Driving Torque

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Jaguar XFR-S – Driven and Reviewed

Jaguar_XFR-S_side_blueWith the release of the Mk11 in the late ’50s, Jaguar could easily be credited with the invention of the Q-car – otherwise known as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The XF is the spiritual successor to the Mk11, and this XFR-S is not only the fastest XF, it’s the sprightliest saloon car Jaguar have ever made. A Q-car it ain’t though. Just look at it; this is a wolf at a wolf-pride march, wearing a “CANIS LUPUS” T-shirt. With matching hat.

Gen-yoo-ine carbonfibre

Gen-yoo-ine carbonfibre

Potential buyers shouldn’t be put off by the rice-rocket-esque rear spoiler, though (it is carbon fibre, by the way), a far more subtle affair is a no-cost option. Our test car’s ‘Ultimate Blue’ hue might not be to your taste either, fear not – a traditionally discreet black can be ordered with the deft click of a mouse.

Matching bright-blue piping is available on the inside of the XFR-S, if your heart desires. But again, if it’s the more sombre side of owning a Jaguar that floats your boat, it can all be toned down to suit. The carbon fibre theme also continues with aplomb in the cabin, and that can’t be changed; it’s on the fascia and the pattern’s even stitched into the seats – not my taste, personally, but it’s dark enough to fade into the background.

Jaguar_XFR-S_side_badgeThe base XF’s interior was one of the class-leading aspects of the car on its release in 2007, with its cool-azure lighting and swivelly air-vents. That was over seven years ago though, and that’s plenty of time for the competition to catch up. The infotainment system looks a bit lo-res these days and we’ve become accustomed to moving knobs and buttons in this class of car – the vents just don’t wow like they used to. 

Jaguar_XFR-S_wheelThe Meridian sound-system that comes as standard never fails to impress, however. I’m occasionally underwhelmed with the ‘premium’ stereos that cars are fitted with – they just don’t seem to be set-up properly. Not so in this case. Loudness is nothing if the clarity and quality don’t match, but every aspect of this 825W Surround Sound system is impressive. A word of warning though; don’t be overly eager with the volume knob – you might just miss something very special………..

Beware, all who dare enter.....

Beware, all who dare enter…..

……….’What?’ I hear you cry. Well, the ‘heartbeat’ start button that could be considered something of a gimmick in lesser XFs becomes slightly more pertinent in the XFR-S; press it and the whole car comes to life with a jolt that’s reminiscent of a heart attack victim being jolted back from the light. The bark and crackle from the quad performance pipes is more Modena than Midlands, and I challenge anyone with a modicum of petrol in their veins to ever tire of finding a long tunnel, opened the windows and dropping down a cog or two.

Jaguar XFR-S bonnet louvreSo, what is the XFR-S like to live with? Well, let’s cut to the chase; one aspect that can’t be toned down, not that you’d want to, is the 550bhp, supercharged V8 that lurks underneath that power-bulged bonnet. This is one hell of an engine. Linked to the hugely popular ZF 8-speed ‘box that’s been peppered up a bit for the R-S, acceleration is life-affirmingly brutal, even in everyday ‘D’ mode. Put it in ‘S’ and the realisation of just how 550bhp feels with precisely zero delay between order and delivery may take you by surprise, as the instant surge towards the horizon is like no other car I’ve ever driven.

This car will spin its wheels for fun, and if the surface you’re on is anything less than sahara-dry I’d think twice before planting the loud-pedal. With no lag to consider, what you ask for is what you get and a hasty exit from a junction could result in some snaking and the unmistakable smell of burning rubber. There is, of course, a trade-off for this very useful performance, and that’s economy; with all eight cylinders and a supercharger constantly working, even Jaguar’s official 24.4mpg combined seems somewhat optimistic.

Jaguar XFR-S grilleThe good news is that this V8 beast’s drivetrain is fully prepared for what the engine can throw at it and it reins things in in an instant. Even in non-dynamic mode, the rear end steps out slightly but then comes back into line before you know it, leaving you looking and feeling like something of a hero.

What your waiting for?

What you waiting for?

Handling is point-to-point fantastic, especially in Dynamic mode, and you’ll soon forget that you’re in what’s ultimately an executive saloon on steroids. What’s quite surprising is how civilised the ride is when you’re not setting lap-times and you just want to get home in comfort. The revised suspension is a fairly considerable 100% stiffer than a standard XF, and those 20” wheels don’t look like they were designed with wafting in mind, yet the R-S is no bone-shaker and even negotiating speed-humps doesn’t result in the grimace-inducing sound of bodywork on tarmac that you might expect.

