Two Old Luxury Cars That Had Buttons Everywhere: 1990 Jaguar XJ6 vs 1989 Mitsubishi Sigma

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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re traveling back to a time when luxury meant everything happening at the push of a button — a literal, physical button. But first we need to settle yesterday’s score:

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Wow. Not a lot of love for the Mustang II in the room. The Angels will be so disappointed.

Anyway, let’s talk about buttons. It may be hard to imagine, when faced with the featureless monolith of a Tesla interior, but there was a time when buttons on a car’s dashboard (or even better, steering wheel) were a status symbol. The more buttons, the higher the level of trim. But it wasn’t just confined to luxury cars: My Government-spec 1989 Chevy truck has buttons to control the radio and HVAC systems, with nary a knob or slider in sight. [Editor’s Note: I recall driving a 1980s GMC 2500 work truck. It had a bench seat, manual transmission, four-wheel drive, and pretty much no other options. It was a basic truck except for that HVAC system, which seemed out of place. Push-button electric HVAC controls? On a work truck? WHY? -DT]. 

Our two cars today seem to be competing for sheer number of buttons. Both of them have added little pods alongside the steering column to squeeze in even more buttons than would ordinarily be possible. It’s likely, since both cars are more than 30 years old, that some of those buttons may be purely decorative at this point. But let’s dig into them and see how the rest of them look.

1990 Jaguar XJ6 – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.6 liter inline 6, 4 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Cicero, IL

Odometer reading: 95,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes it does

The Jaguar “XJ40” (as it was known internally) was, when introduced, the most technologically advanced Jaguar ever made. An all-new body design, lighter and stiffer and easier to make, replaced the Series I-III XJ6’s structure, and in possibly an even bigger deal, the legendary XK inline six was put out to pasture in favor of the AJ6 inline six, with “modern” electronic engine management.

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That new technology spilled over into the interior, with a sophisticated electronic systems monitor ensconced in a part-digital dash display. The image above isn’t great, so I’ll just borrow a photo from a for-sale listing by car dealership Park Place LTD just to show all the button-y goodness:

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Image: Park Place LTD

To no one’s surprise, the system proved unreliable and was replaced by analog (but still probably electronically controlled) gauges by the time this 1990 model rolled out of Coventry. The redesigned dash still has plenty of buttons to push, however, in two pods mounted alongside the steering column. On the left are headlight, hazard, and other controls, and on the right is a trip computer.

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No indication is made of how much of that stuff still works on this old Jag, but the AJ engine is said to run well, and the ZF four-speed automatic (with its unique J-shaped shift gate) is in good shape. The rest of the car looks good, with obviously worn but not damaged leather, and shiny straight bodywork. That missing bumper end cap sticks out like a sore thumb, but I’m sure a replacement can be sourced.

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Overall, for a thirty-two-year-old Jag, this car looks nice. You’d want to check carefully for rust, since it’s a Midwestern car, but with only 95,000 miles on the clock, it may have been kept off the road in the winter months and spared the ravages of road salt. Best to check, however.

1989 Mitsubishi Sigma – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: outside Woodburn, OR

Odometer reading: 200,000 miles

Runs/drives? Very well, according to the ad

Mitsubishi in the 1980s was a pretty wild company. High technology, turbochargers, and futuristic styling were the order of the day. Still very much in bed with Chrysler, but trying hard to stand on their own, they lavished their cars with every gadget imaginable in an attempt to stand out.

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This car, known as the Galant Sigma until 1989 when a new Galant was launched, and simply the Sigma for another couple of years, was their flagship. It features Mitsubishi’s ubiquitous (at the time) 3.0 liter V6 coupled to an electronically-controlled 4 speed automatic transmission, which has what looks like multiple shift modes controlled by buttons on the shifter, as well as an automatic climate control system controlled by buttons on the pod above the ignition switch, and a stereo system controlled by buttons on the Citroën-like single-spoke steering wheel. To break things up a bit, the turn signals are activated by that flappy-paddle-thingy on the left pod, and if memory serves, the headlight switch is the big knob sticking out of the side of the pod. Or maybe that’s the wipers. I can’t remember.

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The seller says a lot of work has been done to this car mechanically to whip it into shape, including a full transmission rebuild, and it’s ready to go. They’ve just moved on to something else. What’s amusing is that I think this is the same seller who was (and still is) selling that diesel Peugeot 505 that we looked at last month. They’ve got eclectic taste in cars, I’ll give them that.

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Cosmetically, it doesn’t look great, and I wish it were some other color than dirt-gray. The sharp-edged ’80s styling is a nice change of pace from today’s blobs, however. And the inside looks worn, but still plenty comfy.

