The car that British Leyland should have built.
The Jaguar XJ6 and Daimler Six range of 1995-1997 - codenamed "X300" - almost represents the culmination of the best elements of five decades of motoring design. The sumptuous leather, wood trim and delightfully British eccentricities such as the walnut "picnic" tables are straight out of 1950s Pathe newsreels. The bold, thrusting elegance of the body shape is a result of the daring optimism and design artistry of the Sixties. Myriad switches and buttons reflect the 1970s when equipment levels started to rise. Automotive computer technology of the Eighties is present in the green-on-black digital readouts and electronic management systems. Safely wrapping up the whole package, the suspension, steering, reliability, build quality and corrosion protection are the height of early 1990s engineering. Do these ancient and modern axioms work harmoniously together?...
In my car the engine - which has now covered almost 125,000 miles - always fires up immediately at the turn of the key. If the car has been stood for a couple of weeks, it tends to sound a little "ragged" for the first couple of miles, though soon settles into the stealthy purr you expect from the Big Cat. On the other hand when used regularly the old "straight six" will immediately adopt an almost silent idle and is gorgeously smooth right from the off. Clearly an engine that loves to be driven!
Whether negotiating stop/start traffic or sprinting down the motorway, the engine, gearbox and drivetrain work in perfect concert, delivering a smooth but powerful air to proceedings. The gearshift operates smoothly (indeed better than my 50,000-mile 2003 Ford Mondeo auto) and, as with everything about controlling this huge car, little physical movement is required by the driver.
The steering is amazingly light and pin-sharp - and the turning circle is so tight that even my long wheelbase ("LWB") version tackles mini-roundabouts almost as though it was a Nissan Micra.
The straight-line performance is immensely satisfying: on motorways it effortlessly leaves modern Mercs and BMWs behind. Acceleration from 70mph to 120mph is brisk yet deceptively so as the car still feels quite docile, as though you're still just tickling it rather than giving it some real welly.
The ride quality is delightfully "wafty" in that laid-back Jaguar/Daimler tradition - indeed constantly undulating roads may pose a problem for occupants prone to car sickness. Don't buy one of these cars for throwing around corners: they are essentially geared towards a relaxed, chauffeur-driven style of driving (despite what you may have seen in "The Sweeney"!) That said the handling is surprisingly taut for such a big old "barge" - as long as you remember that you're not driving a Golf GTi, you'll be safe!
The brakes are acutely responsive (and again, far better than my Mondeo) yet bring the car to a halt smoothly and without fuss - clearly a superb design.
Other than a couple of very minor trim rattles (inaudible if the radio is on) at certain speeds, the interior has obviously been well screwed together.
The comprehensive set of warning indicators and gauges takes me back to dashboards of the 1960s - a lovely and highly useful touch.
Downsides? Yes, there are a few...
The tail end of the boot cannot be seen through the rear window, so reversing involves caution, experience and crossed fingers. Owners trying to park on our crowded streets would be well advised to fit after-market rear parking sensors - these were not available as factory-fit items on the car until the revised "X308" range was introduced in 1997.
The auto gearbox is only four-speed so at 70mph the engine is spinning at 2,800rpm - high by modern standards. Great for performance but does the fuel economy no favours. (I have yet to try out the "Sports" mode!)
Compared to modern cars, the twenty-year-old suspension design isn't the best when pitted against the UK's chronically neglected road surfaces. While it's certainly as good as any other cars of the same vintage, recent engineering design improved in, ahem, leaps and bounds to beat this spiraling problem. (Actually I suspect my car would show some improvement if I renewed its old springs.)