In a company with a history of fast saloons like Jaguar, the title of ‘fastest ever’ holds a large volume of water. At a shade under £80K, it’s not cheap – over £6K more than the more powerful M5. The question is, would the M5 make you smile as often as the R-S? Somehow, I doubt it.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Jaguar XFR-S, 5.0l V8 Supercharged, Transmission – 8 spd auto, Layout – Front engine, RWD, Power – 550bhp, Torque – 680Nm, Emissions – 270g/km CO2, Economy – 24.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 186mph limited, Acceleration – 4.4s 0-60mph, Price – £79,995 OTR, £81,795 as tested

For full details, go to; http://www.jaguar.co.uk/jaguar-range/xf/xf-models/xfr-s.html

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Jaguar XJ L Portfolio – Driven and Reviewed

Jaguar XJ L Front

It’s hard to believe, but this face has been around since 2009 when it became the most original XJ…….ever.

For over forty years since their launch in 1968, Jaguar XJs as a breed (that’s XJ-plural, by the way, not the long defunct XJS) were instantly recognisable, no matter how many model updates and refreshments it went through. Its twin headlights were a consistent theme and its lower, more purposeful stance stood it apart from other cars in the class, subtly suggesting that although it may be perfectly capable of wafting dignitaries and heads of state around in its rear seats, the most pressing objective in the drafting rooms of Coventry was to continue Jaguar’s tradition of making the seat with the steering wheel the place to be.

Jaguar XJ L rear and side

XJ L is 125mm longer than standard XJ. Doesn’t sound a lot, does it?

Believe it or not, the XJ guise we have on test here has graced our roads since 2009 and possibly best personifies the direction Jaguar has been taken since Tata took the reins of this potentially ailing brand in 2008. Visually, it’s unrecognisable next to any XJ of the past; undoubtedly a brave move that could have deterred as many long-standing customers as the new ones it attracted. Without sounding over-dramatic, imagine the Porsche 911 disowning that silhouette; you get the picture.

This test car isn’t just an XJ though, this is an XJ L. It doesn’t take 20:20 vision to work out that the ‘L’ stands for ‘long wheelbase‘, but in all honesty, it could just as easily stand for ‘luxury‘, ‘limousine‘ or even ‘how the ‘l are you going to park that thing?!‘. The standard XJ isn’t exactly small, but by extending the wheelbase 125mm, this ‘L’ version enables occupants in the front and the rear to potentially be sat in different postcodes. Or time zones.

But what’s it like to drive? I couldn’t possibly have gotten through a Jaguar review without mentioning the old ‘grace, space and pace’ motto that the brand have admirably stuck to for decades, but is it really relevant in a luxo-barge such as this?

Jaguar 3.0 V6 supercharged engine

Jaguar and Supercharged – a lovely combination

Well, under the bonnet is as good place to start as any and this particular model kicks off proceedings with an engine emblazoned with a word that’s guaranteed to set the pulse racing  – ‘supercharged’. You can opt for your XJ to come complete with an oil-burning unit, and very fine it is too, but if driver-satisfaction is your priority, you need look no further than this 340bhp, 3.0 V6, most recently utilised with devastating effect in the F-Type. Anybody thinking there’s a couple of cylinders missing from this engine would be right – Jaguar took the decision to reserve the V8 for their Supersport and XJR models last year, in an effort to gain a touch more respectability on the eco-front. Replacing it with this V6 may have reduced bhp by almost a whole Fiesta ST, but with a 0-60 time of 5.7s, and top speed limited to 155mph, I defy most people to notice the real-world difference in performance or refinement, thanks in no small amount to the silky-smooth 8-speed ‘box, sourced from ZF.

Jaguar XJ Rear lights

‘Cat’s claws’ rear lights are still a pleasure

So, on the ‘grace and space’ front, it’s quite good. Recent improvements to suspension and dampers seem to have ironed out a few imperfections in the XJ’s ride and so they should – being jolted and jarred whilst trying to deal with fellow world-leaders just won’t do. One thing I would recommend any owner or chauffeur do is to de-activate the ‘Eco’ button for every journey; I know it’s not the politically correct thing to say, but the stop-start on this XJ is far too intrusive and completely ruins the whole ambience of the thing. It was obviously fitted for reasons relating to emissions which can’t be ignored, but unless your inner eco-warrior just won’t allow it, do yourself a favour and turn it off.

But what about ‘pace’? – not usually a word associated with something weighing over 2.3 tonnes that doesn’t benefit from jet-propulsion and wings. Well, plonk yourself down into the hot-seat and any initial intimidation is softened by the relatively diminutive, thin-rimmed steering-wheel; stare out over the bonnet and there’s a power bulge, right down the middle that isn’t entirely obvious from the outside – all of a sudden, you get a sneaking suspicion that this car wants to undertake a little less wafting and a bit more galloping.

Jaguar XJ L Side view

You know a car’s big when 20” polished wheels look proportional.

Had Jaguar opted to go down the turbo-charged forced-induction route, as they inevitably did with the Diesel unit, they could potentially have pushed their economy stats into a different bracket, maybe even into the realms of righteousness. But that would have incurred the penalty of the dreaded lag and in a car of this class, that’s not acceptable. The supercharger on this V6 may be running constantly by its very nature but that means constant, smooth power delivery right across the rev range. Acceleration in this XJ from zero to about forty is barely discernible; there’s no real sensation of increasing speed, the only clue is the objects passing by the side windows more frequently. Get past forty though, and things get a touch more dramatic, no rasping exhaust note of course – that’s the F-Type’s job, but accidentally give an overly enthusiastic twitch of your right-big-toe, and your driver’s licence could quite easily be placed on the endangered species list.