That’s our pair for today: a British saloon trying to escape its Olde-Worlde image, and a Japanese techno-fest staring bright-eyed into the future. Which one will it be?

Quiz Maker

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58 Responses

  1. Buying a Jag for buttons is a bit like buying a gun to clean earwax, But I think it’s what I’d pick out of the two. When whatever electrical gremlin inevitably strikes down the PCM finally strikes it would be fun to try to stuff a Ford Coyote motor into it.

  2. Sigma. All day every day.

    The Sigma was the Galant and the predecessor to the Diamante. If you don’t know the Diamante, I pity you. It is one of the greatest sedans ever made. For those of you who are going “NO IT DIDN’T,” sit down.
    The family tree for NA goes like this: Eterna 5th gen (E11-E19) got the high drivelines until 1992. In 1990, the Diamante was introduced, using the 6G72/INVECS automatic from the Eterna.
    Yes Virginia, the Sigma has an INVECS. The ‘learning’ transmission and one of the best transverse automatics ever made. It also had the Twin Stick, but this one doesn’t. It has the INVECS, as evidenced by the ‘auto-stick’ and ‘eco/pwr’ switch. This led to the amazing INVECS-II, which was a minor incremental, not a major redesign. The INVECS was that good out of the box.
    And the Eterna/Sigma was the ‘flagship’ for Mitsubishi in 1989. This was their highest end car sold in North America, by a wide margin. So these cars got all the bells, whistles, and the build quality. The switchgear is genuinely good, the engine is fine, the transmission is great, and the interior materials are quite good for the era. I mean shit, just look at how intact it is. Find an ’89 GM with those kind of buttons that isn’t missing 90% of them. Uh-huh.

    And because it’s a 6G72/INVECS, guess what? Yep. Parts everywhere. If you can’t find it, you didn’t look. Rebuild was probably nothing more than cleaning the valve body, replacing the O/D solenoid, clutchpacks and steels, and the seals and filter. All available from, I dunno, call AutoZone or Summit or anybody! So long as the valve seals have been done, it’ll run (for generous values of running given the output) forever.

    Jag electronics? Fuck no. Just no.

    1. “Jag electronics? Fuck no. Just no.”

      +1

      Plus the Jag is technically dated and uninteresting compared to the Mitsubishi. And what Mitsubishi built generally worked properly, unlike with Jaguar… especially pre-Ford Jaguars.

      This particular Jag is an early post-Ford Jag where Ford was already fixing some of the worst quality problems that was often tied to using outdated WW2-era plant machinery.

      And in terms of looks, this particular Jag doesn’t even have that going for it.

    2. Sorry, the interior is just hideous in the Mitsu. You would be reminded of how crappy your car is every time you had to drive it. Plus, while the transaxle might be good, the 3.0 was a crappy engine (so was the 2.6, IMO).

      The Jag is beautiful, a mermaid luring me to my financial ruin….

    3. Wow, I think that’s the most enthusiastic “yes” I’ve gotten from you on a car so far…

      But just to play devil’s advocate, all the buttons on my 206,000 mile ex-govt-fleet Chevy truck, and their associated displays, work fine, though you do have to push radio preset buttons 5 and 6 kinda hard to make them go.

  3. That Jaguar actually looks like a bona fide bargain to me. With a bit of cleaning up it could go for a lot on BaT. I’d be tempted to go and look at it myself if I didn’t already have one and if the garage weren’t full.

  4. That Jag has clearly been cared for, given its condition living in salt-loving IL. It is also from Jimmy McGill’s hometown of Cicero, IL. On top of that it has a freaking car phone. Honestly, though, the Jag to me is a legitimately good-looking car inside and out, and the Mitsubishi is a Radwood gag at best. Jag all the way!

  5. Easy for me.

    I actually had a 1993 XJ6. Great car, British Racing Green exterior, tan leather interior. Comfortable as hell, quiet, and smelled like a library. I almost got a tweed jacket with leather patches to go with it. It was pretty easy to work on, although it required like a 34mm socket to drain the oil and premium gas. Oh, and it was shit in winter, but that was with basic all seasons. Other than that, great car, would recommend.

    It’s hard for me to turn my nose up at a Sigma, as I’ve always had a soft spot for those. But I’ve never been too crazy about Mitsu’s 3.0 V6. It had a tendency to have failed valve stems among other minor issues. Combine that with meh power and a timing belt, and that’s a no vote from this guy.

