Future classics

Future Classic: Jaguar X350 XJR

by Andrew Frankel
6 September 2022 4 min read
Future Classic: Jaguar X350 XJR
Photos: Jaguar

Some cars are such stone-cold, dead-certain classics I might never focus upon them in this slot. So don’t hold your breath waiting for me to write about Gordon Murray’s new GMA T.50 because you know already as do I that it’s certain to be a future classic which, and only insofar as the brief for this column is concerned, makes it not very interesting to me.

But there are other cars that live on the flip side of that coin. The cars few would ever imagine might become classic if, indeed, they ever thought about them at all. And in this particular case I can’t even say with any great certainty that it will become a future classic, only that it should be.

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I’m talking about the X350 Jaguar XJR. And now I can hear fingernails scratching heads. X350. Which one was that? The first XJR was introduced in 1994 as a variant of the X300 XJ series. It was the first supercharged Jaguar, but this is not that car. The second was the X308 which turned up in 1998, now sporting not just a supercharger, but also a V8 motor and, wonderful car though it is, that’s not the one I’m talking about either. It’s the one after that, introduced in 2003 with the aforementioned X350 designation.

Jaguar X350 XJR

What was so extraordinary about the X350 was that it looked so, well, ordinary. A slightly more upright version of the previous generation XJ, with a bit more space and quite a lot less grace. Not much to get excited about here. Or so it seemed. In fact the car was a revolution. Because beneath those golf club car park looks lurked what I believe to be the first entirely aluminium monocoque designed for a mass production road car [Editor’s note: Technically the Honda NSX got there first, but it depends where you draw the line for “mass production”….].

This meant that despite the fact the X350 was a physically much larger car in every significant dimension than the X308 (almost 100mm longer and an amazing 148mm higher) the XJR version weighed just 1665kg, a stunning 172kg less than its comparatively diminutive predecessor. To give it a modern context, less than 20 years ago here was a full sized Jaguar limousine with a 4.2-litre supercharged V8 engine that weighed less than does a 2-litre diesel version of Jaguar’s smallest saloon, the XE, today.

Astonishing, isn’t it? Particularly with its butter-wouldn’t-melt appearance. Why did it look so staid? Well, work on its styling was begun by Jaguar’s then chief designer, the wonderful Geoff Lawson, who sadly and suddenly died in 1999 at the tragically young age of 54 while the car was essentially finished in all but detail design. And my understanding is that no-one wanted then to mess with what was effectively the final design of a great man’s career. For it had been on his watch that such cars as the XJ220 and 1990’s XK coupes had been designed. So it was largely left alone.

Jaguar X350 XJR interior

I used to love smoking about in these XJRs because their performance was just so improbable. It might not blow the doors off a Porsche 911 of the era, but it was quick enough to give one a proper scare and make its driver work far harder than expected to keep up.

And not just in a straight line. The X350 wasn’t just a lot lighter than the X308, its structure was 50 per cent stiffer too, so its handling was even more unlikely than its performance. Contrary to every appearance, it was a great driver’s car.

The X350 was replaced in 2009 after just six years on sale and despite a minor facelift in 2009, its looks severely limiting its lifespan. And its replacement, the X351, took a diametrically opposed approach with postmodern Ian Callum styling concealing the fact that beneath that terrific new skin lay a car that had changed remarkably little. And nor did it need to, because it was still technologically state of the art.

I remember about 10 years back writing a buyer’s guide to the X350 and even then it didn’t make for particularly pretty reading. Highlights – or low lights really – included expensive failure of the air suspension, torque converter failure on high mileage gearboxes, scabbing on the paintwork below the rear screen and at the bottom of the doors and incredibly expensive brake replacement parts because Jaguar wanted the best for the XJR so went to Brembo to get it.

The good news, such as there is, is that the supercharged V8 had been well developed by then and, if properly maintained, gave very little trouble even over huge mileages.

So it’s one of those cars with which you start a relationship with eyes wide open, and research assiduously completed. Get a dud and the bills alone could write it off, but get a good one and you’ll drive one of the most unlikely and enjoyable Q-cars out there. And with prices of sensible cars starting at around £10,000 for examples with five figure mileages and decent histories to £15,000 for mint, sub 50,000 mile cars, they do seem enticingly affordable. If that is, you can get your head around the styling…

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  • Lord Boots says:

    You seem to have forgotten about the Audi A2.

    • Antony Ingram says:

      The A2 was a spaceframe rather than a monocoque, just like the A8 that came before it. Neither came before the NSX we mention in the editor’s note as a true aluminium monocoque (albeit relatively small production compared to the XJ).

  • Ken Johnson says:

    I just loved my Bristol 408 and 411 S 5
    Now it’s X350 2.7 d 43 mpg I’m happy
    Ride just like a Tesla S

  • Mark Nathan Ziff says:

    Don’t the gil slits, indicate a 358?