There’s a couple of subtle adjustments present in many models across the JLR range – the Sport mode (S) on the gear selector and the very tempting chequered flag button (Dynamic mode). If I’m honest, I found them to be a tad out-of-place on this stretched XJ and I still think a slightly more appropriate illustration could be used, maybe a pair of leather driving gloves or perhaps a miniature portrait of Sir Stirling Moss? Either way, select both options and the effects are dramatic. Visually, one immediately notices the display changing to a blood-red hue; aurally, the 8-speed ‘box clings more determinedly onto each ratio, as you’d expect in any sport mode, and on a tactile level, this massive, sumptuous limousine becomes a little more rigid, more conducive to being thrown around. Size and mass are obviously one’s enemy when negotiating bendy tarmac and these adjustments are designed to assist in overcoming what the XJ undeniably has in spades.

Jaguar XJ L interior

Grey leather isn’t to everyones taste but there’s no denying the quality of the XJ’s cabin

I’m not going to say that with a press of a button and a turn of a knob, your XJ will magically transform in to a Mazda MX-5, that would be incredulous. What it does do though, is contract the whole sensation into something akin to an M5 – a car that has no right to cover the ground as promptly as it does. Push on through roundabouts and bends and you’ll find a willingness to kiss apexes that you just don’t expect – get out of the car, take a look back and it seems almost farcical that something built to these dimensions can be manhandled without getting overly scary.

It’s very hard to say things about the XJ’s interior that hasn’t already been said. The blend of materials and imagination employed combine to put any cabin this side of a Rolls-Royce to shame, it really is British craftsmanship at its very best. The grey leather in this particular model certainly wouldn’t be my choice, but find the colour and materials from the extensive catalogue that float your boat and it’s genuinely one of the nicest places you could be in. The acid test is to look at the interior of an XJ and then immediately compare it to the equivalent offerings from BMW, Mercedes or even AudiBritain 1 – Germany 0.

Jaguar XJ interior at night

If anything, it looks even better at night with its blue ‘mood’ lighting

That said, there are certain imperfections that need addressing in my opinion, not least the cutting edge digital display. Call me old-fashioned but I find the use of microchips and hi-res screens completely contrary to the rest of the cabin. Put it this way – I don’t remember the likes of Rolex, Tag-Heuer and Panerai ditching their Swiss-made, precision movements in favour of a Casio-style digital LCD. I guess I just prefer looking at a mechanical object that years of craftsmanship and experience have influenced, rather than what basically amounts to lots of clever lights that could just as easily be the screen on my MacBook.

The multimedia system on our test car was the Meridian Reference Audio System in the front, coupled with the Premium Dualview system in the rear – £4000 and £8,490 options respectively. Both work beautifully and really allow all passengers to be entertained individually if so desired, with screen resolutions and sound quality that make a British Airways First Class cabin seem shabby in comparison. It isn’t without its gremlins though: For some reason, if I received an incoming call on my iPhone, instead of going silent and disappearing into the background, the audio system would occasionally select a random track and play it over your conversation – far from ideal when piloting a car is the obvious priority, not violently prodding a touch screen to convince it to work properly.

Jaguar XJ L rear seat

£8,490 Premium Rear Seat Package Including Dualview.

Jaguar XJ LI’ve always admired the look of this XJ and the direction JLR have decided to take their flagship model in. What’s equally pleasing and surprising is that even in this elongated version, the driver-focussed emphasis that Jaguar place on their cars hasn’t been completely forsaken in the name of passenger opulence, which is ultimately the primary function of the long wheelbase XJ.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Jaguar XJ L Portfolio, Engine – 3.0l Supercharged petrol, Transmission – 8 spd auto, Layout – Front engine, RWD, Power – 335BHP, Torque – 450Nm, Emissions – 224g/km CO2, Economy – 29.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 155mph limited, Acceleration – 5.7s 0-60mph, Price – £76,453 OTR, £85,045 as tested.

For full details go to http://www.jaguar.co.uk

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible – First Drive

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible in Red

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible

121mm, or 4.73 inches in old money if you prefer. That was the average rainfall in Britain for April 2012, nearly double the expected monthly amount.  The more mathematically minded amongst you will have already calculated that this equates to 4.033mm per day, doesn’t sound like much does it? I can assure you that this insignificant sounding amount felt like a monsoon as it pounded on my windscreen whilst I was wending my merry way southwards on the M6, cursing my luck and fervently glancing skywards, searching for that small shaft of light that might result in some slightly less inclement weather.

The reason for my unrealistic optimism was that on this particular day, I was being given the opportunity to road-test the all new Jaguar XKR-S Convertible, better still; I would be able to perform a back-to-back test with its fixed roof sibling to gain a true insight into what differences exist between the two.

