Discussion in 'FM6 Photo Mode' started by VXR, Sep 18, 2015.

  1. VXR


    United Kingdom
    Like a Cat on Ice - 1990 Jaguar XJ-S V12


    As was often the case, the production run of the Jaguar XJ-S was typical of British luxury firms; it ran from 1976 to 1996, with only the last few years seeing any great upgrades. Having its roots in the 1970s meant that by the end of its run, it had become an anachronism, much like the DB6-based Aston Martin Vantage range. Muscular engines in appealing bodies might have been perfect for the well-heeled gent in 1980, but by 1990, the level of engineering offered elsewhere was making such cars appear old hat. Mercedes Benz were wowing the world with the SL500, whilst Porsche had continually evolved the 928 as their Grand Tourer, to much technical success. Jaguar was coming to market with a car fifteen years out of date, but still able to offer a sharp-looking express. Its 5.3 litre V12 had power for sure and it was a high-end symbol of excellence; when new, V12s were still largely the reserve of Ferrari and Lamborghini. Where it was let down, was in areas such as transmission. A three-speed automatic with long gearing was ideal for cruising purposes, but when the time comes to access the power reserve, an almighty noise emanates fore and aft. Perfectly fine in a sports car, but the XJ-S was anything but that. Incredulously in this day and age, first runs to 75mph, second to 120 and third into infinity for all I know - you won't want to go much faster in a car like this...

    The lede image occurred on the first lap. The Sweeney style oversteer coming by surprise rather than design. Cold, metric tyres and rudimentary suspension working in imperfect harmony. Much of the opening lap was spent in disbelief, as this was one of the worst in my review history. The car lurched around under braking, lazily drifted all four wheels in terminal understeer and left very little confidence in its ability to carry speed. By the end of the first lap, tipping it into a corner was as graceful as trying to steer it in.


    The speed down any straight was exhilarating, but trying to take the tight left after the Morsine Sweep at Road America was an exercise in scrubbing speed you wouldn't want to repeat too often. The car slowed eventually, but any hope of meeting an apex diminished the moment I touched the brake pedal.


    Continuously, the car responded to spirited driving with no interest in keeping a tidy line or heading in a direction of your choosing. The endless scrub of tyres towards the outside of open corners was alarming. We're so used to even the most basic transport being able to keep understeer in check, that it's an eye-opener when a 300hp coupe of 25 years ago is more or less useless. In less enlightened times, this sort of thing was de rigueur.


    The one place where an XJ-S would seem at home is a 1960s British Touring Car event, amongst the Minis and imported Americana. Roll-on oversteer was king for those big bodied bruisers and that is the case for the XJ-S. Soft, supple suspension for road comfort offers enough body roll to communicate the tyre's intentions, so you have a comfortable window of play before it goes wrong. Driving the Jaguar in this manner was the key to enjoyment. Before the end of the second lap, the tyres were delaminating onto the body, which was much quicker than I'd observed in any other car.


    Naturally, it's just as easy to get beyond the car's capabilities and when such time arises, then the understeer gently reminds you of the track width and beyond. The gravel stopped any remaining speed, but it had scrubbed off plenty of its own. When playing with oversteer also, the car almost always remains calm, something you'd expect of a long-wheel base design.


    Linking up a full lap at a quick pace was becoming more natural. Slow a little, set the car up on its toes and let the rear end encourage the nose into the corner. Add in power and let the body regain its composure and the car was opening itself up to the driver. It didn't want to be precise, reigning in that V12 with a weak braking system. It wanted to keep the engine spinning and let momentum take its course. Some corners still came a little too quickly in this manner - one very near miss from a tyre wall was the result of trying to take a corner wide-open-throttle - yet it didn't become spiky in its recovery and I was able to continue chastened, but not scared of the car.


    Unlike the first lap where oversteer was an unfortunate consequence, by now, it was an option as you exited the corner. You could use the return of body control to straighten up the car, or push your foot further into the carpet and get the tyres lit. One good thing about older cars with RWD and decent power, is that they love to chew through rubber.


    Stopping cars of this era is a different affair. Whilst these cars were more than capable of reaching Autobahn speeds, slowing the car from over 100mph is best avoided. The soft body control sees the nose dive down and the rear rise abruptly. Fortunately, Jaguar had seen fit to equip ABS, but these early systems are not what we are used to now. They got the job done, but eventually.


    The car was given a wash and a chance to cool down after the track antics so it could be photographed, and this gave me a chance to enjoy it as it was built to be driven. Letting the car accelerate gently and ride the torque of the big 5.3 put it firmly back into its comfort zone. As a rapid cruiser, it works very well. Sixty appears in less than 8 seconds, which could be lower were it not for the long gearing. However, quicker wouldn't fit the character of such a car. These tests can evaluate the ability of a car on a track, but some cars aren't built with that in mind and there's nothing wrong with that. When you look at it, clean and sparkly, you appreciate what it is. It's not an XJ-Sports. It's an XJ-Special.