  6. I owned a 89 XJ40 back in 2001. Bought off an accountant with fucked paint but interior and mechanically great condition for $600. Dropped a grand in a paint job and people thought I was a successful 21 year old drug dealer.
    It was a Vanden Plas and had the wood tables on the back seats. Achilles heal for mine wasn’t the reputed bad rear differential, but the damn fuel pumps. In 2 years I went through 3 of them. After the third left me stranded I fixed and sold the car for $4 grand 2 years later.

  7. When I read the title I thought, “ No way in hell would I go with a cheap Jag!” However, after reading the ads the Jag is the one I’d go with. Sure I’ll be chasing electrical gremlins for the rest of my life and will always fear breaking down but it looks like it’s been decently cared for. Plus the Jag will have much better parts availability and at the end of the day you could sell it for likely what you paid for it. The Sigma, while an interesting footnote, is now a widely forgotten cat with little to no parts availability.

  8. I’d take the Jaguar
    We’ve had two XJ6’s, a 1980 into which I swapped an LT-1 and an ’86 that was stock. Both were very comfortable, stylish and enjoyable.
    This newer version should be all that and more at a very nice price.

    1. I’ll dispute the Sigma being a “charmless pile”. It might not be to your tastes, but it’s bubble-era Japan’s interpretation of a Citroen and I’m incredibly charmed by that.

      1. Woof. Yeah, to me the Mitsubishi’s vision of the future resembles a 1982 Sanyo Betacord VCR. And look at that dash and steering wheel. Once you’ve gone to town with the Goof Off to eliminate the decades of accumulated schmutz, you’ve got an entire grayscale rainbow of discoloration and various levels of sun-fading. Every way plastic can fail seems to be represented. I do recognize that your tastes can fairly diverge from mine, and I can’t in good conscience say there’s any shame in that, but… woof.

        1. Donald Peterson: You would think that, but that’s where you’re wrong. While the Jaguar’s interior is a lot more beautiful (I think most people would agree), it’s not very durable. Sagging headliners, bits coming off, buttons and lights not working are things you’ll mostly encounter in the Jaguar.

          1. Whatchoo talking about? The Jag is only a year younger than the Mitsubishi, and looks MILES better inside than the Sigma does. My ’87 XJ6 was similarly well-preserved a decade ago, and yeah, I know how bits and bobs do fall off in one’s hand, but again: it’s the devil I know. I’m not terribly worried about the electrical issues, either, if I’m doing a Chevy conversion (which is the only way I’d contemplate it anyway). That conversion fixed all my 87’s electrical woes at once. I know the XJ40 is a different platform (and a less-pretty one at that), but I have zero interest in the Sigma. Friend of mine had a Galant of that exact vintage and adored it until its transmission burned out around 80,000 miles. I never found it attractive even when it was clean and not faded. And the last reason I’d buy a car is to impress anyone at Cars & Coffee. I don’t even drink coffee, and if the people there are impressed by cars that put me to sleep thirty years ago, I doubt they’d enjoy my company.

            1. Donald Peterson: Well, if you know about the XJ40’s interior problems, you would agree that the Mitsubishi is probably (certainly?) gonna be easier to live with, just because there are going to be less unwelcome surprises. But as I have written in another comment, I have owned both of these cars (the XJ40 twice, actually), and the Jaguar is definitely in another league, no question about it, even though I loved driving the Mitsubishi too, it was extremely comfortable and very easy to live with. It’s not that the XJ40 is an unreliable heap of junk, but I’ve definitely had my share of problems, quite a few oil leaks and some electrical gremlins (nothing serious there though, especially on my 1990 model year, which had a lot of Ford electronics already).

              I also agree with your comment about cars & coffee: I don’t drink coffee either, and more importantly, I couldn’t care less what other people -anyone- thinks about my cars. I just care if I like it, that’s it.
              HOWEVER….why would you engine swap an XJ40? As long as it’s not a 12 cylinder and it’s too expensive to fix, there’s really no valid reason to do that. The 6 cylinder versions are very good engines, reliable, durable and extremely smooth, admittedly not very powerful. But I can’t think of a case where it’s cheaper to swap in a Chevy engine rather than to fix the excellent Jaguar engine.
              They’ve got one flaw that affects virtually all of them (at least the pre 94-95 models, I don’t know about the later ones), that is their catalytic converter has a tendency to overheat and consequently get clogged, which makes it really sluggish. Unfortunately that is a fault that is quite hard to diagnose if you haven’t experienced it before and if you don’t know the car (how it should drive), because at idle and in normal traffic situations, it will run perfectly normal, it’s only if you need more power that you notice it. Plenty of XJ40 get driven around with clogged catalytic converters by their second and third owners, and they don’t get it fixed because they either think it’s just a slow car, or they have been told the engine needs a rebuild…

