1989 Jaguar XJ6 4.0 XJ40-type vs. BMW 535i Automatic SE E34 Giant Retro Road Test


Last year (1988), Jaguar built almost 52,000 cars. That’s a tenth of the volume pushed out by Mercedes, which assembled 560,000, and BMW, which chalked up 484,000. The figures are important, because they give you an idea of just how small Jaguar is. It isn’t hard to infer from this that Jaguar has pretty limited resources compared with its German rivals. And that it’s close to a miracle that the Coventry firm manages to build a car remotely competitive with the best efforts of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The British engineers can thank the law of diminishing returns for the fact that the £200 million spent on the XJ40 produced a car able to compete with the £700 million 7-series E32. It’s more miraculous still when you consider the XJ40 was virtually all new.

Fortunately for Jaguar lovers (and shareholders) the 40 has been a success, helping its maker to sales records in markets as disparate as France and Japan, besides doubling saloon sales here in Britain. And it hasn’t done badly in the States either, protecting Jaguar, at least in part, from the fall off in demand for European cars.

But this year (1989), Jaguar sales are expected to level off at around the 50.000 mark after a couple of seasons of impressive growth. The downturn in American sales, on which Coventry is so dependent, is the main reason. So this change, the major plank of which is a 4.0-litre engine, happens to come along at an opportune moment. It will certainly give Jaguar something to talk about during the spectacularly expensive launch of Lexus and Infiniti across the pond.

‘The XJ6 competes not only with the 7-series and the S-class, but the 5-series and W124 too’


JAGUAR Excellent roadholding, but mushy steering hurts handling. Leather optional on XJ6. You sit low, cocooned in opulence.


BMW Sharper, better balanced than Jag, more communicative. Leather an option. Well designed cabin, lacks elegance of wood.

Over here, the Oriental twins are likely to be less of a threat, because they aren’t targetted so penetratingly at European hearts. Instead, the XJ has to contend with the German opposition. In Britain, Mercedes and BMW have healthy and growing market shares, both easily out-selling Jaguar. Which isn’t surprising, when you consider that they have the 190E W201 and 3-series E30 ranges swelling the numbers. But they also have two ranges apiece to do a job that Jaguar must manage with one. The XJ6 competes not only with 7-series E32 and the S-class W126/V126/C126, but the 5-series E34 and the W124 as well. True, the Jag may be bigger than the German mid-rangers, but it’s in the same price bracket.

JAGUAR Revised analogue Instruments big improvement; mossy detailing. Jag more determined understeerer. Suspension rubber masks feedback.

BMW Clear instrumentation, lovely dash. Commanding driving position. Rear end more likely to break away than in Jag; more fun to punt hard.

The XJ range is still good value, as has long been the Browns Lane tradition. That’s especially true of the standard model, which in 4.0-litre form costs £25.200 to the £26.995 of the 535i SE E34 model. Even without the SE goodies (electric sunroof, front seat armrests, headlamp washers and rear head restraints), which lower the price to £25,995, the 535i is still significantly more expensive than the Jaguar.

It’s the same story with the Benz. Even in pre-facelift, 12-valve guise the Mercedes-Benz 300E W124 costs £26,500 (1989 UK). But post-facelift, and with the 24 valves that will bring its power output closer (if not close enough) to the XJ’s, the 300E is likely to cost over £30,000. And excellent though it is, the latest W124 still doesn’t shade the best of the 5-series models. For that reason, and because a facelift Benz isn’t available here yet, we lined the newly fettled XJ6 up against the best car BMW makes – and the best In the class – the 535i.

So what do the XJ40 improvements consist of? Mostly more power, and in particular, more torque. The extra 390cc adds another 14 horses to the 3.6’s 221: this might seem modest, but torque blooms from 249lb ft to 285lb ft and peaks earlier too. There are changes to the engine management system aimed at improving refinement, the auto transmission now includes a BMW-style ‘sport’ mode, and there’s a new Getrag manual gearbox, which works excellently.

