As an opening statement, declaring that the Jaguar XJS V12 is sporty is probably a little controversial. Perhaps as controversial as the XJS itself when it was launched in 1975. Now I’m not going to go on about how the successor to the legendary E-Type got a bit of a lukewarm reception on it debut. That’s been covered before and is well documented. Instead I’m going to focus on what I thought of the mighty V12 coupe. And here’s a hint… it left me pretty impressed.
Having owned a 1988 Jaguar XJ40 Sovereign (watch our road trip film with the XJ40 here), I was expecting a very similar experience when I climbed into the XJS. Obviously the big difference here was the 3.6 AJ6 straight six versus the behemoth 5.3ltr V12. It’s hard to miss and to be honest, the mighty, thirsty lump has always been the XJS coupes main attraction.
Firing up the V12 was something of a surprise. You can hardly hear it and the first time I turned the key I actually thought the car hadn’t started. But it had! With the XJ40 as soon as you turned the key the engine roared into life and settled into a refined whirr. With the V12 the soundproofing employed by Jaguar made it virtually silent. Not what I had expected. I was of course aware of the high levels of refinement employed in the XJS, which was world class in the 1980s. But still, it was a nice surprise.
What also surprised me was how the interior of the XJS differed from the XJ40 (which was launched in 1986). The three speed automatic transmission wasn’t a J-Gate box, the seats were different, as were the dials and gauges. Of course the XJS had been around a lot longer than the XJ40 and while both cars were the same age, it was obvious how the different design eras influenced both models.
One thing I will stress about the cabin of the Jaguar XJS V12 coupe is the amount of space available. I’ve read comments before stating that the XJS was cramped. Now that I couldn’t quite understand… I mean have you tried to climb in and out of a Jaguar E-Type 2+2? It’s not exactly dignified. And if you are a bit tall you’ll struggle for head room. I found none of these issues in the XJS. The cabin was spacious, the leather seats were great and the centre arm rest height almost matched the door card arm rest, meaning you could just relax and sit back, as if you were in a big comfy wing back chair. Electric seats, electric windows, cruise control, air conditioning and the light elm wood trim added to the sense of luxury. For a 1988 car, this was top of the line and still holds up very well today.
Driving around with the V12, I found it very civilised. Acceleration and gear change were very smooth. It was perfectly happy plodding along at low speeds, cruising effortlessly and almost silently. And then when you needed its 285BHP, you buried the throttle and suddenly you were treated to a surge of power. As the revs build the V12 starts to sing, but the cabin refinement and to be honest, the Jaguar exhaust system, restricts the V12 bellow.
But despite not being able to truly enjoy the V12 (when compared to the sound of a Lamborghini or a Ferrari V12), what you are treated to is the way the XJS picks up speed. It is very very rapid and it really does feel like you have unleashed a nuclear missile. While the 5.3ltr single overhead cam engine only has 285BHP (yes only), it does have a tremendous amount of torque. Which put simply means it pulls like a train. It is a true GT car designed to cover vast distances with ease, whilst ensuring that the driver and his/her passenger arrive at their destination feeling fresh.
So you could say I’ve have argued that the Jaguar XJS V12 isn’t a sports car. Sure it might not have the handling of a Lotus but for the cars size and the weight of that massive engine up front, the XJS handles amazingly well. Planting it into corners it felt balanced and controlled meaning you can attack bends far quicker than you might think. I expected a lot of body roll but the suspension was tight. And the steering, while light, allowed me to effortlessly attack the corners and come out the other side with a big smile on my face. And thanks to the V12s torque, it pulls out of the corners very well. While there’s no doubt that a TWR spec XJS V12 would probably handle much better, the XJS V12 Coupe performs admirably.
It may sound a bit cheesy to declare that the Jaguar XJS V12 is an awesome car but it is. If you can forgive its horrendous fuel consumption it is one of the most practical V12 coupes you can buy. And while the Jaguar V12 has a reputation for being complicated and prone to over heating and dropping valve seats, if you source one that’s been well looked after, isn’t rusty and doesn’t have electrical gremlins, you’ve got one hell of a GT cruiser.
After languishing in the doldrums for what seems like an eternity, the Jaguar XJS V12s time has come. And the time to buy one is now. After owning a Jaguar XJ40, I wouldn’t say no to owning a V12 XJS.
A big thank you to Graham Eason and the Great Escape Cars team for providing their XJS. More details on hiring this car can be found on their website: www.greatescapecars.co.uk