  9. The Jaguar XJ40, X300 and X308 are shockingly good cars, outstanding ride, great handling (for a big cruiser), more reliable and easier to work on than any big German sedan of the period. The 95-97 X300 is the true sweet spot, with 245-320hp, the best of the looks, and Camry like reliability. Unfortunately its two big weak spots, the sagging headliner and fragile cup holders, are very visible. The poor reliability reputation of the earlier series cars also badly hurt their resale value, and many became cheap cars living hard lives long before their due. I currently have two 1997s – a green XJ6 and a black XJR.

    mmmm……Jaaaaagg! 🙂

  10. My buddy and I started something this year that we are going to make an annual tradition. We call it “two idiots in a British shit box.” This year it was a 2457 mi road trip in an MG Midget from Northwest Oregon to Hoover Dam and back. It was a blast and we want to do something similar next year but the third friend in our triad is a little upset that he got left out. No way he’ll fit in a Midget ever LOL. So I’m looking for a larger British saloon for next year’s “three idiots in a British shit box” trip. Unfortunately, this car is in the Midwest while I live about 45 minutes away from the Mitsubishi that I am not interested in…

  11. If you.had asked me if Mitsubishi even imported the Sigma I probably would shrug my shoulders and say, not that I remember. The Sigma has kind of a funky interior, but the outside is generic 80s Japanese, most will probably think it is an old Maxima. It is obscure, but not in a way that adds much appeal to me anyway.

    The Jag is the preferable car, and looks to be in better condition, easy call.

  12. No Stigma for me!
    Jaguar by a Long Nose!
    And then there’s this line from the ad
    “Feel free to test drive and to bring a mechanic.”

    Neither ad gives me the creeps which is remarkable, but the Jaguar ad seems to let the car speak for itself.

  13. When you are broken down at the side of the road, which one would you rather be in? The Mitsubishi? Really? No one is going to stop. People will just go by thinking some dude broke down in his broken old Mitsubishi. The Jaaaag though, someone will stop, they will tell you about their own broken down XJ, you’ve made friends, your life will be better. This was a no brainer.

  14. Jag, not even a question really, but in one of the Sigma pics, right above the ashtray integrated with what is likely a clock, there’s a graphic depicting what is apparently one of the occupants of the car reeling back from an attack by a giant phallus. What is this about?

  15. Speaking as the proud and happy owner of a 1988 Jaguar XJ6 Vanden Plas my vote is firmly with the big cat. Admittedly I was fortunate enough to find a really good example but I don’t see these as being nearly as unreliable as people think. Yes, there are some quirks and issues but frankly, there aren’t a whole lot of interesting 30+ year-old vehicles that don’t have them. Certainly it’s not significantly worse than most malaise-era American cars and it simply can’t be any worse than a lot of old German, French, and Italian cars.

    These are beautiful cars with a lot of presence. I love the folding tables for the rear seat occupants, something I think you need to step up to a Rolls or a Bentley for otherwise. They drive smoothly, the beautiful smell of the Connolly leather persists even today, and they’re rare and different. For instance, I’ve had the only XJ40 at a couple of local Jaguar club events and I’m happy to show a legitimate piece of history for the marque even if it isn’t everyone’s favorite. I look forward to showing it at a Radwood event someday as well. They are quite underappreciated and underpriced as the “red-headed stepchild” of the XJ sedan family but they can provide a great amount of enjoyment for the right owner.

    This one in the poll looks like a pretty decent starting point for some cheap fun. The electrics can have some issues but I’ve been able to sort through problems with not much more than some sockets, a soldering iron, and patience. The engine and transmission should in general be pretty solid. I am of the firm opinion that mechanicals and even electricals are not the real problem and cost in restoring something like this; the bulk of the money goes to cosmetics.

    1. I have almost pulled the trigger on 2 different XJ12’s. I am not much of a luxury sedan kind of guy but there is something about the XJ that I like a lot more than German cars of that era. It would be a 5th car so reliability is not an issue.

  16. Mitsubishi every day. Unusual and interesting, whereas perma-parked XJ40s can be found in every neighborhood (of every income bracket, interestingly enough) in America. The Mitsubishi is also in much better taste – easily proven by the fact that the Sigma owner has a bunch of Peugeots and other interesting vehicles, whereas the Jaguar owner also has a Mustang.

  17. Jag all the way for me on this one. Looks very well cared for and doing absolutely no research I’m guessing that parts will be a lot easier to find and that there will be a huge knowledge base online for them.

  18. The Jaguar looks stately, while the Sigma looks like a shitbox. The monospoke wheel and buttons look cool, but I don’t know that I’d want to live with either. Extraneous gizmos on top of an otherwise normal UI wins out over needlessly reinvented wheel

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