Cosmetically, the chief change turns up inside, where the scrappy analogue and digital instrument cluster has been ditched in favour of a display with six round dials.

The rest are detail changes. The door handles need 50 percent less effort to lilt, you need only one key to open all the locks (about time, too), the indicator stalk is now conventional, there’s a remote boot lid release, the sound-proofing material has changed, some minor control graphics have been altered and there are some new colours and trims. Most of the changes, says Jaguar, are a response to customer criticism rounded up during extensive market research exercises.


The harder you look at it, the better the BMW gets. Strip away the famous kidney grille, and you’re left with a handsome, wedged saloon of pleasing but undramatic proportions. But what sets it apart, besides its nasal identity, is the quality of detailing. The treatment of door frames, the glazing and its seals couldn’t be tidier. There are no extraneous items clipped, glued or screwed to this car, and that makes it easier to enjoy the subtle sculpting in its form. The neatness extends to where the eyes can’t see, too. because the Five’s underside is smoothed for an easy passage through the air. The pay-off is a low Cd of 0.32, not bad for a car with such wide tyres.

‘The Jaguar’s drag coefficient is unimpressive, as is its detailed design. The BMW looks neater’

The Jaguar’s drag coefficient is pretty unimpressive at 0.37 (Cd). So is its detail design. The basic shape is attractive, but you never think it’s as nice as the old Series Three. One reason for this is the treatment of items that are attached to it. The bumpers look clumsy and unintegrated compared with the BMW’s, the rear lamps are ugly and the four-headlamp nose still looks unhappy. And so does that silly piece of chrome at the base of the rear pillar. For all that, the XJ has great presence, and most important, looks like a Jaguar. It’s traditionally Jag-like under the skin.

JAGUAR New 4.0-litre  unit has more power, torque than BMW engine. Although messily designed, Jaguar boot is big, very deep.

BMW German engine smoother at top end, revs harder, more frugal. Cleaner shape than Jag’s boot, but very shallow, too cramped.

too. Up front are double unequal length wishbones, while there are double wishbones at the rear again, the upper links formed by the driveshafts, just as on the old XJ. The system has been considerably improved upon, though, particularly to aid handling. No chassis changes have been wrought to accompany the new, bigger engine, but as we shall see, there has been plenty of subtle honing in the months since the first XJ40 went on sale.

The capacity increase has been achieved in the most straightforward fashion, by lengthening the AJ6’s stroke. Apart from the greater power and torque, the longer piston throw has dragged the energy peaks rearer. Maximum power now occurs at an unusually low 4750rpm, maximum torque 1000rpm earlier. Cam profiles, valve timing and the exhaust manifold have been changed. And there’s more than new metalwork, too – the electronic engine management has had its systems sharpened up, for swifter starting, improved driveability and greater cooperation with the automatic gearbox.

That, too, has been improved, chiefly through the introduction of a driver- triggered sport mode, which ensures that the lower ratios are hung onto longer, and that downshifts occur more readily. In fact, the auto box (by ZF) is new to cope with the 4.0-litre’s extra torque, and features full electronic control which interacts with the engine management for smoother shifts by retarding the ignition momentarily. thus reducing the torque input.

JAGUAR Rear end of XJS messy; indistinguishable from old 3.6. Rear seat offers poor thigh support. Inadequate headroom. Comprehensive toolkit, but how many drivers will use It? Glovebox lid mirror easy to use; XJ6 has four Interior mirrors

BMW taller at tail, looks more modern, better styling. Although no roomier, BMW’s back more thoughtfully designed. Toolkit not as well-stocked as Jag’s, nor as well presented. Optional light sensitive rear view mirror dips automatically.

The BMW, being a younger design, is unchanged since launch. Its straight-six 3.5-litre engine develops less power and significantly less torque than the Coventry six, which isn’t surprising given that it concedes half a litre and 12 valves. It gives 211 bhp at 5700rpm DIN, and 225lb ft of torque at 4000rpm. Though it’s smaller and lighter than the Jaguar, the Five isn’t that light for its size, stretching the scales more severely than its rival from Mercedes. A major reason for this is a heavy body built with rigidity in mind – it’s some 70 percent stiffer than the old 5-series E28.

