over the other, much more practical vehicles I was considering. It oozes character, able to charm and disarm before you know it.
The first thing you notice when get in the car -even just when you open the door- is the smell. It's a weird thing to say, but the old Connolly leather smells incredible. In keeping with the body's ability to charm, you're enticed from the first moment. You take a seat and you're presented with classic rectangular dash and a wide center console, bathed in birdseye maple trim, and... your head is grazing the headliner. The windows are similarly short, giving a decidedly less airy feel than its German contemporaries, but the warmth of the interior design leads to a cabin that feels cozy, rather than cramped. Maybe the English are shorter than the average German, but Jaguar definitely gave up some practicality in the name of style. Front legroom is good, but the wide console encroaches a little, the rear leg room is absolutely pathetic for such a large car, and the headroom is a joke, especially in the rear where the headliner is sagging. Despite this it endears itself once again with charm, and style.
Everything you touch feels right; the door pulls are polished metal, as are the door locks. The switchgear feels robust, has a decisive haptic and audible actuation, and hasn't faded with the ages. The placement of some of that switchgear is unusual, with the lighting, cruise, and traction controls housed on a pod behind the steering wheel. It's a little awkward to reach, but it is close at hand and I suppose Jaguar didn't want to clutter the console - again, all in the name of style. The gauge cluster is excellent, featuring a full compliment of six gauges that are all perfectly legible, as well as a multifunction LCD display with a trip computer. The leather on the seats, doors and center console is still soft to the touch. The seat itself is comfortable and just supportive enough, with a wide range of adjustment that mostly works, if you wiggle the switches a bit. The climate controls and radio are housed in a pod atop the center console; the auto climate works well and is easy to figure out, and the radio is powered by a 240 watt Harmon Kardon amp and speakers which mostly sound great, except for the rear woofer speaker which is definitely blown and intermittently sounds like a wet fart.
Opening the trunk reveals once again, that the sexy silhouette came at a cost. The trunk is an okay size, but is particularly shallow. The Alpine 6 disc CD changer and Harmon Kardon amp are on prominent display, hanging from the top of the trunk, dead center and ready to be smacked by your cargo. In Jaguar's defense, there really was nowhere else to put them, as the trunk totally lacks the storage nooks you'd usually find. It's not all bad though, the liftover is quite low and the opening is exceptionally wide, so it'll be very easy to get your stuff in there.
What's under the hood?
I'm glad you asked. First thing you'll notice is that it opens in the classic European way, or as some would call it, the wrong way, hinged at the front. The second thing you'll notice, and this never gets old, is the sheer size of that engine. It never fails to elicit a "holy shit!" response from everyone who looks at it, even among the uninitiated. It's a four litre, twin cam straight six that's fed by an Eaton M90 supercharger to produce 322 hp and 378 lbs-ft of torque. It's long stroke block, and then it's adorned with a massive head to house its two camshafts, and then on top of that's it's crowned with a magnesium valve cover in a satin finish, with blood red J A G U A R lettering proudly atop. Next to that is the water-air intercooler cover, finished in bright silver and again adorned with blood red lettering declaring XJR6 sᴜᴘᴇʀᴄʜᴀʀɢᴇᴅ. And then of course, there's the blower hanging off the side of the block, way out front, on display. It's all very dramatic and continues the sense of theater that the Germans can't hold a candle to. The black covers that line the sides of the engine bay, contrasted with the bright and immense hardware of the engine is truly impressive to behold. It's all pretty intuitively laid out too, with fairly easy access to most things, and general maintenance is easy. Spark plugs are right on top, fluids are where you'd expect them to be, and the use of electric fans provides unobstructed access to the front of the engine. Most things are quite simple, but... more on that later.
What about the drive?
