Jaguar had clear ideas about a replacement for the venerable XJ40. To answer criticisms about the car's aesthetics, stylists would return to a traditional Jag look; curves, haunches and hooded headlights.
The newcomer would be powered by a range of all-new V8 engines and five-speed gearboxes, to address grumblings from owners of the then-current car's slightly gruff and unrefined nature, considered unbefitting of what was supposed to be a luxury, high-end saloon. After all, you didn't want to upset Francis Urquhart or The Equalizer...
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By the early 1990s, the XJ40 was outdated and largely accepted as a temperamental money pit. However, Jag's new V8 engine was behind schedule, still under development and not yet production ready.
In a bid to keep the model range fresh, the brand elected to clothe a revised version of the ageing six-cylinder engine in the (mostly) new body to create what became known as the X300. It wasn't until 1997 – which also marked the arrival of Tony Blair – that the X300 finally became the car it should always have been.
The three engine options were all V8s and more powerful than their six-cylinder equivalents, while their smoothness rivalled that of Jaguar's own fabled V12. The new X308, as it was called, was a revelation for those planning a repeat purchase from Brown's Lane.
The new V8 was available as a 3.2-litre, and it made a more-than-respectable 240bhp. Customers opting for the 4.0 enjoyed a potent 290bhp on tap, whereas clients and golfers with larger wallets ordering the 4.0-litre supercharged monster had a whopping 370bhp under their right foot. The performance on offer was leagues better than that of any previous XJ, and, for a time, the supercharged XJR was the fastest four-door saloon money could buy.
This feat appears all the more impressive when you consider the ride and handling of this-generation XJ surpassed that of its rivals, too. Settle into those big, inviting seats behind the one-piece dash, with its recessed dials and echoes of the E-type FHC, and it is a supple, elegant place in which to sit and cover huge miles. Heading to Boodles or the bookies, it made no difference – comfort was the order of the day.
Yet throw that bulk into a bend at speed and the nose would waft around exactly where you directed it, instead of spinning into a ditch or mounting a tree like preceding XJ models. This was all without compromising the comfort levels on offer. Smoking a cigar and cornering at 70mph, while passengers scoffed down caviar, had never been so easy.
Worlds apart from the XJ40 and X300 from which it is derived, both mechanically and aesthetically, the X308 also appeared to have mastered ergonomics, too. For starters, you could see and reach all the switches, unlike Jags of old, and the 1980s slab-sided styling replaced by gentle curves and large slabs of technology.
Granted, there are one or two Ford switches, while the foglamp controls were clearly placed by a designer who hated the potential clientele, but those really are the only complaints. Modern ergonomics clothed in classical elegance.
What are the benefits?
The X308 rides smoothly, provides little to no road noise, powers along effortlessly even in baby 3.2-litre form and offers a driving position that is second to none. These big cats can cover intergalactic mileages if serviced regularly, and only mega-expensive barges for the super-rich exceed the cabin refinement. This model is ideal for loping across the continent – the author speaks from experience – and you'll even grasp 30mpg along the motorway. Fast, frugal (by Jag terms, at least) and stylish – what's not to like?
Providing you can get enough luggage in it (the X308 operates with a 'reverse Tardis' effect, with ample girth and length yet little space in the boot) they make a wonderful car in which to go touring. The traction control laughs in the face of road sleet and wet motorways.
To live with, they make a good deal of sense, too, assuming you can forgive the lack of space for rear passengers. The boot is sufficient for your weekly shop, should you wish to use your classic Jaguar for such things (and why not? I do).
What about reliability?
They are actually very reliable if cared for, despite early issues with failing Nikasil cylinder liners and timing-chain tensioners. An X308 with modified tensioners and water pump is a thoroughly dependable car that, should you so desire, you can use every day.
The benefit of doing so is that every 24 hours you experience a velvet adrenaline rush to jump-start your emotions; you very feel privileged indeed. Every day, you will feel like you've made it in life. Every day, you will feel like the world is treating you well.
The only real cost is fuel economy around town, but it is worthwhile for the sense of occasion. This is a car that fits anywhere it goes, be that the supermarket car park, a country hotel or even outside the Casino de Monte-Carlo.
Why do I want one over a German equivalent?
The car really is the ultimate embodiment of those core XJ values of grace, pace and – this one may be arguable unless you go for a long-wheelbase model – space. The silky-smooth engine, sprightly performance, classic styling and usability make absolutely sure of that, and it seems that the market is cottoning on to it, at last.
This comes as no surprise as, in the X308's 20th year, people are realising that it is, as the last steel-bodied XJ and the first to feature a modern V8 drivetrain, the perfect concoction of classic and contemporary Jaguars.
The blend of ride comfort, quietness, uncomplaining nature and relative frugality make it an ideal candidate for bargain of the decade. Buy one now, before prices head skywards.
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