Like the XJ40, the 5-series running gear draws on the experience garnered from its predecessor. We still find semi-trailing arms at the rear end, though the angle of inclination is reduced to 13deg in an effort to reduce wayward behaviour, while at the front are a pair of sophisticated coil sprung struts. Steering is by recirculating ball – rare, these days – in contrast to the Jag’s rack and pinion arrangement. Both set-ups are powered, the BMW’s varying with engine speed. In auto form, as tested here, the BMW shares the Jag’s sport mode and four speeds with lock-up in top.


Gentle wafting about does little to demonstrate the differences between this pair. They’re both the strong, silent types, getting about easily on a caress of throttle. They both have smart step-off, and, driven easily, shift fluently from gear to gear. It’s treading the accelerator hard that draws out the character. Then you notice that, satisfyingly brisk though the BMW is, it draws on a meaner seam of energy than the Jag, which can get along in a terrific hurry. What’s double pleasing is that there isn’t a din while it’s doing it.

‘Satisfyingly brisk though the 535i E34 is, the Jaguar has noticeably more muscle, especially low down’

The speed statistics look like this: Jaguar, 0-60mph in 8.2sec, maximum speed 137mph; BMW, 0-60mph in 8.7sec, maximum speed 143mph. The XJ’s extra muscle is certainly evident over the dash to 60mph. but the BMWs wind-cleaving shell helps it to a much higher top speed.

JAGUAR Low, sleek shape very Jaguar-like, but Cd is a poor 0.37

BMW stumpier, more aerodynamic (Cd 0.32), looks far more modern

What also helps it to such a heady maximum is its gearing, which is in the Voyager Two league. Flat out, there’s over 1000rpm to go before the tacho needle obscures the red paint, and that means the edge is taken off the engine’s urge at typically British speeds. At times, the BMW can feel frustratingly limp if you’re trying to gather momentum in top – you have to resort to kickdown, which will doubtless produce more urge than you want, or the sport mode button, which will instantly take you into third, but never leave it for top, which is locked out. And another irritation: the transmission button mode is fiddling to find and use.

In third, however, the engine pulls well, particularly if the crank’s spinning at 4000rpm or more: acceleration, and that familiar turbine-like wail, then burgeon satisfyingly. The engine stays smooth and willing right to the rev limiter, though it doesn’t hit it with quite the zeal of BMWs smaller 2.5-litre six M20.

The Jag’s six doesn’t hit the cut-out with much zeal at all. This engine is about torque and doesn’t need high revs to go hard, though there is a perceptible surge in go once 3500rpm has been breached. But at high revs, well beyond peak power (a low 4750rpm) the 4.0 litre sounds slightly hammery, and a little less sweet than the old 3.6. Which is what happens when you stroke, rather than tore, an engine. But you find yourself forgiving it, because of the convincing low down urge that’s all the more apparent If you hit the sport button, which is small but easier to find than the 535i’s.

The sport strategy is different, and better, than the BMWs. The ‘box will still venture into top, but rot before it has held out in the lower ratios for longer. And better still, you don’t have to prod the accelerator as far before a lower gear is grasped – about a third of the total travel is all that’s needed, in contrast to the two-thirds-plus of the BMW. So you don’t need wide, fuel-guzzling throttle openings to go swiftly in the Jag. This is perhaps as well, because it’s the thirstier car, managing only 18.3mpg to the 22.8mpg of our last Giant Test 3.6. The BMW wasn’t vastly better, mind, eking out only 21.6 miles from a gallon. The cars were hard driven over the test, however, and we’d expect an improvement from both in typical use.

The gearchange quality in both these cars could be better. The BMW transmission usually snatches when kicking down, and sometimes does it on the way up as well. And its selector could be easier to manipulate. The gearbox is undoubtedly the weakest part of the car.

