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20 years of Clarkson: Jaguar XJR review (1995)

Best car in the world (at this moment in time)


Originally published February 19, 1995

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It was bitterly cold out there at seven this morning, and as I watched my postman trudging up the street, past all the cars that I have on test, I could not help thinking that I had a better job than him. My desk is piled high with invitations from car firms to join them on exotic trips to faraway lands. And the cars outside include a Range Rover, a Porsche 911, a Fiat Cinquecento Sporting, a Mini Cooper, a Volvo T5 and a Jaguar.

But Postman Pat does at least need a modicum of skill, whereas all you need to be a motoring journalist is a head full of opinions. Car testing is the most inexact science invented. It is simply a case of whether you like the car, and I am sad to say this sometimes has little or nothing to do with the car itself. Most of the time I adore the Jaguar XJS, but the last time I drove one it was raining, I had a headache and a cricked neck and I was trying to reverse it down a mews at night. And I absolutely hated the damn thing.

Then there is the Toyota Starlet. This is a dreadful little car, but on the two occasions I have been unfortunate enough to find myself in one, the roads have been empty, the sun has been out and I have been in heaven. The best drive of my life was in a Starlet on a deserted mountain road in Portugal.

Against this sort of background, you can see why it is hard, and sometimes impossible, to be rational. Hell, if motoring journalists were all rational, we would all agree on what is the best car in the world.

But we don’t.

I cannot even agree with myself. In two years I have had four all-time favourites: the Dodge Viper, the Aston Martin Vantage, the Escort Cosworth and the Ferrari 355.

And now there is a fifth. The Jaguar XJR.

 


1995: the year in cars

 The BMW 7-series is the first car in Britain with a satellite navigation system. Unfortunately it’s another two years until software with maps of Britain is available.

 Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond abandons his Aston Martin for a BMW Z3 in Goldeneye


 

The first time I drove this remarkable new car I was in Scotland and therefore hungry. Food is never recognisable as such up there, so I tend not to eat much.

It was also raining hard, and 321bhp engines go with wet country lanes about as well as haggis and chocolate. I knew it was a good car, but it was not until I had a go in it in England that I realised “good” was too small a word. Senbleedingsational is better.

It was getting on for midnight and the darkened M40 stretched out for 100 miles. Bob Seger was in the boot and the stars were out. The big car was impressive enough, thundering down the outside lane, quiet, unruffled and smooth as you would expect, but it was snarling rather than purring, and the fat tyres were making pitter-patter noises — unusual in a Jaguar saloon.

So, even though it was late, I turned off to see what the monster could do on normal roads. What it can do is unscrew the top of your head and insert a small egg whisk in the resulting cavity. This car is astonishing.

The steering is perfected, weighted so well that you can feel exactly what the front wheels are doing, and you know precisely what the back end is up to, almost as though it is in telepathic contact.

And if you choose to ignore the signals of impending doom, the traction control gently pushes the accelerator pedal upwards.

It does this rather a lot, because the six-cylinder, 4-litre, supercharged engine is sublime. It may do only 14mpg, but as the rev counter surged round the dial in an unending quest for the red zone, and the automatic gearbox blurred the changes, I must confess I would have been happy with 9mpg, or less. And yes, I do pay for my own petrol.

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Back in London I recalled its ability to hurtle through tightening bends with almost no body roll at all, as it slithered down the Earls Court Road, ironing out all the bumps and ridges.

Only the BMW M5 can perform this amazing feat even half as well, but it costs £52,000 and the Jaguar is only £45,000.

Within a month, I am quite sure, I shall have driven another car on a better road in finer weather, but for now the Jaguar XJR is the best car in the world.

GO TO 20 YEARS OF CLARKSON HOMEPAGE