From the August 1986 issue of Car and Driver.
Eleven years have passed since
Jaguar’s last E-type two-seater ragtops were imported into this country. England’s famous maker of luxurious sports cars and sumptuous sedans has since made do with steel roofs, and the grand-touring world has been the poorer.
One way or another, ragtop Jags never shorted you on emotion. Even in the midst of mechanical and electrical travails, they left you longing for short nights and sunny days. Now comes the XJ-SC Cabriolet, a worthy addition to the long if sporadic line of open-air cats from Coventry.
Stop at a light in the XJ-SC and people grin, whoop, and holler, “Hey, that’s a beautiful car!” When the roof is up, we agree. Surprisingly, though, onlookers often blurt compliments even when the top’s panels and flaps are stowed away. Swivel two levers and the two canvas-covered, pop-off roof panels will unlatch and slip out, to be neatly pouched in the deep trunk. To lower the rear section of the roof, unlatch its round lock from the inside, peel the Velcro-fastened edges of the fabric away from its framework, and fold the fabric and the plastic window down, snapping them beneath a snug boot. Unfortunately, you are now left with an array of roof hoops rising starkly naked above the swoop of the lower body. (Pausing to change lenses, Aaron Kiley gazed at the framework and mused, “It looks like it’s under construction.”) The staff consensus is that the XJ-SC looks best with its toupee in place, yet none of us feels truly repelled by its aesthetics when everything is stripped down to let the outside in. And it does come in.
Head for the country for grand touring after everyday life has tethered you for a while and you’ll feel the beauty of this striking device as dearly as others see it. Grand touring means different things to different people, but it always means something wonderful. In an XJ-SC, the pleasures of touring grandly are smooth and satisfying. Jaguar always skips the sharp aggression of such traditional rivals as the six-cylinder BMW coupe and the V-8 coupes from Mercedes and Porsche, not to mention the rowdy soft- and hard-topped Corvettes. The XJ-SC offers not only open-air motoring but a very different accent on sporting transportation.
Underneath, the usual Jaguar charms and drawbacks abide. The XJ-SC’s long, suggestive hoodline houses a huge V-12 engine whose horsepower proves a suitable match for the motor’s broad-shouldered appearance. Just as important, though it is blessed with the bloodlines of its forebears, today’s XJ may be exhibiting new signs of civility and respectability. According to the factory, quality control is vastly improved and great strides have been made in reliability. Maintenance requirements are lower than ever. The XJ’s fuel economy has never been much to write home about—we’re dealing with two tons of high performance here—but the Michael May lean-burn combustion chambers, introduced in 1982, do help advance the cause of efficiency. EPA city economy holds the fort at 13 mpg, and our own mixed use returned 14 mpg.
Luckily for Jaguar’s reputation as a producer of road burners, Michael May’s sculpturing of the V-12’s heads returns much more than improved fuel economy. With a whopping 11.5:1 compression ratio burning beneath its single-overhead-cam heart, the 5.3-liter whirs out an effortless 262 horsepower. Operating on super-unleaded fuel, the engine adroitly belies the mass of machinery within, never whimpering on the way to its impressive 6500-rpm redline. This V-12 remains the basis of Jaguar’s mid-engined IMSA GTP Batmobile, and every time you step into the throttle hard enough to force an automatic kickdown, you are reminded why the V-12 represented the ultimate roadgoing engine for so many years.
When production of the old ragtop ceased, however, some of the wonder went out of Jaguars. We need not have worried, it turns out as long as there is an England, there will be ragtops on the horizon. Ragtops are Great Britain’s nose-thumbing gesture at the sodden skies that often sulk there. Logical people laboring under such murk would never fall in love with convertibles, but of course logic and the British are often at odds. Basically, Brits are tickled pink anytime their beloved ragtops are close at hand.
Over the past few years, Americans have grown happier to have Jag at hand. As is often said, much of the credit goes to John Egan, Jaguar’s chairman and chief executive officer, who signed on in 1980 and led the company’s resurgence. Sales in America alone soared from 3029 cars in 1980 to 18,000 in 1984. Publicly owned for the past two years, Jaguar enjoys continued sales-and-service success in the States. We snapped up more than half the 1985 production run of 38,000 cars, and the XJ-S coupe has broken sales records here for three years running.
