Paltry, half-hearted E-type successor? Rust-laden Leyland relic? or Half price, old school bargain super GT?
The XJS is probably Jaguars most unloved car and certainly the only sporting Jaguar which isn't avidly collected by middle aged men in woolly jumpers.
A rough runner can be had for mini-money, yet you would be expected to pay wads of dosh out for a basket case E-type which would cost thousands just to get running.
The reputation of the E-type set standards that the XJS just never managed to live up to. Every boring anorak and his dog will tell you how the XJS is a fat, foul looking beast, not worthy of carrying the Jaguar sporting legend.
Problem is, they are always referring to the sixties series one and series two cars, which are admittedly, very pretty indeed. What they neglect to mention is that the Series 3, V12 E-type (which directly preceded the XJS) is compared to the slinky feline S1 and S2, the world's fattest tabby on a course of steroids.
It wasn't all Jaguar's fault. Legislation forced styling changes on all car manufacturers and reigned in the free hand that the stylists had previously enjoyed - and that V12 takes up an awful lot of space.
In reality, the XJS was just a restyled E-type with improved suspension and brakes. OK, the styling didn't break new ground like the early E, and the flying buttress rear was a pale imitation of the Maserati Bora and Merak, but to say it's anything less than a handsome motor car is being rather unkind and really rather stupid.
Of course, there are some things Jaguar can be blamed for: not making a soft-top for over a decade was kind of short sighted, and only having a petrol gorging V12 in the middle of multiple oil crises didn't help much either. But in the end, it was the perceived lack of build quality which really destroyed the cars aspirations and reputation.
Some of this was down to rather overly demanding public expectations, which somehow bring about inappropriate comparisons such as between 100,000 pound Ferraris driven only a handful of miles a year and 50,000 pound Jaguars doing 20 or 30 thou. But many complaints centered quite rightly on some of the fittings which the XJS seemed to share with Morris Marinas and Austin Allegros.
Strangest of all, most of the critics of this car have never actually driven one, and probably never driven an E-type either, yet can still pontificate about how bad an XJS is merely by regurgitating hearsay. Well, we at UK CAR don't take that attitude. Instead, we actually got our hands on one to test.
Just take a look at this picture, is this really an ugly car? I think not.
When the keys to a motor like this are jangled in the office, only the strong and fit will survive the scrum down to get a ride. Luckily, while the rest were fighting, I stole the key and took off before the bloodbath spilled over into the car park.
In the flesh, this is one intimidating car - low, wide and very very long. Huge overhangs exaggerate its length even more, its only when you get up close and find the roof at stomach rather than chest height that you get any real sense of its proportions.
Entry to the front, at least is fairly easy despite a wide sill at low stance, due to long doors. In theory you could take your granny for a ride in the rear, but only if she was a former Olympic gymnast. Luckily for me, I didn't have to contort myself in there but at least it looked like you could actually sit there once, which is more than many supposed 4-seater coupes can manage.
Once esconced comfortably inside, the XJS starts to send you mixed messages. The seats are firm, leather, electric powered and supportive. They seem to have little lateral support but you're wedged in by the big sills and transmission tunnel so you're not going to slide off anywhere. Chrome detail and walnut abound around the dash but the wooden(?) piece behind the non-reflective instrument glass looks strangely lighter and different to the other sections. All the electric gadgets are here of course, but all the switches appear to come from a BL Metro parts bin circa 1980. Worst of all are the Metro/ Maestro/ Montego indicators which jar your senses every time you look at them. Can you imagine finding Fiat Panda parts in your Ferrari? No, neither can I. The steering wheel is straight old XJ6 too, nice to hold but damned ugly to look at. Most of the interior is fine, it's just some of the details that grate.
Anyway, fire it up, wait a second whilst the PAS and PAB engage their brains and then prepare for trial number one - a creeping 57-point turn out of the car park. A person of my height is lucky enough to be able to see the front and rear of the car but there is still a raft of blind spots, anyone shorter may find the tail hidden, anyone much taller will need an open sunroof to get their bounce in.
The six cylinder motor is as smooth as expected and the combination of strong bottom end and auto-box makes negotiating traffic a doddle. At this speed, the steering's lightness means your granny could punt it around with a couple of arthritic fingers and the pressure of a bunioned toe. The ride is smooth and fuss-free, just reminding you how bad the road surface is , with a gentle well damped thump.
On wider, faster roads, the car starts to shrink in size. The well controlled body movement, lack of roll and well controlled suspension allow the car to be hustled around easily, the only let-down here is that the steering is now over-light. What was a pleasure around town now fails to instill confidence as there is now no real feeling of connection between you and the wheels. It's never going to let you down though and the big tyres offer tremendous levels of grip, it's just that turning hard is an act of faith. That said, it's no worse than any modern Audi.
Nailing the throttle from the the lights your first impression is that taking 6 cylinders and a couple of litres from the engine may have just left it a tad underpowered, until you look at the speedo that is and realise your guesstimated 50 is in reality 90. This is a good indication of how good the chassis is as it lets you cruise at license losing speeds without even trying, or even noticing.
Grace and pace this Jag may have in abundance but space is not its forte. Alec Issigonnis would turn in his grave at the sight of one of these. It's like a mini in reverse - maximum road acreage, minimum interior room. Even the boot, which looks as though it would swallow a few bags of golf clubs is mostly full of wheel and battery. Still, if you don't play golf, you should be all right.
The rear seats look OK but getting into them would probably cause an awful lot of trauma to any one other than an Olympic Gymnast.
Well if loads of room, and the cost of petrol mean anything to you, no. But if you want a stylish grand touring sportster, the XJS is a fine car. As it's now a defunct Jaguar, it can only be a matter of time before the collectors move in so if you've always fancied one now's the time, whilst prices are rock bottom. If I had the cash I would certainly be tempted, just make sure you can cover the not insubstanstial running costs before splashing out.
If I were a rich man diddle diddle ........................
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