Jaguar's sleek new XJ6 is turning the heads of luxury-car buyers on both sides of the Atlantic. The British carmaker's first new design in almost 20 years went on sale in Europe last fall and reached United States showrooms in May. Several thousand Americans have already placed their orders, and customers face waits of up to 12 months for delivery.
Jaguar's resurgence is one of Britain's biggest success stories. Seven years ago, the famous make nearly disappeared from the motoring scene after a decade of mismanagement and neglect by the state-owned British Leyland group - remember MG and Triumph?
In 1986, the company produced more than 40,000 cars, with nearly 25,000 of these sold in the US. That represented a doubling of Jaguar's US sales over five years.
How did Jaguar make its comeback?
By building on the success of the original Series III XJ6, developed in the late 1960s. This car has accounted for 80 percent of Jaguar total sales over the years. Improved technology and attention to quality have sustained its appeal.
During the past six years, the automaker has invested more than $300 million in the new model XJ6, including over 5 million miles of durability testing in the hot deserts of Arizona and the cold regions of Canada. To match high German standards, the company has built new automated manufacturing facilities for improved quality and reliability.
The new XJ6 purposefully retains the elegant lines and the traditional wood and leather interiors of the older model. Advanced technology features include a new aluminum-alloy, 3.6-litre, 6-cylinder engine with 24 valves and 220 horsepower.
It's modified to 181 hp. to meet US environmental requirements and to improve fuel economy. Jaguar's gas mileage, in comparative testing by AutoWeek Magazine, averaged 20.2 miles a gallon, compared with 16.2 for the Mercedes 420 SL, and 18.8 for the BMW 735i.
One of Jaguar's unique features is the four-speed automatic transmission that allows one to manually select Gears 2 through 4 in place of the predetermined automatic gear changes. This is done simply by moving the gear lever over to a parallel line through a ``J-gate.'' This feature enables the driver to downshift for cornering and to hold a gear while passing for quicker acceleration.
The car also has ABS antiskid braking with yaw stability control, high-tech electrical and electronic systems, and a patented double wishbone suspension system that provides exceptional smoothness with the road-holding ability Jaguar is famous for.
The new engine, coupled to the four-speed German ZF automatic transmission, makes the car quicker and more responsive than the older Series III, which is equipped with the GM three-speed.
The dashboard layout combines analog dials for speed and r.p.m., digital displays for subordinate gauges, and a large monitor for displaying video vehicle conditions.
The seat-belt arrangement allows one to adjust the position of the main pillar anchor to suit all sizes of drivers - a nice comfort feature.
While the car is all new, it is still instantly recognizable as a Jaguar. But it is less distinctive.
The front independent fender forms and headlight fairings are replaced by flat surfaces, and the rear fenders and deck have lost their long curves. It's a plainer, simpler design.
The European and US motoring press, comparing the new XJ6 to the Mercedes 420SE and BMW 735i, has given it top ratings. In the US, the new XJ6 listed for $40,500, compared with $54,050 for a Mercedes 420SE and $48,500 for the new BMW 735i.
Jaguar's turnaround is also evident in its improving resale value. Edmund's Used Car Prices shows that, for 1984 models, Jaguar returns a strong 68 percent of its original price, slightly higher than that for the Mercedes 300SE, and 59 percent for the BMW 735i.