Jaguar XKR-S in blue

Jaguar XKR-S Coupe

Having driven the XKR-S hardtop previously, I deemed it only fair that I give the convertible the first chance to deliver that ‘wow’ factor that rarely fails to be administered when driving cars of this nature and it didn’t disappoint. Aside the obvious lack of a metal roof on one model, the interiors are identical. A blend of traditional high grade leather, huge swathes of carbon fibre and some tastefully designed ultra-modern switchgear  are the order of the day on both cars but the convertible has the privilege of encouraging a large grin to appear across my face first. There are many neat little touches in the cabin that are comprehensively overshadowed by these car’s performance but someone, somewhere will have put a lot of time, energy and money into them so they shouldn’t be overlooked. Not least of these features is the ‘stop/start’ button that senses when the key is nearby and emits an eerie, blood red glow to the rhythm of a heartbeat. What better way to cross the divide between an inanimate lump of machinery and a living, breathing creature than to actually give it a pulse?  Interestingly, the XKR-S differs from much of the Jaguar range by persisting with traditional mechanical dials, I assume that this is either a weight saving measure or a way of reinforcing the very nature of the model, function over form.

Having depressed the irresistible start button, the 5.0 litre, supercharged V8 awakens with a somewhat startled yelp that settles into a deep, mellow thrum. Audibility is a large part of the attraction of a performance car for me and although the XKR-S convertible isn’t exactly quiet, I’m almost disappointed that the high quality fabric roof does such an impressive job of keeping noise intrusion to a minimum. In fact, the majority of engine noise is not entering the cabin from roof level, it seems to be coming from below, giving the definite impression that the active exhaust system is routed through the base of the driver’s seat, not an approach that I’d be averse to if I’m honest.

Driving Torque drives the Jaguar XKR-S Convertible

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible – roof down

Time to get reacquainted with what 550bhp and 501lb ft torque feels like and as I tentatively pull out onto a drenched B road, it all comes rushing back, literally. Even left in ‘relatively sane’ mode, the acceleration is brutal with a claimed 0-60mph time of 4.2s, all being driven by the rear wheels as they competently scrabble for grip on a very unhelpful surface. The 6 speed ‘box is so subtle between gears that when coupled with such oodles of torque, it’s really anyone’s guess what gear you’re actually in but when corners are approaching as quickly as they do in this car, you have very little time to ponder such issues.

Just as I’m giving up all hope of ever getting the roof down, I have a ‘hallelujah’ moment and the rain
eases as I approach a convenient layby. The Jaguar takes 16 seconds to rid itself of its roof but unfortunately, this is a long time in British weather and by the time we’re topless, an annoying drizzle has commenced. I ponder for a while just how much of the £103,000 list price would be obliterated if the leather interior got a little soggy and then decide to throw caution to the wind and go for it. That £6000 price hike over the hard top is instantly forgotten as the engine note escalates into a satisfying bellow with nothing to mute the noise between exhaust and eardrum; it isn’t too long before that pleasure is taken away though. It obviously doesn’t take much time to reach 50mph in this car and as I accelerate on past it, my aural joy is replaced by a very normal buffeting wind noise. Even with the wind deflector deployed, it’s a strain to hear the exhaust and the whole experience becomes paradoxical: More speed = Less pleasure!

As the drizzle intensifies, the sensible side of me takes over and I spot another location up the road to weatherproof the Jag. As the speed decreases and the gearbox follows suit, something magical happens that could easily justify the extra premium of the convertible on its own. In complete contrast to the XK range’s somewhat gentlemanly image, the clever exhaust pops and spits pockets of fuel, resulting in a hugely satisfying cacophony, reminiscent of an old-school American V8. This noise should definitely not be muted by a roof.

In full sport mode, coupled with dynamic settings on and manual gear-changes selected, this car initially feels as fast and direct as anything I’ve driven, including its hard top sibling. It’s only after a few minutes that I wonder whether it’s just my imagination or has something been lost in the translation from fixed-head to drop-head? On such a precise piece of machinery it’s hard to detect any slightly rounded edges at all but thankfully I’m in the coupe next to draw a true comparison.

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible in red

Jaguar XKR-S Convertible – roof back up!

According to the facts and figures, this XKR-S coupe that I now find myself in should present exactly the same driving feel as the convertible I’ve just exited. They somehow both weigh the same and, according to Jaguar, the performance doesn’t alter even a smidgen from one car to the other. The way a car actually feels bears little relation to its facts and figures however so the only answer is to get hands on in the coupe.

That glorious V8 howl is still very noticeable with a solid roof, whether this is done on purpose or is simply a by-product of removing sound deadening in order to lose weight, I don’t know. Either way, it encapsulates the cabin and unlike the convertible, it shows no signs of abating at higher speeds due to wind noise.