At times the Jag’s transmission can change up and down almost seamlessly, leading you to believe that Coventry’s juggling with the engine and gearbox management chips has been wholly successful. Then a shift is thumped home, and you end up thinking otherwise. The computer obviously hasn’t been informed of every possible combination of revs, throttle position and so on. There’s more work needed here, but not as much as the Bavarians must put in. No need to do anything with the selector, though – the J-gate makes the lever a little distant at times, but it works well overall.


This is where the differences in the cars’ characters become most apparent. The focal point is the steering. The BMW’s is sharp, accurate and, if not overwhelmed with feel, certainty vastly more communicative than the XJ’s. This allows the Five to entertain in a way that the Jag can’t. The German is wieldy, to the point where it’s easy to forget that you’re driving a sizeable family saloon. Its bulk only becomes apparent on slower, switchback roads when inertia makes it a tad less willing to change direction. But most of the time it’s fluent, well balanced (no surprise, when its weight distribution is close to 50/50) and reasonably communicative. But it isn’t that difficult to break traction at the rear, particularly if it’s wet, though you can catch it quickly.

The Jag has excellent roadholding, the rear tyres giving up in tight bends only if you stab the accelerator hard. That it does hang on is just as well, because like most Jaguars of the past 20 years, it doesn’t communicate much about the road below. There’s a lot of isolating rubber between the wheels and the floorpan, leaving precious few messages for the seat of the pants. This wouldn’t be so bad If the steering were talkative. But it’s not. In fact, it’s almost mute. Virtually no news of the roads topography reaches your palms, and it doesn’t weight up particularly as you wind on lock, factors which make it hard to place the car accurately. And though the Jag tracks straight at high-speed, the steering doesn’t suggest it, because it turns light about the straightahead, further diminishing confidence.

All of this is a great shame, because the car’s grip, power and capacity for mopping up sizeable bumps ought to make it a formidable cross-country mile gobbler. But driving it really hard is too much of a challenge, particularly for the imagination, which must guess when the grip is going to run out. When it does, the body moves about untidily, slopping about on its rubbers. Sadly, the XJ isn’t much of an entertainer for the keen driver, even though its composure is terrific. Further to quell press on types, there’s a measure of understeer, making it less incisive than the BMW. Incidentally, it doesn’t have the- lock of the 535i E34 either, so manoeuvring can often be an embarrassment.


These are big cars, but not as big inside as you’d think. Most of the disappointment is reserved for rear seat passengers, who won’t find as much leg or headroom as they might hope. Truth is, a Fiat Tipo’s a better bet for back benchers.

Not that you’re pinched, but you can’t really play the sybarite and spread luxuriously. Matters are worsened in the Jaguar by the appalling rear seat cushion, which is so low and flat that it provides virtually no thigh support unless you have unusually short shins. It’s blistering… obvious that the Coventry engineers have spent very little time in here. The Five’s seat is at least sensibly sculpted, are leaves its occupants in much better condition after lengthy incarceration.

The story’s better up front. Measurable differences in the inch war are lost to the niceties of driving position, which puts you in a markedly different frame of mine depending on which car you sit in. The Jag is all about relaxing. You sit low, cocooned in wood and leather, snug as a Sunday afternoon by the fire.

The BMW driver’s seating is subtly different, placing him in a more commanding, almost aggressive stance that heightens the feeling that you’re in control. Its a stance that’s appropriate to the car, just as the Jag’s is to it.

‘The firmly sprung 5-series manages to round-off a lot of bumps which the XJ6 flattens completely’

These characteristics are further reinforced by the rides of the pair. The BMW is quite firmly sprung, and is dependent on the quiet operation of its suspension to convince occupants that it is a luxury car it only manages to round a lot of bumps off, rather than flattening them completely. You aren’t pillowed in the way you are in the XJ, which excels in this department. And these days, it’s better. Recalibrated dampers, and other subtle charges, are the reason, though these chances crept into the cars before the arrival of this latest.

