1994 Jaguar Sovereign 3.2 X300 vs. 1994 Range Rover 4.6 HSE P38A
The Range Rover P38a was targeted not only at other off road vehicles, but at the world of the luxury saloon. The Jaguar XJ was Britain’s poshest plutocrat carrier – how does the Range Rover compare? Words: Sam Skelton. Photography: Paul Walton.
HIGH ACHIEVER TWIN TEST: Range Rover P38a v JAGUAR XJ
Does the second generation Range Rover still cut it as a rival to a traditional upmarket saloon?
The Range Rover P38 was a vast step above what had come before – it offered not only go-anywhere ability but luxury beyond what the outgoing car could hope to match.
Land Rover was bullish about the new product – it believed that not only was it capable of seeing off the best that Jeep could throw its way but also that it could compete on equal terms with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Jaguar XJ. Few outside the motoring magazines had the chance to compare the two when they were new – and as they age, few enthusiasts like the idea of having two large and costly classics on the driveway.
However, at Classic Car Mart we’re different. These two cars have been run alongside each other for almost six months now, meaning we feel better qualified than most to assess whether the Range Rover really was as good as a luxury saloon. Can it take on the Jaguar XJ and win?
JAGUAR SOVEREIGN 3.2 X300
The Jaguar XJ and the Range Rover, as concepts, date back to within two years of each other. And by 1994, both were due new generations. The X300 and the P38a were launched in the same month, September 1994, and unsurprisingly most of the major car mags capitalised by featuring both in the same issue under the banner of Britishness. The XJ was effectively a facelift while the Range Rover was new – but that didn’t deter the magazines. While the X300 was an evolution of the earlier, squarer XJ40, it heralded a return to form for Jaguar with soft curves and gentle haunches, evoking the Series XJs in a package which took the XJ40 and improved upon it for greater reliability and comfort. The biggest story was the new XJR – supercharged, lowered and trimmed in a manner that was more vodka bar than vodka and tonic, it revolutionised Jaguar in the same way that the Turbo R had revolutionised Bentley a decade earlier.
The range was split into three – there was a Sport range, a standard range and a Daimler range. The Sport range included the XJR, and used more modern finishes and colours to attract a younger buyer to the Jaguar fold. The Daimlers sat at the top of the tree in terms of specification and price, while the standard models – the XJ6 and Sovereign – were targeted at the sort of people who had long bought Jaguars. Two six-cylinder engines were available – a 3.2 and a 4.0, with a supercharger optional on the latter for the XJR model. The X300 was in truth a stopgap – the all new V8 engine wasn’t ready in time, but the XJ40 was starting to look old hat. Jaguar updated the old AJ6 engine under the code AJ16, and fitted it into the car until it could ready its new engine. Sales proved strong, in no small part owing to the XJR and to the long wheelbase variants introduced in 1995. These later became standardised for the Daimler and Sovereign, optional for the XJ6. By 1997 the new V8 was ready, and Jaguar replaced the X300 with what in itself appeared to be a mild facelift. But the X308 was all new under the skin, and the engine it used – first seen in the XK8 – would prove to be the company’s staple powerplant for the next two decades. A total of 92,038 X300s were built over a three year period – more per year on average than both its predecessor and its successor.
Approach the long wheelbase 3.2 litre Sovereign here and there’s an instant sense of class. It sits well on elegant alloys, and while many have accused the XJ series of looking dated its gradual evolution had resulted in a degree of timelessness which means that the XJ looks at home almost anywhere you put it. The Titanium Grey paint suits the car and gives it a metropolitan air – while green Jags have always looked at home in the countryside. Open the door and sink into those cosseting leather seats and it feels like a blend of the old and the new – there are LCD displays, there’s a trip computer, but the walnut and leather dominate the atmosphere. Not that it’s hard – even in this long wheelbase the roof is low and the sides feel hemmed in – there’s not much space in here. Fortunately, the long wheelbase makes its advantage felt in the back – where a short wheelbase XJ is tight for the tall, there’s room in here for corpulent six-footers to stretch out after their long corporate lunches. Turn the key and the straight six purrs into life. It’s not necessarily the smoothest engine but it’s an improvement on the AJ6 which went before, and on the XK which went before that. There’s just 216 bhp to play with in this iteration, and 232 lb.ft of torque. And as a long wheelbase Sovereign, it’s as heavy a car as that drivetrain has to deal with.
Knock the J gate back into D, and the XJ is one of the smoothest cars you’ll ever have piloted. The seats offer the right amount of support, while nicely weighted speed-sensitive power steering makes it easy to waft about without making much effort.