Out on the open roads the XKR-S coupe initially feels absolutely identical to the convertible which truly is testament to the engineers at Jaguar as they battle with the laws of physics to eliminate the flex that naturally occurs when a car loses its roof. It’s only when the coupe’s settings are turned up to the max that physics begins to win. The car is so beautifully balanced and just seems to respond immediately and exactly to the driver’s every whim, inspiring previously unknown confidence as you  point that long bonnet in the direction you want to travel and the rest of the car follows – very, very quickly. It’s barely noticeable at first but after a few quick corners, it becomes more apparent that this car was designed from day one with a roof in mind and unfortunately, some changes in weight distribution must occur if this vital piece of bodywork is dispensed with.
It’s obviously no slouch but when faced with this competition, the convertible’s miniscule flaws become apparent. But let’s be straight here, when I say miniscule, that’s exactly what I mean. Unless you actually owned both cars and planned on driving them back to back, the experience of driving the convertible would satisfy even the most enthusiastic of drivers, day in, day out, come rain or shine.

By Ben Harrington

XKR-S Specifications                                       XKR-S Convertible Specifications

Cost – £97,000                                                        Cost – £103,000

Engine – 5.0L V8 Supercharged                      Engine – 5.0L V8 Supercharged

Power – 550bhp                                                      Power – 550bhp

Torque – 502 LB FT                                               Torque – 502 LB FT

Economy – 23.0mpg                                             Economy – 23.0mpg

Emissions – 292g/km                                            Emissions – 292g/km

Acceleration – 0-60mph 4.2s                            Acceleration – 0-60mph 4.2s

Top Speed – 186mph                                              Top Speed – 186mph

Weight – 1753kg                                                       Weight – 1753kg

Cööl βritannia – Jaguar, Aston Martin and Bentley fly the flag

Jaguar F-Type rear light cluster

A close up snapshot of the upcoming Jaguar F-Type

For a city with a reputation for nose-to-tail gridlocked traffic, the New York 2012 Motorshow has yet again given us some interesting focal points, not least of which are the Land Rover DC100 and the Jaguar F-Type – undoubtedly the highlight of the show. The attention lavished on both of these cars confirmed something for me that I’ve suspected has been emerging of late, British automobilia is once again leading the way in the ‘cool’ stakes. For a while I feared that I was allowing myself to be swept away on the wave of hype surrounding the Olympics and the Jubilee but now I’m not so sure. Think about it, Bentley and Rolls-Royce can’t produce cars quickly enough, especially to satisfy the demand in the cash-rich Asian and Middle-Eastern markets. Jaguar and Land Rover have well and truly disposed of their stuffy, tweed jacket images and seemingly have the Midas touch with every new model they conjure up and Aston Martin are regular victors of the coolest brand in Britain competition – that’s not just automotive brands by the way, it’s every brand on the planet!

Rear view of the BMW 5 Series GT

BMW 5 Series GT

Contrarily and for the first time that I can remember, the previously untouchable über-cool German marques look a bit lost. Their pedestal looks shaky at best and they appear to have resorted to attention grabbing party tricks in an attempt to regain some of the limelight. Top of this list of tricks is undoubtedly the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ niche market trick. BMW and Porsche seem to have followed Mercedes down this well trodden path, apparently working on the theory that if you make enough variations on a model, there must be one to suit every need.

Now I know what you’re thinking, the only reason that many British car brands still exist is due to massive inputs from across the globe, even Germany and you’d be right. It took our friends from the Fatherland to show us how to build Rollers and Bentleys properly but they seem to have been so preoccupied with rebuilding our houses, their own have been sorely neglected. The same can hardly be said of Jaguar Land Rover‘s new owners though can it? Their owners –  Tata  seem to have revolutionised the management procedures of the company but left the important bits like how the cars look and feel up to us Brits.

Bentley Continental Convertible with roof down

Bentley Continental Convertible

The USP of the German marques for years was, of course their build quality and I’m not saying for a minute that they’ve forgotten which end of a screwdriver is which but it was somehow inevitable that, given enough time, money and help from VW and BMW we were going to catch on eventually. The problem the likes of Audi have now is that their USP is no longer unique and, worse still, the lowly British brands that they used to deride have re-discovered their USP in abundance. Amongst other things, its called style; it simply oozes from every pore of the current crop of British marques. From Astons to Range Rovers, from their interiors to their wheel nuts, British cars have once again got that certain something that makes them stand out from the crowd and the Germans seem to be floundering in their attempts to recreate it.

Unfortunately, one plucky Brit appears to be stuck in the stalls and that’s Lotus. It’s still early days in their master- plan and I really hope that everything comes into fruition but as it stands, they’re really lagging behind the competition. They undoubtedly make some of the best driver’s cars on the road but in these days of frugality, that simply isn’t enough. When people spend tens of thousands of pounds on top-quality items, they demand just that – quality, a car must not only get them from A-B in style but be able to recreate that feat on a daily basis. Without some serious re-jigging of their priorities, Lotus will continue to be a flashback to the days of British car manufacturing when the notion of quality-control was a mere pipe dream.