‘Although not a great ergonomic success, the XJ6’s cabin encourages you to unwind’

Refinement is as much a Jaguar quality as ride, low bump-thump and minimal wind noise long having been XJ fortes. Sadly, it’s looking less good these days. True, the suspension works as quietly as ever, but there are noises from other sources that are too prominent. The new Lexus, we suspect, is more crypt-like at rest and on the move. That’s because the Jag’s motor makes more noise (there’s no danger of thinking it’s stalled at idle) in concert with the heater fan, and because there’s quite noticeable wind roar, even at 70mph. A second car, with tighter fitting door frames, was better, but still not brilliant. Don’t think the Jaguar is noisy, though, because it isn’t. It’s just that standards are climbing, and Browns Lane has been caught.

Almost caught, in fact, by the 5-series, in some respects. Engine suppression is on a par, for example, at low revs, and the heater is quieter. But tyre roar is a lot more evident – though still good – and wind roar about the same.


There’s plenty of appeal in both these cars, but for very different reasons. The BMW copy writers never lire of telling us that these cars are driving machines, and it’s certainly true of the Five. The ambience of the cabin confirms the feeling that this car is built for businesslike driving, and the controls, so sensibly planted, reinforce the fact. What’s particularly pleasing is their positive, consistent weighting, from accelerator pedal to indicator stalk.

The Jaguar’s controls are more scattered, and require less effort to trigger. The stalks are set low, suggesting that you relax and sit back, the trip computer is more of a fiddle to operate than the BMW’s, the wheel is bigger and less wieldy. It is not a great ergonomic success, this cabin, but it matters less somehow, because the car’s gait, its whole manner, directs you to unwind. The new instrument cluster is a success, though. It now houses six conventional, clearly marked analogue dials. They suit the traditional decor of the cabin better.

The view from both these cars is good, but the Jag suffers for its absurdly shallow mirrors, the BMW for its tallish rump. The Five in part compensates with a nearside mirror that tilts kerbwards when reverse is engaged.

What does count is the terrific appeal of Jaguar’s walnut world cabin, which is far more inviting than the BMWs. and appears vastly more luxurious. It’s been improved, too. for having pvc of a different, classier looking texture across the dashtop. Standard XJs come with cloth trim (ours had optional leather, as did the BMW) which we consider superior, not least because it locates you better.


We have here two of the world’s greatest saloons. One of them, the Jaguar, we’ve previously labelled the best car in the world. If you assume that contenders for this mantle come from the upper echelons of the market frequented by Bentley Turbos, S-class W126 Benzes and 7-series E32 BMWs, then that’s certainly the case.

But in this class, where many buyers want a great drive as well as a conveyance that cossets and pampers, the game rules are slightly different. And they mean a win, by a bumper rubber, for the BMW. This is the most rounded executive car you can buy: it’s seriously deficient in no area, irritating only in its transmission, which is too jerky and too often in the wrong gear, and the gearing itself, which takes the edge off the performance.

Mostly, though, the BMW gels this contest because it is more entertaining. You can have fun in this car, almost as much as in the best GTis. You simply can’t say that of the Jaguar. The tactile pleasure of a hard charge is suppressed, mainly by that steering (which can surely be redesigned without alienating Jaguar’s friends across the pond) and partly by the suspension and its bushes, which filter out some of the desirable messages. For all that, you can’t get away from the fact that the XJ6 offers one of the most relaxing means of travel there is: that it is truly luxurious: that it feels decisively different from almost every other car on the road. It is startling value for money, too, though the quality still isn’t what it should be, especially the bodywork.

Now, if Jaguar would offer some slightly sportier XJs in the range proper, rather than in garish and expensive Jaguar Sport guise, we’d reconsider. And so might hundreds of drivers going home in 5-series every night.