Mechanically, the Cabriolet is identical to the XJ-S coupe. Structurally, however, the convertible has been injected with new beef. The roof’s framework houses two substantial steel rods that make a minor contribution to stiffness, but the major beefing comes from a boxed section that takes the place of the coupe’s rear seats. Intended primarily to offset the torsional stiffness lost when the full roof was eliminated, the box wears handsome carpeting and houses two lockable storage bins. Trimmed with luggage slats and a restraint bar, the box lands ready to support any traveling cases, haversacks, miniature steamer trunks, or other traveling caboodle carried in the cabin, but definitely not any plus-two passengers. In terms of their structural contribution, the reinforcements don’t quite make up for the skylights in the roof. The lengthy Jaguar exhibits a few shakes and shudders not found in, say, the stubby Porsche 911 Cabriolet, though the Jag is certainly far from the shakiest pop-top around.
We only wish it were as easy to open up as the others. In our test car, the knob intended to release the framed rear roof section almost didn’t: it proved nearly impossible to turn. And the trim, tight boot stubbornly resisted the snapping-down operation.
Inside, the new roofline nips off a bit of the coupe’s headroom, but comfort seems to suffer little, if at all. The seat’s lumbar padding has been improved, and the subtle shaping of their bolsters delivers better support than their flatness suggests. Delicious-smelling leather upholstery, although often a slippery hindrance to staying behind the wheel, in this case has sufficient texture to assist the bolsters in keeping you in place. The steering wheel is also covered in reasonably grippy leather, but the rim is too skinny to provide a genuinely secure grip.
Driver confidence also suffers because of the distraction created by the XJ’s scattered control layout. The main on/off/resume cruise-control button sits obtusely on the console just behind the shifter, while the “set” button is tucked in the lip of the turn-signal lever, far to the left. In another lapse of logic, the climate system’s controls are split by the radio. Worse, our SC’s ventilation fan quit, the oil-pressure gauge threw fits of erratic readings and the roof panels sprang a leak when we tested the weather sealing by running the car through an automatic wash—not good omens for Jaguar’s recently improved reputation. (Jaguar responds that our test car was built as a pilot model—even though the Cabriolet has been on the U.K. market for two years—and that the top panel should fit better in U.S. production models.)
Having grumbled our gripes, a number of niceties stand out, too. A handy trip computer provides pertinent poop on time, distance, average speed, and fuel use. And beneath the computer sits the head unit of an Alpine sound system, whose sweet musicality, to our ears, ranks high among today’s factory-supplied audio systems. It is said that the British don’t like music, but they like the noise it makes. You could have fooled us: this system easily and smoothly delivers music, not noise. The radio’s layout is good, the AM performance is better than most, and the FM section sounds fine. The cassette player’s performance, with tape recorded on a good deck from records or compact discs, absolutely caresses the ears. Given the XJ-SC’s lowish wind noise (for a convertible), Jaguar should add a CD player, because plenty of musical detail comes through without strain even at high speeds.
We’re talking 135-mph potential. T00 bad the three-speed automatic and the tall gearing take the sting out of the V-12 off the line. In this price category, a four- or five-speed gearbox should be aboard to liven things up. Moving off isn’t slow, but as our 8.4-second 0-to-60 time suggests, the beast doesn’t bust loose until the smooth, long-legged automatic finally lets the revs get up t0 business.
The big four-wheel discs, ventilated in front, turn out to be strong points, smoothly snubbing this 4016-pound pilgrim’s progress without fade, though stops from 70 mph require a longish 213 feet. Squeezing down into tight corners from high speeds under hard braking creates no fuss whatever. As you feather of the pedal, unloading the nose, the steering takes up the transition as calmly as warm milk puts you to sleep.
In the harsh light of skidpad testing, the XJ’s all-independent, coil-sprung suspension and comparatively slim wheels and tire limit roadholding to 0.73 g. But the car’s behavior in the real world is satisfying enough to appeal to the buyers Jaguar has in mind. The shift lever looks delicate and feels clunky, and the throttle stiffly resists forays into downshift territory, but somehow the lasting impression is that of a basically blissful drivetrain. Some testers, however, feel it is too blissful and yearn for a more emhusiastic response from within.
The XJ-SC’s handling follows British practice in providing light, benign rack-and-pinion power steering, plus tire grip that feels more sporting than that of the typical American luxury sportster—though not as sporting as the fine bite and firm bump-buffering provided by Germany’s hard-running machines. On the other hand, the Jaguar provides levels of ride comfort that German engineers express little interest in supplying, and a degree of suspension control that is rare in American-made machinery. Released by the throttle to do your bidding, the Jag hurls at your senses an orderly world, all veddy British, the V-12’s thunder insistent but distant, pleasantly muted even as you scissor across sweeping corners in a rush. The sensational engine gathers the car’s haunches to spew you onto the following straights in great, lubricious spendings of energy. If you have the patience to listen for the distant thunder, Jaguar rumbles the language of power, and you can hear it in your bones.