By Ben Harrington

Jaguar Land Rover Experience Day

Friday the 27th of January saw The Heritage Motor Museum in Gaydon host the first Jaguar Land Rover Experience Day and I went along to have a look. Designed to be a very ‘hands on’ occasion, they’re scheduled to be held monthly with a different central theme. This being the inaugural event, the theme was ‘Speed and Sustainability’ with the former being represented by the stunning Jaguar XJ220 and the latter being ably demonstrated by the Range_e Concept.

There were various models from the Jaguar and Land Rover ranges to be sampled, ranging from the Jaguar XF 2.2 Diesel all the way to the captivating Range Rover Evoque with plenty in between to satisfy all appetites. Couple this with not one, but two Jaguar XJ220s available for rides around the Gaydon proving ground at breathtaking speed and as I’m sure you can imagine, boredom was never an option.

Driving Torque drives Range Rover Autobiography

Driving Torque test drives the Range Rover Autobiography

Having booked in for my XJ220 experience, I took full advantage of the cars available for test drives. What is startlingly apparent in all modern Jaguars is that, whichever way you look at it, they’ve regained they’re USP, they’re mojo, they’re certain je ne sais quoi, if you know what I mean? Jaguar’s reputation was built on creating cars that were not only well built and luxurious but that offered a level of excitement that’s difficult to quantify. What’s very clever is the way in which each car in the Jaguar range seems to approach translating this ‘Jaguarness’ into a slightly different yet equally special driving experience.

Driving Torque drives Jaguar XKR-S

Jaguar XKR-S

Firstly, I took the 5.0 litre XK Coupe out and initial impressions were actually quite deceptive. With sister models the XKR and XKR-S offering awesome levels of performance, one could be forgiven for assuming that this ‘base model’ is quite sedate, maybe a little bit placid. Where this model excels is that as you sink into the sumptuous seats, start the barely audible engine and select drive on the automatic six speed gearbox, it can be as calm and peaceful as you like, allowing you to arrive at your destination in complete relaxation and comfort. If you’re feeling like having a little more fun however, there’s a couple of ways the XK can help out. One of them is an option on the gearbox simply marked ‘S’, another is a little button displaying a picture of a chequered flag that’s just asking to be pressed. In full sports mode, the XK is a different beast altogether. Everything seems to gain a certain taught quality that it didn’t previously have. Quite appropriately, like a cat that’s just spied its prey, senses heightened, waiting to pounce. The car just feels ready for a more enthusiastic style of driving and it doesn’t disappoint, yet reverse the procedure and you’re back behind the wheel of the cruising GT you originally sat down in.

Over the course of the day I noticed that every Jaguar I drove featured an ‘S’ option on the transmission and that little chequered flag button I mentioned earlier, even the colossal Range Rover Autobiography could be driven in sports mode if so desired. This got me thinking again about that certainly intangible quality, that ‘Jaguarness’ and how it could be best described. You see, sitting in a Jaguar is always an occasion, it’s warm and inviting without being kitsch. In normal, every day mode a Jaguar is the perfect gentleman, assisting you on your way with nothing being too much trouble. Hit full blown sport mode however and that perfect gentleman is a party animal, taking you wherever you please, at whichever speed you please yet still being able to take you quietly home when you’ve had enough. Even the massive XJL Supersport somehow manages to belie its substantial mass and seems to shrinks itself when the urge takes you to have some fun.

The one model that fails spectacularly at covering up its more wayward intentions is undoubtedly the XKR-S but then, I don’t think it’s actually trying to. When you can boast 550bhp, 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 186mph, any disguise would surely be thinly veiled so, why bother? Having said that, there is a noticeable difference between normal and sports mode, it’s just that in the XKR-S, one starts off with a party animal and ends up with an absolute lunatic! I dared to drive this car in a slightly enthusiastic manner and it seemed to be offended if I even momentarily lifted off the power, it looked down at me and laughed at what a pathetic specimen I was. One things for sure with this car, you’d run out of nerve before it ran out of horsepower!

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Jaguar F-Type

One hugely impressive aspect of modern Jaguars is their interiors; this undoubtedly contributes towards a large percentage of their USP. With their neat features, cleverly sculpted vents and use of high quality materials, there’s always a little reminder that you’re in something special. I know that in this category we’ve come to expect a certain standard and the likes of Mercedes and BMW aren’t exactly slums but no other car manufacturer can compete with Jaguar’s interiors across their entire range. They’re modern and fresh and yet offer a warmth and familiarity that lifts them above the competition. The XJ’s interior really should be classified more as art than car; I doubt you’d ever stop noticing previously unseen features that simply made you smile.

The progression that Jaguar have made since being under Ford’s control is nothing short of staggering in what is actually a relatively short period of time. From the XF to the XK, right up to the XJ they’re not just contenders but what the competition aspires to beat and when the eagerly awaited C-X16 sports car is launched in the near future, the Jaguar brand will be thrust right back into the limelight – where it belongs.