  • Will says:

    No, this is a x350 portfolio only 100 were sold in the UK

  • Dave Keeling says:

    Yes the X358 was the facelift X350…with gil slits. Ive had a X358 for 3 years, and agree with much of discussion. Car is a super GT with expansive interior. We put 2 bikes across rear seat in bike bags for long european travel, then use a bike rack “Sea sucker” on the rear window once at camp site. XJR is also v Fast and relatively fuel efficient…29 mpg at a nice easy 80. Absolutely fantastic engine with massive torque courtesy of the supercharger…a very enjoyable purchase. X358 also has benefit of cheaper but just as large non Brembo brakes…entire disk set cost just £220!! Very happy with purchase, and the slightly more aggressive X358 styling is aging well…but I accept still not to everyones taste!

  • Chris lovegrove says:

    The Portfolio edition of the X350 had the gill slits. Along with the wider exhaust tips and Callisto alloys.

  • H.F.S says:

    The XJR was introduced in 1988 on the XJ40, not in 1994 with the X300.

    • James Mills says:

      True, although the author was referring to the supercharged generation of XJR – hence the possible confusion.

  • Andrew Wright. says:

    I have owned an x350 xjr for 7 years, it’s smooth ride and effortless power delivery make it an absolute pleasure to drive. Put your foot down and it goes, but drive it through the countryside and it glides along on air suspension and it never seems strained with that stunning V8 engine. Yes it has niggles but keep it charged and give a run out at the weekend and you won’t be disappointed. There are only 143 of these left so become coming quite rare. Get one while you can.

  • Bill Flint says:

    Andrew. Totally agree with your summary. I live in eastern Europe and 8 years ago was extremely lucky enough to get my hands on a 2006 X350 XJR US specification with only 23, 700 Km (14,800 miles) on the clock – all straight up and verified by main Jaguar dealers prior to purchase. This is my fourth Jag, preceeded over the years by XJ6, XJ12 and Daimler 4.2 – all Series 2, and this is by far the best. Mainly garaged for the winters but when time and weather allows I take it out for a reasonable 60 to 80 Km run just to keep everything in working order so to speak and in the summer it is regularly used for long round trips of some 700 Km. On the long trips it is an even split of motorway and A and B type roade and I can easily achieve 25 mpg which, given that I am not exactly nursing it along, is outstanding. Only niggles so far have been with the air suspension otherwise it has been great. Like you said, it is an absolute pleasure to own.

  • Adrian Waters says:

    I have an X350 Sport Portfolio Diesel (as confirmed by a Jaguar Heritage Certificate) – identical to the Supercharged, XJR version – registered on 1st August 2007 and originally registeed XRA 1. I believe its one of only 10 produced before the X358 facelift. I use as a daily-driver, Super-Saloon looks with 40-plus mpg and reasonable servicing costs – great combination – makes a lot of sense. As a diesel, I don’t every expect it to be ‘collectable’ but I’m certainly enjoying it for the time being.

  • JOHN w TAYLOR says:

    I have 2 2006 XJR’s 1 with 340,000 miles on it and is the car I drive everyday, still gets 26 mph on the highway. I like the car so much I bought a backup with 170,000 miles on it made it like new and drive it once a week, when my orginal gives up I do not have look for another car.

  • amjad says:

    What more of a guarantee does one need. John just said it all in a couple of lines!

  • John M Griffin says:

    Mine is an ’07 XJR – a phenomenally great car. BRG over camel; 19″ sabre wheels – a real head turner. It now has ~ 160K miles, yet still taut, responsive, and very quick. I also have a fairly new BMW M550i – purchased as a replacement for the XJR – yet still prefer the XJR. My XKR175 is faster than both, but the XJR is a better all ’round long distance traveler…

  • Tim O Brien says:

    I live in Sydney and had been looking for a 308 for a couple of years and got tired of the chain tensioner enquiries unanswered or the affliction not even known by the owners.
    A little more reading and investigation lead me to purchase a 2003 350.After purchase in Melbourne I flew with my son to collect the car and return to Sydney.Australia has long open roads and wonderful big skies.The car was a dream to drive home and ate up the miles effortlessly whilst enjoying our grey granite topped hills. dividing range and endless grazing land. Fuel economy was brilliant I had it down to 8.0 liters per hundred km on the Hume highway.
    The car is a joy to drive and just makes you feel like it’s a special occasion every time you jump in.The cars interior leather and walnut dash trims and door cards just fill you with a feeling of elegance and sophistication.The driving position and those front bucket seats clad in beautiful leather are just divine.The door bins are even leather lined, how could anyone dispose of rubbish there,the ceiling handles, leather and hand stitched.Then there’s the silky smooth V8 with a reassuring rumble at about 3500 rpm and perfectly matched gear box all floating on air what more could you want than to be cocooned in a work of art like this.
    Jaguar, regal and pedigree through and through.
    Love the car and all she’s says assured with dignified confidence and presence like no other.🇦🇺🙂🐆

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