On a B road, you’re aware of the extra six inches in this car’s wheelbase, but a short wheelbase example turns in with all the alacrity of the average GT car, shrinking around you and making you wish you had the extra power of the 4.0. It’s engaging, if a little sedate with this particular powertrain. On the motorway the smaller engine comes with another disadvantage – it’s lower geared, and as such revs higher at cruising speeds than the 4.0 I had previously. But despite these model specific foibles it’s a pleasant place to spend time, and as entertaining as any luxury liner can be. If you really want to press on the J gate enables manual shifting too – but it’s not really becoming of the car’s nature, and if I wanted to drive in that fashion I’d be looking for an XJR instead. Where the Jaguar sits ahead of its competition is in self perception. In the Jaguar you feel far more special and separate than in a large BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
It has a sense of opulence inherent in the knowledge that this car sits alone, rather than at the top of a corporate ladder.
Whether this is a better feeling than the commanding superiority of the Range Rover is a very personal argument, and we wouldn’t wish to influence you unduly.
But as you shut the door with a gentle thunk and walk away from the Jaguar, you can’t help but turn back for a final admiring glance. This is a very beguiling motor car.
The Range Rover Classic was getting old by 1994. After a solid 24 years of production, Land Rover had developed a new model to succeed it. Development stretched back into the 1980s and the car took advantage of the fact that the Range Rover’s target market was changing. No longer did it need to be a hose-down family car crossed with a tractor. It needed to be plush – not least because the sub- Range Rover Discovery was cramped in the existing market and the upward expansion of the Range Rover market would mean less internal competition. The P38a – named after the building in which it was developed – would sit on an eight-inch longer wheelbase, and be fitted with larger engines and better trim than the outgoing car.
Land Rover paved the way with the LSE – a Classic fitted with air suspension, a larger engine, more toys and a longer wheelbase. Feedback was good, and confirmed that Land Rover was doing the right thing by expanding the Range Rover into this new market.
The air suspension was key to the car’s development – with five heights selectable. A low height enabled entry and exit, a standard height was used for driving, a raised height for off road and a lower version of the standard height ensured a low centre of gravity at speed. The final height was not selectable unless in an emergency. Should the car be beached, you had the option of extending the wheels downwards in order to find traction.
Launched in 1994, the initial reviews were positive, considering it victorious not only over the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Jeep Grand Cherokee but over executive cars such as the BMW 7-Series and Audi A8.
Initially the range comprised three models – the base, available with a 2.5-litre diesel or 4.0 petrol. The SE – available in both forms. And the range-topping, exclusive 4.6-litre HSE, only available with a 4.6-litre V8 and automatic gearbox. Land Rover produced myriad special editions, some of which would subsequently become production models in order to widen the range. By the time the Vogue SE had been made into a series production model, it was possible to buy 2.5 and 4.0 HSE models in addition to those already in existence, and a new County had replaced the base as the entry level model.
A new engine management system was fitted to the V8 models for 1999, improving the engine’s refinement and adapting it for improved emissions control. Engine mounts were also changed, as was the inlet manifold, and low and mid range torque was improved. These ‘Thor’ cars are deemed more desirable than the earlier ‘GEMS’ models today. Facelifted for 2000 with new headlamps and monochrome indicator lenses, the P38 would be discontinued in 2002 when the L322 model was launched.
Our Range Rover today is a 4.6 litre Vogue SE – a limited edition released at the end of the 1998 model year, based on the HSE. It came with colour coding, side stripes, additional wood trim, Lightstone Beige leather with colour coded interior trimmings, and – though this example is currently awaiting their reinstatement – different seats and 18” wheels. Just 220 were built, in a choice of four colours including the White Gold you see here. As with all 4.6-litre Range Rovers, it was only available with a four-speed automatic gearbox.
Many wags when the car was new chose to liken it to the MCW Metrocab, and while this is an unfair comparison it’s not an impossible comparison to understand. Both have a square look with rectangular headlamps and a similar silhouette. It’s fairer though, to acknowledge that it looks like exactly what it is – the Range Rover which came between the original and the L322.
Inside there’s a striking similarity to the Rover 800 – which shares much of its switchgear and certainly its interior colour palette. It feels upmarket – perhaps not as unique as the Jaguar, but it’s special, and the commanding driving position helps too. Turn the key and the muted, irregular burble of the Rover V8 is as familiar as a cup of tea in your mother’s kitchen. Put it in D and while it may feel like it lacks the poke even of the 3.2 Jag, remember that its 221 bhp has to lug around an extra third of a ton, and its 278 lb.ft of torque has to propel what amounts to three differentials as well as shoving that extra weight about.
On the road, it’s not as smooth as the Jag, but rides as well as the average family car – say, a BMW 3-Series or a Ford Mondeo.
The extra height does mean that in the corners it feels compromised, and you’re hesitant to throw it about as much as the Jag. But get onto a motorway or an A road, and it hunkers down on its airbags, increasing the sense of stability and reducing its centre of gravity.
