XJ40 history Phase Four: 1986-1994 – The dream unravels. Once the launch hysteria abated, the press began to appraise Jaguar’s new star more critically.
Because the press had given (Sir) John Egan the benefit of the doubt, there was bound to be a backlash at some point. Sure enough, words like dated started to appear with increasing frequency in relation to XJ40’s styling, particularly criticism over the headlight and tail lamp treatments. Moreover, the press were of one mind regarding the instrument display and minor controls: they hated them.
Motor magazine tested a manual 2.9 model in December 1986, finding performance and fuel economy to be poor. Although Jaguar admitted the 2.9 unit was more of an economy engine in terms of production costs than from a fuel consumption standpoint, one can’t help but wonder why such an underpowered engine was sanctioned in the first place.
They also reported an “ever-present tingling sensation felt through the pedals and gearlever”, suggesting refinement remained an issue with the AJ6 engine. They were unhappy with the instruments too, complaining the fluorescent tubes for the minor gauges were too bright and difficult to read quickly, saying; “The overall effect is disappointingly downmarket and can’t be regarded as a success”. In addition, Motor’s testers flagged up a vagueness in the steering around the straight-ahead, observing; “…the car’s natural tendency is to wander and it is more easily blown off course by gusting side winds than Jaguar might like to believe”.
Jaguar’s arch-rivals also had their enthusiasm in check. Mercedes-Benz engineers praised the AJ6 engine but little else. BMW’s Eberhard Von Kuhnheim, told Car that Jaguar, was simply not a rival. BMW had just launched a new (E32) 7-Series model and journalists clamoured to compare them. Needless to say, the Seven was a superb product, marrying tradition with modernity in a very pleasing manner. Many auto journalists concluded the BMW was superior, being palpably more accomplished – comfort, silence and ultimate handling finesse aside.
XJ40 gained one well placed defender however in Uwe Bahnsen, Ford’s eminent former European design chief. Discussing both cars with Car‘s Geoffrey Howard, he observed; “In many ways Jaguar have moved much further forward because the uniqueness of their image and character was more than BMW’s and the task was much harder. I don’t feel as warm and happy with the 7-Series as the new XJ6”
In the US, Road & Track were generally positive in their 1987 review of the car, but also faulted the instrument layout, the quality of some interior fittings and its ‘sedate’ power delivery from standstill. But their sum-up got to the nub of America’s ambivalence towards XJ40, stating; “What we have here, meanwhile, is an excellent replacement for a car that turned out to be so desirable it didn’t really need to be replaced.” The US press as a whole were less effusive and it began to appear as though it would live in the shadow of its illustrious predecessor in American hearts and minds.
In addition to issues of finish, problems arose with the self-levelling rear suspension, brakes, rear axles and electrics; largely owing to inconsistent assembly and poor quality components, raising a serious question over whether the British motor industry could still operate at World class. Jaguar was breaking new ground and would pay a price for being first in the field. Problems were not entirely confined to the US, although there were climatic and use issues that were unique to the region. Either way, warranty costs began to escalate.
Car subjected a well-worn press car to a comparison test in November ‘87. Against a Rover Sterling and a Vauxhall Senator, the XJ6 easily took the honours, but with this proviso; “If showroom cars are built like the one we were given, then we’re worried… there’s no doubt in our mind that this car won’t look good enough in a year or three”. The pre-production XJ rattled, had trim and panel fit issues and showed early signs of rust.
But you can’t un-launch a car, and with vultures circling, Egan and his team faced a new battle – to restore XJ40’s reputation.
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