{CONTENTPOLL [“id”: 92]}


CAR: 1989 BMW 535i Auto SE E34 JAGUAR XJ6 4.0 XJ40-type
Type M30B35 / M30 AJ6
Configuration In-line six In-line six
Capacity (cc) 3430 3980
Bore (mm) 92 91
Stroke (mm) 86 102
Compression (to one) 9.0 9.5
Valvegear Sohc, 12-valve Dohc, 24-valve
Aspiration Fuel injection Bosch Fuel injection
Power (DIN/rpm) 211bhp/5700 235bhp/4750
Torque (DIN/rpm) 225lb ft/4000 265fb ft/3760
Type Four-speed auto ZF 4HP22 Four-speed auto
Ratios (mph 1000rpm)
First 2.45 (7.6) 2.48 (8.6)
Socond 1.48(12.5) 1.48(14.4)
Third 1.00(18.9) 1.00 (21.3)
Fourth 0.73 (25.9) 0.73 (29.2)
Fifth na na
Final drive ratio (to one) 3.64 3.58
Construction Steel monocoque Steel monocoque
Front suspension Independent, MacPherson struts, coll springs, anti-roll bar Independent, double unequal length wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Independent, semi-trailing arms, coll springs, anti­-roll bar Independent, lower wishbonos, driveshafts acting as upper links, coll springs
Steering type Recirculating ball Rack and pinion
Assited Power assisted hydro Power assisted
Turns, lock to lock 3.5 2.8
Turning circle (ft) 360 40.8
Wheels 7.0×15 180mm x 390mm
Tyres 226/60 ZR15 220/66 VR390 TD
Brakes, type Discs all round. ABS Bosch Discs all round. ABS
Wheelbase 106.7 113.0
Front track 67.7 69.1
Rear track 61.0 59.0
Overall length 185.8 196.4
Overall width 68.9 79.3
Fuel tank capacity (gal) 17.5 19.5
Kerb weight (lb) 3406 3969
Front headroom 36.0/36.5 35.5/37.5
Front logroom (seat forward/back) 32.5/40.0 34.5/41.0
Rear headroom 34.0 31.5
Rear legroom (seat forward/back) 33.5/26.0 35.0/28.0
Front shoulder room 64.0 68.0
Rear shoulder room 56.0 58.0
Luggage capacity (cu ft) 16.2 15.1
Anti-lock brakes Yes Yes
Air-conditioning No No
Electric windows (front and/or rear) Yes, front and rear Yes, front and rear
Cruise control No No
Sunroof (manual or electrlc) Yes, electric No
Heated front seats No No
Electric door mirrors Yes Yes
Electric seats No No
Adjustable steering (reach and/or rake) Yes. reach Yes. reach
Leather upholstery No No
Trip computer Yes Yes
Alloy wheels Yes No
Thermostatically controlled heater Yes Yes
Major service time 3.5hr 2.5hr
Oil change intervals 6500 miles 7500 miles
Time for removing engine/gearbox 5.5hr/3.0hr 8.2hr/5.0hr
Time for renewing clutch 1hr 2hr
Time for renewing front brake pads 0.5hr 0.7hr
Time for renewing exhaust system 0.9hr 1.9hr
Number of UK dealers 1989 157 110
Engine on exchange 2033.54 2746.00 (now)
Gearbox on exchange 1763.12 1254.00
Front brake disc 126.80 136.00
Set front brake pads 44.94 46.60
Damper (front) 81.29 49.00
Exhaust system 412.38 363.20
Oil filter 4.81 5.35
Alternator 174.60 (exchange) 290.00
Starter motor 116.70 (exchange) 141.00 (exchange)
Speedometer 52.40 113.00
Price without extras 28.375 (inc auto option) 26.550 (inc auto option)
Model range price span 17.175-29.445 21.200-36.500
GUARANTEE 12 months/unlimited mileage 12 months/unlimited mileage
PERFORMANCE (as tested)
Top speed 143mph 137mph
0-60mph 8.7 seconds 8.2 seconds
Test fuel consumption 21.6mpg 18.3mpg

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