It makes for a more confidence-inspiring package. And if it sounds like we have a downer on the Range Rover, think again. It might not be as good on a B road, but the driving position, engine note and simple feeling of invincibility imbue the driver with a sense of occasion missing even from Rolls-Royces. The Range Rover can compete in the luxury car market not on its objective qualities, but on its subjective benefits. Where you lose the toys and the cornering, you gain in terms of the way this car makes you feel.
It’s special. But is it special enough to win?
We’ll get the difficult bits out of the way in the first paragraph. The Range Rover is not as comfortable as the Jaguar, nor is it as engaging to drive. It might be more spacious than a short wheelbase example, but the long wheelbase car on test has a lot more space available inside for four adults. As a luxury saloon then, the Range Rover is not as good a car.
But there is a very good reason that I restored the Jaguar as an everyday car and then bought the Range Rover to do the same job. The fact of the matter is that in the countryside, all wheel drive offers a distinct advantage to the Range Rover. And the fact that the Range Rover actually has a boot capable of carrying more than an overnight bag makes it a far more practical proposition even if the all wheel drive is redundant for most of the time.
The Range Rover is far shorter than the Jaguar, and yet has a greater capacity because of its shape. It’s possible to park the Range Rover in a supermarket parking bay, while the Jag sticks out into the aisle however closely you put it to the car in front. The Jaguar is undeniably the better car to drive, but as a car to use on a regular basis the Range Rover edges ahead. That, when coupled with the way it makes you feel, is enough to make the Range Rover our victor. The caveat that we’d add is that for a 4.6 litre Range Rover to make sense in a world where we’re paying over six and a half quid per gallon, it really does need to be on LPG. And that means you need to be able to find an LPG garage near you. I recently drove from Leicester to Bishop’s Stortford and because I couldn’t find any LPG, I ran out on my way home to the Fens. If LPG doesn’t work for you, then you need to make a choice between the slower, louder Range Rover diesel, or the Jaguar. Your call.
With thanks to the author for supplying both our test cars from his own fleet.
The Jaguar is actually longer than the boxy Range Rover but falls woefully short on cargo capacity.
Cabin ambience is just as unique as the Jaguar but in a very different way.
Metrocab jokes aside, the Range Rover's styling was a clever update which retained traditional Land Rover touches.
Split tailgate was a signature Range Rover feature carried over into the new model.
The long-wheelbase option was made standard for the top-spec Sovereign models. To hold the fort until the new V8s were ready, Jaguar's AJ6 engine was updated to become the AJ16.
Despite being a heavily facelifted XJ40, the X300 was a return to traditional Jaguar styling cues
“Even in this long wheelbase the roof is low and the sides feel hemmed in”
LIVING WITH THEM
This is where things get interesting, because we have lived with both of these cars for several months. In both cases the cars were bought needing work, in both cases money has been spent, and in both cases they have subsequently proved themselves to be reliable in service.
The Jaguar had been laid up for five years before its recommissioning, and needed little more than a full service and a replacement fuel pump to make it roadworthy. All the other work – replacing interior bulbs, cleaning, a bonnet with better paint and so forth – was purely to make the car into the good example it always deserved to be.
The Range Rover was bought as roadworthy, but needed a replacement rear differential, transfer box, the reinstatement of its air suspension and a replacement valve block. The Range Rover was more expensive and needed more money spending on it. However, P38s are often abused, and if you buy anything but the best there is a risk you’re buying all the previous owner’s problems.
In terms of economy, the Jaguar is averaging around 25mpg in service and the Range Rover a woeful 15.
But as with many P38s, this one is running on LPG – which at under half the price means that in truth the fuel costs equate to a car doing about 37mpg. In bare bones terms, the Range Rover costs ten pence per mile less than the Jaguar in fuel. Tax is similar, and insurance on either as part of a classic car policy is negligible.
In more general terms, electrics and leaks are the big issues on the Range Rover, and you should check for a fully functioning heater. They don’t often rust, but the chassis should be checked nonetheless. Air suspension issues are often blown out of proportion and we would never advocate the fitment of coil spring conversions as they spoil the ride and the car was never designed to use them. The Jaguar’s biggest problem will be suspension bushes, though the shell can corrode. Radios are also an issue in both cars – the LCD screens can fade and leak, and in neither case is an original replacement cheap.
You’ll need about £3000 for a good example of the Jaguar these days and £7000 for the best. You can buy them for under £2000, but expect suspension rattles, corrosion, and perhaps not the best service history. £3000 is the least we’d want to spend on a P38 to guarantee not inheriting someone else’s issues. Again you can spend up to twice that, but we’d be wary of anything under £1500 today. In both cases there are ardent online enthusiast communities, and several breakers able to supply the majority of parts you might need.