Twist the key and the engine turns over only two, maybe three times before the big straight six catches and comes to life with a soft growl, before settling into a quiet low idle over the next few seconds. The throttle is a little on the stiff side, and demands smooth, deliberate inputs. The engine provides sharp response that's filtered through a fairly slack torque converter; the engine will build revs very quickly before hurtling it through to the back tires; inelegant if you're not careful, lots of fun if you're in the mood to play. The stupidly overbuilt GM 4L80-E four speed automatic is very well matched to the engine, capable of snapping off crisp upshifts and prompt kickdowns, and is happy to allow the engine to wind itself out a bit and make some noise. Oh, the noise. I've personally have always had a soft spot for the baritone bellow of a good straight six, but with this engine only having a 5500rpm redline, I was worried it might be a little disappointing. Around town it's quiet and very serious and a little industrial, but when you open it up it does sound well and properly exotic like a classic XKE. Then of course there's the miniature mechanical scream from the supercharger, which is beautifully paired with the big engine's deep snarl. The J-gate shifter is satisfying to wield and intuitive in the hand, encouraging playful driving and easy access to the engine's song. My last Mercedes always felt like it was judging me when I slapped the manumatic around; I don't get that vibe here. Yes, right away sir.
The chassis is built on old bones and you can feel it, in ways good and bad. It lacks some of the vault-like solidity of its German rivals, and they are a little better at filtering out the unwanted static in the road. For this same reason, it's very communicative and makes you aware of exactly what the tires are doing at any given moment. The steering is tight, sharp, and remarkably quick, noticeably more so than the Benzes and Bimmers of the era. It's weighted with a deliberate heft, and feedback is good-not-great, but what doesn't make it through the wheel is felt through the seat. The chassis is beautifully controlled, and the lower springs, stiffer sway bars and firm Bilstein shocks that support the XJR are honest-to-god damn near perfectly matched. This is the first car I've ever had where I didn't want to change anything, they hit it out of the park the first time. All this combines with double wishbone front suspension and Jaguar's signature independent rear suspension to create a car with ferocious turn-in and unflappable grip, gently giving way to mild understeer when overcooked. I'm not sure exactly how they pulled it off, maybe it's the suspension geometry, maybe it's the seating position, or some combination thereof, but this car pivots around you like very few cars I've ever driven, and they were much smaller. It's brilliant. It really is.
The brakes are great. Not much else to be said on the topic. They feel good, they'll haul the big old thing's 4200lbs down without breaking a sweat. I encountered no fade in a long stint of spirited driving in hilly terrain. The ABS is almost imperceptible in operation, and the traction control, in typical 90's fashion is way over-intrusive, but defeatable via a button behind the steering wheel. The car also has a limited slip differential and will wag its tail, but I've only managed to break it loose on cold, wet pavement at low speed. Nonetheless, it is a party trick that my E55 -for all its capability- couldn't do to save its life.
The Jag is happy puttering around town, too. It's quiet, comfortable, smooth. It's huge tires steamroll over imperfections in the road, with only the sharpest hits reverberating through the cabin. Its thin pillars and low beltline provide for good visibility, and it is just narrow enough to snake through city traffic. With the transmission mode set to S via a rocker switch just ahead of the shifter surround, the trans will hold gears and kick down with little prodding. Set it to N, and it'll leverage the engine's seamless torque to keep the revs down unless provoked. It is perfectly able to provide healthy passing power without downshifting at all.
But what about reliability?
To my and everyone else's shock and awe, it's been fine. In this phase of ownership, an old secondary car, thrust into daily use, will almost always begin to reveal itself as a basket case of cascading failures. That's not been the case here. I've had to catch up on some deferred maintenance from the previous owner, and I've done some preventative work, but by and large it's been fine and developed no new issues since I've had it. When I bought it, it needed a transmission mount, a wheel bearing, new power steering fluid, a supercharger belt, a thermostat (stuck open),and an intake hose. That was right out of the gate - and it still drove fine while I waited for some of the parts to arrive (more on that later). The mufflers were toast and it sounded like garbage, and I've since managed to find fairly fresh OE mufflers off a parts car. It has a recurring issue where it throws O2 codes but again, it drives fine, and I have a couple spare O2's off that same parts car, I'll get to it. It had a squeak in the front end that was quieted down by a pair of new sway bar bushings, which I did in the driveway. It smelled a bit like an old racecar and this was found to be from a weeping input seal on the diff; I had this done and elected to replace the driveshaft flex disc and center support bearing at the same time for good measure. I've also done new plugs, and added an Andy Bracket, which relocates the crank position sensor to advance timing by 5 degrees, giving a nice boost in power and response. The A/C compressor leaks like a sieve and the power steering pump feels like it might be getting tired, and I'll get to these things.
