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Video | Here’s Why the Jaguar XJ220 Is the Craziest 1990s Supercar

I recently had the chance to spend the day with a Jaguar XJ220. This fulfilled a childhood dream for me, because, I mean, come on. The Jaguar XJ220. Who hasn’t wanted to know more about this ridiculous, insane vehicle?

The answer might, in fact, be: most people. The thing about the XJ220 is that it’s not really all that well-known, even though it was briefly the fastest car on the planet. It’s not a famous Ferrari, or a famous Lamborghini, or the zillion-dollar McLaren F1, and so it’s been forgotten by a lot of people — even knowledgeable car enthusiasts. But I, personally, like weird cars, and that means I even like weird exotic cars, and that means I like the XJ220. And, more importantly, it means I’ve always wanted to know more about the XJ220.

So here are the details: the XJ220 was first debuted as a concept car in 1988, with V12 power and scissor doors. The reception was huge, so Jag put the XJ220 into production — but the real thing ended up with a supercharged V6 and basic, regular doors — among other changes from the concept car. That, along with a tightening of the economy, resulted in far fewer sales than Jaguar had planned.

Still, the final numbers are pretty impressive. The XJ220 — so named because it could theoretically hit 220 mph, though no one ever officially tested it — used a turbocharged V6 that made 540 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. The transmission was a 5-speed manual, and the exterior was quite massive — initially intended to house a V12, the engine bay looks almost bare with the V6 inside. At 194.1 inches in length, the XJ220 was two feet longer than the Ferrari F40, and just inches shorter than the Chevy Tahoe from the same period.

And yet, the XJ220 was pretty cool to drive. I took it out and really enjoyed my time behind the wheel, though I especially marveled at how amazing quick it feels. It doesn’t just feel quick for the early 1990s, but rather it feels quick, period, and that shocked me given the car’s huge size. The one I drove was especially well kept, which probably contributed to its impressive performance; many of these have been neglected, as parts and maintenance has become difficult.

The rest of the XJ220 wasn’t quite as impressive as the speed: handling doesn’t feel as precise as modern cars, no surprise, and it’s a bit of a challenge to fit inside the XJ220. The size also contributes to a disappointing turning and steering experience, because you do feel like it’s a lot of car to throw around.

I will say, however, that I absolutely love the look of the car. The big, flat wheels are an icon in the "cool 1990s supercar" world, as they didn’t look anywhere near as aggressive as the wheels in many other cars — to a special, understated effect. And the car itself is beautiful, with similarly understated lines — and, yet, true exotic car proportions, with a wide, flat, low-slung rear end that couldn’t belong to any other vehicle.

Is the XJ220 weird? Of course: it’s a mid-engine supercar from a company that really had no business ever making a mid-engine supercar. But for that reason, I’ve always wondered about it, and I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like. And I’m thrilled that I finally had the chance to check out all of the quirks and features of the famed Jag supercar. Find a Jaguar for sale

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Always fun to see the XJ220 presented to more car enthusiasts, but it needs to be put into context to understand its initial importance and why it was such a disappointment in the end. The 1980s were not a great time for Jaguar, they hadn’t really come out with a proper sports car since the XJS was launched in 1975 and that was never really a sports car anyway. The company struggled financially after having gained its independence in 1984 and so when the XJ220 prototype was presented there was a tremendous interest to see it being put into production, with hopes of Jaguar returning to its former glory. But money was tight and the realisation of the XJ220 simply took too long and too many corners had to be cut in order for it to see the light of day. By the time it came out it was in many ways already outdated, Jaguar had by then been acquired by Ford and the raiding of parts bins continued there, having started with decisions like using the tail lights from a Rover 200 and the wing mirrors of a last gen Citroën CX (which came out in 1986). Those mirrors were coincidently also used on the Lotus Esprit. It should be mentioned that the side indicators were never a consideration for the designers, these are added on later to confirm to US regulations while European ones did not require a side indicator. 

    As Doug mentioned, the dimensions of the car were simply idiotic, they would have probably worked better in the US, but on narrow, European roads the XJ220 was practically unusable. This, in addition to the price, the disappointing choice of engine and the fact that it just didn’t meet the high expectations it had inspired meant that the XJ220 was in many ways doomed already when it came out. Still a great looking car, except for the rear end which has always looked like a messy afterthought to me. 
  2. Doug, so so so cool to see you drive this car and see your review. Leno did a review of the 220 a while ago, but I really enjoyed seeing you review in your style. Being a 90’s kid, this was one of the first cars that got my attention, when I was about 10. Where? Why at the Sharper Image at my local mall. They had a glass case with scale models in it. They also had an F50 and a Diablo. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch the 1993 Fastmasters.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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