The poorest aspects of the car centre around the interior. Exquisitely appointed as the cabin is, its layout and use of space has a host of (literal!) shortcomings that betray the XJ's 1960s roots. Despite the overall length of the car, the cabin is not terribly well accommodating for people over six feet tall. Such drivers suffer the double-blow of not being able to push their seat back quite far enough, yet will also struggle to reach the controls on the centre fascia. Additionally with the steering wheel likely to be moved as fully forward as possible, it actually obscures many of the dashboard-mounted switches and warning lights, while the top of the wheel, direction indicator and windscreen wiper stalks become rather "crushed" against the dash. Although the front seats have height adjustment, headroom will be also be a problem for tall drivers of cars fitted with a sunroof.
Meanwhile even average-sized passengers will struggle in the back as the legroom is astonishingly poor on the standard cars. If you anticipate having to regularly carry rear passengers, the LWB version is imperative.
Switchgear is scattered about, much of it being placed on the fascia's centre console rather than, more usefully, close to the driver. On the high-spec models the myriad buttons are necessarily small and close together, so you have to take your eye off the road for a couple of seconds to locate them. The cruise control is activated by a strange plastic lever that juts out from the side of the fascia and seems terribly vulnerable to being broken.
Boot space is surprisingly generous. But cabin storage space is practically non-existent. The glovebox is aptly-named: it will accommodate nothing more than a pair of small mittens! While the armrest between the front seats hinges up to reveal a stowage well, it is too shallow to be of much use. The same problem afflicts the door pockets.
Despite the car's width, weight and low profile, it is surprisingly susceptible to cross-winds - again I put this down to its vintage bodyshape (and perhaps the need to renew some of the suspension components). Dropping the tyre pressures to 28psi improves matters noticeably but the car is still prone to "tramlining".
There was a huge range of optional extras offered on the Jaguar/Daimler range. The "base" models are surprisingly sparse equipment-wise - you don't even get leather seats, for example, To my knowledge climate control, all-round electric windows, a radio-cassette with 6-CD changer and a trip computer (distance traveled, distance until empty tank, average and instant fuel consumption, etc) were the only standard "luxuries" fitted across all variants - at least in 1995. A fully-loaded car, such as you get with the Daimler versions, however, will possess headlamp washers, cup-holders for front and rear occupants, traction control, cruise control, heated windscreen, power fold door mirrors, electrically moveable and heated seats all round with memory positioning, an electric sunroof... and, of course, those delightful picnic tables! It's well worth shopping around for the higher-spec cars as they can be had for little more than the "basic" equivalent and, in my experience, the aged electrics remain reliable.
Although the 3.2-litre engine is by no means a sluggard, the performance difference between that and the 4-litre is noticeable. With the bigger motor more capable of carrying the car, its fuel consumption should not only be comparable but, driven sensibly, may well prove to be better. For the second-hand market its "little brother" is arguably rendered redundant.
The few faults my car has exhibited are entirely acceptable for such a vintage machine. Would I buy another? Absolutely! But it would have to be the post-1997 "X308" model which came with a five-speed auto box. At present these command significantly higher prices than the earlier cars.
In summary the Jaguar and Daimler "X300" and "X308" range built from 1994 to 2003 are reliable, well-built, comprehensively rust-proofed and great to drive - indeed a complete reversal of the "lost" twenty-five years under British Leyland.
So why are they so cheap to buy? Well the ghost of BL doesn't help: despite a 180 degree turnabout in quality and reliability, any manufacturer faces a near-impossible struggle to rebuild such a shattered reputation, no matter how hard it works. Parts and servicing costs are exorbitant - particularly as it is not a mechanically- or technologically-sophisticated car. And in this age of fuel price extortion, the non-availability of diesel engines in the range perhaps renders them impractical as daily runners. But as a weekender and for special occasions, a fit Big Cat will give you a lot of driving pleasure. Its sheer road presence is unbeatable, especially compared to its bland German rivals... and therein lies the biggest problem with these cars: buy wisely and you will fall in love with it and want to drive it all the time!
It may have been a White Elephant under the Lame Duck that was British Leyland, but Ford pulled the Magic Rabbit out of the hat for the Big Cat!