Driving Torque gets ride in Jaguar XJ220

Fulfilling a lifelong dream in an XJ220

XJ220 This year marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Jaguar XJ220 and the highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly the two examples of this iconic car on show, one being no.004 – one of the development mules and the other being a lightweight ‘S’ model. As a young boy, a poster of one of these beautiful machines stared down at me from my bedroom wall, right next to my bed so it was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep and the first thing I saw when I woke up. The opportunity to be driven round the Gaydon Proving Ground in one of the actual development cars that hit the (then world record for a production car) 217mph, by none other than Le Mans winner and XJ220 test driver Andy Wallace seemed almost to good to be true and yet, here I was, trying desperately to maintain an air of composure and professionalism whilst creeping past 180mph on a slightly damp track.

I did manage to ask Mr Wallace a few of the many questions I had planned, in between the involuntary squeals emerging from my throat – some induced by fear, many induced by pure, unadulterated pleasure. I quizzed him on his personal reaction when the XJ220’s initial concept of a thunderous V12 and 4WD were shelved in favour of a turbocharged V6 and 2WD, did the turbo lag not irritate slightly? His reply – ‘Not really, you see I’m a racing driver and I always favour lightness’. This said whilst demonstrating what a whacking great turbo plus lightness can achieve by flooring the throttle in second gear. The results were, shall we say, shattering!

Huge thanks to all at Jaguar Land Rover for the day, thanks to Don Law of Don Law Racing for supplying the XJ220s and finally, thanks to Andy Wallace for helping me fulfil a life long dream.

By Ben Harrington

You can’t kid a kidder, even with a fancy car!

Here’s my somewhat early entry into 2012’s ‘stating the bleeding obvious competition’: ‘Cars are no longer simply a means of transport, they are an expression of our character’. There you go, a winner if ever I saw one, but it is true or at least partially. You see, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the gap between the reflection our cars give of our actual lives and how they reflect our idealised lives is widening to astronomical levels.

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Rover P6

Until fairly recent times, a car was bought primarily to suit our needs best. If you were young and footloose, you bought a two-seater sports car before the impending requirements of family life hit. Once family had arrived, more doors and a larger boot were deemed necessary so you’d pop down to your local Ford dealership and buy whatever sensible model they were producing at that time, be it the Cortina, Sierra or Mondeo. If you required yet more space, various estate cars were available or you could buy a van. This carried on until old age, upon which time you could treat yourself to either a Rover or a Jaguar, dependent on how financially prudent you’d been in the previous 65 years.

These days however, armed with niche markets appearing in existing niche markets and an almost desperate desire to express ourselves, we can live out our fantasy lifestyles through the cars we buy and most people are.

Littering is without doubt one of my greatest pet-hates, seeing ignorance of this level has the ability to catapult me to hereto unseen levels of annoyance. Recently however, I witnessed some extraordinary discarding of waste that got me thinking about how much we are attempting to pull the wool over each other’s eyes, just with the mode of transport we use. What really got my attention about the moronic, selfish, lout desecrating our streets was the fact that he had wound down the window on his Toyota Prius to do it. That’s right folks, the driver of a car that comes equipped with its own soap box for impromptu ‘I’m helping save the world’ speeches, purposefully ejected his litter onto the street. He thinks that by buying a Prius, he could be mistaken for Leo Dicaprio arriving at his latest premier but the truth is he couldn’t care less about the environment, he’s just tight and wants to save a few quid on petrol.

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Land Rover Discovery

When you think about it, this type of masquerading is commonplace on our roads today. The much highlighted abuse of 4x4s is an easy target. Once the reserve of farmers and the Queen, today, no mother could possibly expect to survive the perils of a modern day school run without permanent 4wd, a limited slip diff and bullet-proof glass all-round. In truth, any large hatchback could easily replace 90% of 4x4s on the road but, and here’s the sticking point, they wouldn’t portray the horsey, rough and tumble image that is deemed so desirable.

Sports car owners are just as guilty. You count the amount of young, attractive men equipped with a full head of real hair that you see driving a Porsche Boxster or a BMW Z4. Now tot up the drivers of these cars who want you to think they’re youthful and virile yet in reality smell slightly of wee and swear by sanatogen and cod liver oil. This can partially be blamed on the economy or insurance premiums but no-one forces pensioners to buy two-seater convertibles.

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Rod and his Enzo

The examples are numerous and widespread; ‘Hells Angels’ Harley riders who are actually merchant bankers and would cry if they got dirt under their recently manicured nails. New Mini drivers, clinging desperately to their youth whilst simultaneously subjecting their teenage children to years of physiotherapy caused by being shoe-horned into the back seats alongside the weekly shop as the boot is the same capacity as a Samsonite briefcase.

I think the point I’m trying to make here is that we are increasingly putting vanity ahead of practicality which is fine when buying say, a t-shirt, a car should primarily fit your needs and everything else comes second. We need to realise that it might not be cool, but it’s ok to be ‘Mondeo man’. (I wouldn’t have one though – far too boring!)

By Ben Harrington

Frankfurt Motor Show 2011

Ferrari 458 Spider

Well well well, the Frankfurt motor show opened its doors to much fanfare on Tuesday and I’m delighted to say that it appears to have on show some of the most interesting new models I’ve seen for years. There really is a plethora of eye-catching cars, not always for the right reasons but hey, it wouldn’t be a motor show without the weird and wonderful, would it?