There are a couple gotchas. Head gasket failures aren't common but they're not uncommon either at higher mileage. Thankfully it's not too bad of a job, as far as head gaskets go. The throttle body is very much unconveniently located right next to the block, underneath the intercooler. As such, it is only accessible from under the car - changing that intake hose was a right royal pain. The connectors for the downstream O2 sensors are wedged between the back of the engine and the firewall, and are difficult to get at - recommend they be relocated if you're in there. The big one that's not an if, but a when, is the lower rad hose, lovingly referred in the community as the octopus hose, as it has no less than seven (!!!) connections, and they are all a pain to get to. Complete removal of the intake manifold is required, which requires removal of the intercooler, which requires removal of the supercharger... Yeah. I'm not looking forward to that one. For what it's worth, Jaguar parts are very good quality, and that hose can be expected to last another 25 years at least. The way I see it, if pulling the intake is as bad as it gets on this car, I can live with that. Hell, that's routine service on some engines. Oh, and if you ever have to remove the center console to fix your inevitably broken ash tray door, be very careful, those plastics are extremely brittle. It does have a few little squeaks and rattles.
The biggest problem you'll run into is getting parts. It is a real damn shame that Jaguar does not support their older models like Mercedes and BMW do. To their credit, dealer pricing on parts is ᵃˡᵐᵒˢᵗ reasonable, but their availability is hit and miss, and it unfortunately misses on some critical things you'd expect them to keep around, even if only for a few hundred cars. I had to buy the transmission mount from the motherland, I had to get my center support bearing from California, and that intake hose came all the way from a shop in Australia (It's an odd size Kanaflex hose with an internal support pipe, believe me I tried substitutes). You might be wondering why I'm so stuck on going to the dealer for parts - bro, just go aftermarket. There is very, very little aftermarket, and most of it is cheap garbage. Run of the mill parts are out there, but you can expect to wait at least a day or so. Most anything R specific is going to be a mission. While in my experience German parts are no more affordable (going directly to Mercedes for parts is unfathomable), you have options, and they are readily available. That support is the biggest thing I miss about German car ownership. That's not to say there is no support for old Jags, you just have to go for look for it. People do love these cars and you can find just anything you'd want to know online. Fun tidbit: One of the engineers who worked on the engine and developed the tune for it, a guy named Andy Stoddart, is still quite active on Jaguar forums and is still developing upgrades for these things - hence the Andy Bracket I mentioned earlier.
It's almost a meme to assume this old Jag is a broken piece of garbage and that nothing works, but the reality stands in stark contrast to that. It starts and runs and drives every time, without issue. Everything works. The work that it has needed has been straight forward and totally forgivable on a car this age. These were some of the first cars to benefit from Ford's money, and Jaguar knew their reputation was in shambles and they had to get this right. This car had to make the brand relevant at a time when Mercedes and BMW were on the absolute peak of their game. I think they pulled it off.
I'll be the first to concede that my XJR is not as objectively good as the E55 I sold for it, or even the 540/6 that preceded the Benz. It has less trunk space, no head room, the back seat is a joke, it's slower, it's harder to get parts for, and while it is beautifully appointed, it is not as well screwed together, and doesn't feel as impeccably solid. Despite all this, as I've said before, what it gives up in pragmatism, it more than makes up for with personality. It endears you to it with its charm, and you're inclined to almost laugh off its foibles. The bar is set so low that anything it gets right is a bonus, and anything it gets wrong is just character. Yet with the things it does do right, it absolutely nails them.
It's a Jag, it's a miracle it runs at all, right?
Embedded images and more can be seen here: https://imgur.com/a/luT1MJq
Just felt like writing today. Thanks for reading.