What your gleeful senses total up may equal the perfect answer for the high-dollar grand-touring market. The XJ-SC Cabriolet is just basic enough to provide deep thrills, but more than subtle enough to cuddle with. Its behavioral envelope will probably suit many of those concerned with finding proper conveyances for their golden years of grand touring. As long as their fingers are still strong enough to pop the top, that is.
As a halfway step toward true open-air motoring, the XJ-SC Cabriolet proves two things: First, major amounts of sunshine can be admitted to the interior of the XJ without sacrificing any of the car’s basic goodness. And second, although the XJ-SC is a noble and carefully engineered alternative to a steel-roofed coupe, it’s no substitute at all for a true convertible.
I’m afraid there’s nothing but disappointment in the new XJ-SC for a thrill seeker like myself. Aside from Jaguar’s unconventional means of letting the great outdoors in, time has stood still for this lowrider.
I’ve long hoped that Jaguar would firm the XJ-S up into a real sports machine, but, alas, that was not to be. The XJ-SC still uses the pillowy suspension settings that make the XJ6 such a joyous rider—but it’s way too loose-jointed for a spirited two-seater. When I call on a hard corner, the body makes like a yo-yo. No change here.
Then there’s the mighty V-12, which feels all bottled up at the low end. It’s needed a good four-speed automatic to set it free for ages.
It’s been reported that Jaguar has improved its quality control. Unfortunately, our test car suffered from a balky folding top, a climate control that went belly-up, and a bad case of the stalls.
When I slide into a low-slung, broad-shouldered V-12 sports car, I expect a kick in the pants. The XJ-SC may be fine for wealthy people twenty years my senior, but it’s far too much of a gentleman for me. —Rich Ceppos
It’s hard to rationalize a car like the Jaguar XJ-SC. For far less money, there are any number of cars that perform as well as or better than this machine. Few, however, can match the Jag’s individuality and panache.
In a time of look-alike car designs, the XJ-SC is a welcome break from the norm. It is leaner and swoopier than its photos suggest; at times its look is almost exotic. Of course, as with almost any exotic car, one pays a price for good looks and distinction. The Jag’s seats are limited in their range of adjustment and offer little support, many of its ergonomic features leave much to be desired, and our test car suffered a number of nagging failures.
In compensation, however, the XJ-SC offers a smooth and strong engine, effortless cruising at any speed, and a ride that is almost unsurpassed in suppleness. Add to these virtues the car’s handsome shape, and this Jaguar becomes an inviting alternative for someone who can afford to indulge in its unique blend of individuality. —Arthur St. Antoine
If your idea of automotive luxury is centered on a profligate use of the world’s resources, the Jaguar XJ-SC is the car for you. A mid-sixties, full-size American sedan is a model of efficiency compared with the Coventry cat. I can’t think of another two-seater with such a large and massive body. Neither can I recall a car that extracts so little performance from such a large and lavishly conceived powerplant.
To be sure, the XJ-SC goes about its business quietly and smoothly, leading one to conclude that passenger comfort was the goal of its extravagant design. However, the absence of such creature comforts as power-adjustable seats and a power-operated roof belies that conclusion. That leaves sheer conspicuous consumption as the main thrust of this car, and that’s just too anachronistic a concept, even for a luxury cruiser, in 1986. —Csaba Csere
1986 Jaguar XJ-SC Cabriolet
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible
Base/As Tested: $43,500/$43,500
SOHC V-12, aluminum block and heads, electronic fuel injection
Displacement: 326 in3, 5344 cm3
Power: 262 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 290 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Suspension, F/R: control arms/trailing arms
Brakes, F/R: 11.1-in vented disc/10.3-in disc
Tires: Pirelli P5
Wheelbase: 102.0 in
Length: 191.7 in
Width: 70.6 in
Height: 47.8 in
Passenger Volume: 51 ft3
Trunk Volume: 16 ft3
Curb Weight: 4016 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 8.4 sec
100 mph: 22.0 sec
1/4-Mile: 16.3 sec @ 88 mph
120 mph: 39.8 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 3.8 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 6.1 sec
Top Speed: 135 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 213 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.73 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 14 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/Highway: 13/17 mpg