    The qualities that are evident in this car are readily apparent. The graceful looks and those magnificent buttresses. The tasteful chrome and the elegant wheel design. You don't need to drive it to get this car and you certainly don't need to take it onto a track to understand what it's all about. Yet, it has a knack of taking much of what you throw at it and responds better to slightly ham-fisted thuggery than it does to any sort of neat, technical driving. When you attempt to do that, the chassis will understeer relentlessly and it'll frustrate you. I'm a sucker for cars such as these, because I enjoy the flaws of a car. If I were writing a list of pros and cons, the flaws would be in the pro column. Yes it's soft, yes it becomes loud when opened up and yes, it's technically useless, but it's just so loveable. The XJ-S eventually made way for the XK8, but that isn't as interesting to look at or as flawed and I've never felt much attachment to them. Whilst it would show the XJ-S a clean pair of heels, it's just not the same type of car.

  2. Pebb


    My favourite has to be shot 8 for one main reason. The angle makes the car look like it is trying it's hardest to stay in frame. :tup:
  3. VXR


    United Kingdom
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Pebb.
  4. VXR


    United Kingdom
    Not Quite a Compact Mirror - BMW 323ti Compact Sport


    The Ti badge has been used on several cars in the past, including BMW. The 2002Ti springs readily to mind. In the 1990s, BMW wanted to offer a more youthful entrance to their range and the result was given the Ti badge along with a new name, Compact. Within BMW's history, it most resembled the 02 Touring fastback, although amongst its contemporaries, it looked rather alike the Ford Escort of the time. Where the E36 saloon and coupe cut a dash, the Compact looked rather chopped and not quite right. It's a design theme BMW would revisit with the E46 Compact, which did at least get a bespoke front end to distance itself more from the mainline saloon. In the UK market, engine choices were the four cylinder variety, but in mainland Europe, you could order your Ti with a restricted 2.5, taken from the earlier E36 325i. With the 323ti moniker, you were set a cut above the previous, revvy 2.0 six, but the intake side of the engine was strangled to keep it away from the 2.8. With some work, you can de-restrict these back to their former glory.

    That the engine was sold this way says much about what the Compact was. It sat on the E30-era rear suspension, rather than the Z-axle introduced in the E36 proper. Inside, it looked like an upgraded E30 and not the driver-centric cocoon of its saloon brother. To make up for this, the car was offered in much more vibrant colour schemes, inside and out. This gave the Compact a style of its own and you can't help but feel it would've looked swish in one of Europe's main cities. In my eyes, it's aged quite nicely and the only thing that ever put me off was the lack of a six cylinder offering in the UK. Has that bigger engine made the car better or the architect of its downfall? We shall find out at Hockenheimring.


    First impressions reveal an engine geared to get the most out of its 167bhp. On the home straight, it was easy enough to reach a decent lick, which meant the first corner was taken with some gusto. You can't get away from the fact that the engine is the dominant factor in this car. Turn in was typically sharp, as with all E36's, yet the skewed balance saw the car drift quite wide of the apex on corner exit. It didn't leave the tarmac, but it definitely explored the outer reaches.


    Suspension tuning is relatively soft, which is prevalent in many a 90s car. Here, it exacerbates the frontal weight and in turn makes the car feel like it is flexing slightly. With the shorter, parts bin chassis, it is not surprising that there are compromises. With this in mind, understeer is a bigger factor than you'd expect from BMW. Without the longer wheelbase, the sweet neutral stance of a saloon is absent. Here you'll find yourself backing away from the throttle and getting your turns in early. Without care, you'll struggle to stay within the track's confines.


    The 2.5 in the nose and the open differential will see you spinning up the tyres on most lower speed corner exits. Whilst not overly abundant in torque or power, there's still a tendency to lose time against the clock too often. In a daily driver, this wouldn't be an issue, but it's something the budget track-day driver would have to think about. Consequently, drifters would be better off with a full-fat, late model Coupe with the 2.8 and an LSD. That'll pull drift angles more or less at will, but not this one. A small slide is about the best you'll hope for.


    Away from the corners, the car once again shows it has enough go to keep it honest against rivals such as the Golf GTI 1.8T. The longer, autobahn friendly ratios are higher up the box, so second and third do the meat and potatoes of the acceleration, whilst fifth is all about reaching triple figures and staying there. On a shorter course, the car doesn't feel out of its depth, but top speed is almost done by 130mph. Not much of an issue away from the speed tracks, but Hockenheim is a decent mix of both. A track-prepped and lightly worked version I drove at Brands Indy was sprightly and well resolved, with the Limited Slip Diff and derestricted breathing mods allowing it to feel better suited to track work than this road car.


    The standard braking system does an admirable job of stopping the car, despite the weight over the front axle. They resisted fade well and work better with the car than the oft-maligned M brakes of the E36 and E46 era cars.

    To resolve this review, it is important to distinguish what this model does and not what its bigger siblings can do better. It won't drift and it won't put down clean corner exits without real care. It won't give you that sweet balance a saloon or coupe will. You might not even think its particularly nice inside for a car from a 'premium' brand, but in that regard, nor is a regular 3-series of this generation. What you do get in the 323ti is something a little different, especially if you chose a brighter or more obscure colour. You'll get a sweet road car experience and one of the sweeter inline sixes of the last 30 years. If all you needed was a car to cruise to the Horizon festival and get a little hoonigan on the way home, then you'd be set. Just don't expect to take it to a circuit and experience a revelation; it's just not built to do that.

    Demetrius 81 likes this.