‘All new’ Porsche 911 991

To name but a few of the headline grabbers on display, Porsche left us all dumbstruck with their, ahem, all new 911….wing mirrors.

Ferrari’s decided to take their styling cues from Renault these days by emulating the very clever folding hard top as previously seen on the Wind. Joking aside however, this is one of those very rare occasions when I’m prepared to admit that a car looks better in convertible guise than hard top.

Land Rover DC100 Concept

It was inevitable that this day would come eventually. Some poor soul at Land Rover has finally been tasked with replacing the iconic 67 year old design of the Defender. Re-inventing the wheel seems preferable to me as you’re only going to upset millions of purists, however good the replacement may look, drive or feel.

Ford Evos Concept

Having been brought up on a staple diet of Capris, I was very excited when Ford unveiled their latest design concept, the Evos. As usual, Ford were keen to deny that this would go into production and even more keen to distance themselves from the Capri name. Why Ford, why? Embrace this much loved icon and do us all a favour by dispelling the memory of, I can barely say it, the Cougar!

Jaguar CX-16

Undoubtedly the star of the show for many people, myself included is this car, the Jaguar C-X16. I know I keep saying it but the way Jaguar has been turned around of late is nothing short of staggering. If it performs anywhere near as well as it looks, I can honestly say that if I was in the market for a car of this genre, I would march straight past the Porsche 911’s in their showroom and place my order for one of these, and that’s saying something.

Bugatti Veyron L’Or Blanc

One for those of you who were reluctant to invest in a Veyron due to its abhorrent lack of porcelain, this one’s got it in abundance, inside and out. There you go, your prayers answered. I did say that not everything was in good taste!

By Ben Harrington

Jaguar’s 12 Year Plan

mg3 in yellow

MG3

Anyone who’s seen the press shots of the new models from MG – the 6 and the 3 may possibly be as under whelmed as I am with them. My fears seem to be confirmed, leaving this once great British marque a minority brand with seemingly no hope of regaining their status on the World stage. The designs mainly merge pitiful rip offs of genuinely inventive cars with a blandness not seen since, well, the last MGs. This coupled with engine technology from when Noah was a lad really makes me wish MG had been left to rest in peace with its friends who had already passed, the likes of Triumph and Austin.

This tenuously brings me onto an unreserved apology to Jaguar’s spectacular owners, Tata. When this Indian owned firm assumed control in 2008, I genuinely thought that any misgivings I saw in Ford era Jags would pale into insignificance once Tata’s influence had taken hold on this most historic of car makers. The XK was always good but it was inherited so credit couldn’t be given to Tata for this. Just wait for their first true car I thought, it’ll be amusing if nothing else.

First came the XF with its designer clothes, aimed squarely at the likes of BMW and Mercedes. I admit I’m still not too sure about the exterior but I seem to be in a very small minority on that one and the interior appears to have even fewer detractors. The motoring press also love this car, a point proven by the XF recently winning What Car’s executive car of the year award. For the fourth year running.

Ok, so the XF’s not that bad but surely this was just a flash in the pan, a stroke of luck and the unravelling of the Jaguar brand would definitely begin with the next release. Then along came the new XJ. I’ve made no secret of my unbridled passion for this car, I adore it from every angle, including underneath and I would sell my granny to own one. For me, the XJ is the yardstick by which every other large saloon is now measured and so far, nothing comes close.

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Jaguar XF

This was beginning to look like the real deal to me, I was in genuine danger of being proven emphatically wrong and then, just this week, I was. The plans for Jaguar’s next twelve years were unveiled, focusing on a 3 series competitor that once again shoots straight to the top of its class in the looks department. Other future releases include a new XF, a crossover model and most thrillingly for me – an XJ Coupe. I can only see a bright future for Jaguar now, a future that has truly dragged them into public view and out of the golf club car park.

On that note then, I would like to publicly apologise to Tata for ever doubting them and also to thank this Indian company for once again giving us a British automotive manufacturer to be proud of.

By Ben Harrington

News

Jaguar XJ Platinum Concept in white

Jaguar XJ75 Platinum Concept

Jaguar has taken the opportunity at Pebble Beach to unveil the Jaguar XJ75 Platinum Concept, a more muscular, aggressive take on the standard XJ.

As is usual for manufacturers, Jaguar are insistent that the super-saloon is merely a design one-off built to mark the firm’s 75th anniversary. As is also usual, this is far more likely to be a taster of where Jaguar intends to go with a production model, probably the Jaguar XJR.

The XJ75 Platinum Concept is powered by a version of the firm’s 5.0 supercharged V8, tuned to produce 464bhp and 424lb ft of torque. Being a flagship for Jaguar, the engine in any final product is likely to exceed the 503bhp currently on offer in Jaguar’s most potent models.

Visual differences to the standard model include 22-inch brushed effect black alloys, