road test: 1994 Jaguar XJ6 3.2 Sovereign

3That Jaguar’s original 1968 XJ6 was a brilliant car was never in doubt. The company’s double wishbone suspended chassis was heavenly, giving a better-than-Rolls Royce ride allied to sportscar handling. The XK engine was a masterpiece of its day, turbine-smooth yet as muscular as any V8, and never short of power. The fluid, curvacious bodywork – a William Lyons original – was seen by many as one of the most beautiful ever on a motor vehicle. All of this made for a multi-award winning design that Jaguar couldn’t make enough of, all the way up to 1986…

Wonderful the original ‘series’ XJ6 may have been, but it was also woefully flawed. Whilst it out-shone, out-ran, out-handled and out-rode its premium German opposition by a mile, it was Jaguar resale values that were on the floor after ten years, not Mercedes’. The problem was the poor quality and reliability which plaged series one, two and three cars. The car itself was actually extremely strong, with a fault-free body and engine – it was the components bought in from outside suppliers which were killing the car, everything from central locking motors to heaters and electronic ignition systems.

It was amazing then that Jaguar made precisely the same mistakes with the XJ6 series 3’s replacement – the XJ40. It was a great car – the first of the modern age to offer (what people would later talk about as) Lexus-levels of quietness and refinement – but again Jaguar ended up with door handles falling off, faulty bulb failure warning lights and electric windows packing up at stupidly low mileages. The car magazines loved the ’40, but only until stories of its unreliability began…

Finally, in 1994 Jaguar laid all this to rest. The X300 was a lightly restyled XJ40, complete with XJ6 series 3-alike frontal treatment, which worked surprisingly well. It introduced the new AJ16 engines, which finally ironed out the (relatively small) bugs in the previous AJ6s, and they were magnificently smooth. Also, we’d later find out they were the most reliable power units Jaguar has ever made…

Aside from ‘nose job’ and engines however, almost nothing was new on the X300 – aside from a completely revised shopping list of suppliers. Almost all the electrics were Japanese with the XJ40’s leak-prone, gremlin-infested heating system substituted for a bullet-proof Nippondenso unit. Elsewhere under the bonnet, other Nipponese names popped up where once you’d have seen the dreaded ‘Lucas’ legend!

The result was a car with all the beauty, poise, comfort and elegance of the XJ40 – which still compares very well with any new car at any price in these respects – without the droopy headliners, faulty dashboards or wet feet. Instead, the properly sorted X300 let you experience the XJ6 at its purest and best. It’s a magnificently riding saloon car – only the XJS and series 3 XJ6 beat it for the amazing, Zen-like calm it instills in the driver – but one that’s also tactile and fun to drive too. Unlike big Beemers and Mercedes, the X300’s brilliant suspension makes the car dissolve around you and you can drive it almost as you would a two-seater, just don’t forget it’s seventeen feet long when you try to park it! With bulletproof engines and a hardy ZF autobox, an immensely strong (and heavy) bodyshell that once topped the nineteen nineties Euro NCAP crash tests, excellent (largely Japanese) electrics and a superb finish – the X300 was the car Jaguar had always wanted the XJ6 to be.

Sadly though it didn’t last long; just three years later the X308 had arrived, packing an AJ V8 engine that brought with it a host of new problems. This was the age of Nikasil cylinder bores, which Jaguar soon found out didn’t mix well with Britain’s sulpherous unleaded petrol – and in came a wave of expensive warranty claims. Then there were those fragile plastic camchain tensioners, making the XJ8 was a ticking time bomb waiting to go wrong. So bad were the X308’s gremlins that now the older ‘300 is actually a more expensive and sought-after car. It was the one time – before the newest generation of Jaguars – that the company got it completely, comprehensively right.

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