XJ8 or XJR: What Makes Them Different
At Great Driving Days we recently added a 1997 Jaguar XJ8 to our hire fleet. As we already offer a 1995 Jaguar XJR you might be forgiven for asking 'why?' Because on the face of it, these cars look virtually identical and surely offer pretty much the same experience.
We think differently. And hopefully after reading below about the key differences between these cars, you'll understand why we felt we needed both.
But first, some background.
The Same, But Different
The XJR model - code named X300 by Jaguar - was launched in 1994, but it wasn't really a new car. Beneath and between the front and rear facelifts lay Jaguar's XJ40 of the 1980s. To save money Jaguar even launched it with an identical interior. The car did get significantly revised engines, including the superlative straight six 4 litre supercharged engine that propels the Great Driving Days XJR.
The X300 was only ever intended as a stop gap, a staging post before Jaguar's brand new V8 engine was ready. When it became available in 1996 Jaguar dropped it into the X300 and created the X308 of 1997. Our XJ8 is an early X308. Externally the 'new' car was little changed from the X300 except for front and rear bumpers. But inside the car got the new interior the X300 was meant to have. And under the bonnet, of course, was that lovely smooth brand new 4 litre V8.
So, two cars that seem to be the same car. But the engine changes, plus that new interior and sports versus luxury specification do create quite different driving experiences.
The XJR uses the excellent AJ6 4 litre engine with a Garrett supercharger bolted on. When Jaguar launched this engine it was so good that they had to detune it in the XJS because it was cannibalising sales of the silky smooth V12. The new engine offered smoothness and performance so close to the V12 that it rendered the older engine redundant.
The AJ6 uses a very traditional Jaguar engine layout - straight six, like the original XK, rather than the more common V6. Where rivals opted for the boom or bust of turbochargers, Jaguar chose a supercharger for the XJR because it delivers a more seamless urge of power virtually from the first press of the accelerator. This is a car that is happy to pootle but much happier heading for the horizon.
The V8 engine in the XJ8 was Jaguar's first eight cylinder and the objective was high levels of smoothness and power. They succeeded because this engine is turbine-like, with very little fuss or effort required to reach high speeds. But it is quite different to the supercharged 6 cylinder - undoubtedly smoother and of course without the supercharger soundtrack. Unlike the XJR, the XJ8 is all about unruffled progress, quietly proceeding whilst perhaps enjoying some Bach on the CD player.
Power outputs are similar - 322 for the XJR and 290 for the XJ8. But it's how that is delivered that sets them apart.
The original X300 was one of the first products of Ford's 1990 takeover of Jaguar. The firm wanted quick wins, revamping quality and refreshing the cars to help boost sales. So the X300 was rushed to market, a quick nip and tuck of the front and rear being the only changes over the aging XJ40 that lay beneath.
This meant there was no time to change the XJ40 interior, which itself had been designed in the 1970s, such was the XJ40's glacial progress from design to showroom. So it was pretty creaky by the time it was unveiled in the X300. Nevertheless, it is a very Jaguar place to be with oodles of wood and leather.
The X308's main improvement over the X300, then, is its interior. Finally the car got the interior ambiance it deserved. And the X308 interior is a really good one: lots of wood and leather that ensure you can only ever be in one place: a Jaguar.
Our Classic Jaguar Hire Fleet
1969 Jaguar E Type coupe
1965 Jaguar Mk2 3.4 MOD
1998 Jaguar XJS V12 coupe
1994 Jaguar XJR
1996 Jaguar XJ8 LWB
1998 Jaguar XK8 coupe
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Thanks to being based on the XJ40, a car designed in the 1970s, the X300 interior is surprisingly small for such a huge car. This is most obvious to rear seat passengers whose already limited rear legroom is further robbed by the big comfy seats enjoyed by those in the front.
Jaguar tried to address this problem - which had beset its saloon cars right back to the earliest XJs - by offering a long wheelbase version. Unfortunately, on the X300, this wasn't available for the sports models.
Our XJ8, thankfully, benefits from the extra wheelbase. This is the major difference between the two cars: the later model offers the sort of legroom familiar to limousine passengers but which XJR passengers can only dream of.
Jaguars have always had a well-earned reputation for superb ride and handling. So you'd expect these two cars to feel quite similar on the road. They don't.
Ride and handling is where the XJR and XJ8 feel most different. One is meant to be a sports car, one is a would-be limousine.
The XJR was Jaguar's first proper sports-focussed saloon and so to get it right the firm handed the job of developing it to TWR, which managed its racing team. TWR was tasked with creating a car that would take the fight to BMW's M5 super saloon. And in many ways it did, but in a distinctly Jaguar-like way. Where the M5 is a fairly no-compromise mile muncher, with a Germanic firm ride, the XJR manages to combine Jaguar-esque smoothness with sharp cornering. The attempt to balance these two competing requirements is not an unparalleled success, but any short drive in the XJR will impress with how well TWR managed to tweak what was, in 1994, a pretty creaky set of running gear. The suspension is firm, but not unpleasantly so.
In contrast, the XJ8 is built for comfort. And this really is what Jaguar does extremely well. Since the original XJ of the late 1960s, Jaguars have had a reputation for superb ride and body control and the XJ8 maintains that tradition. It smooths out uneven tarmac and keeps road noise to a minimum.
Two similar cars, two very different ways to travel.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days. 01527 893733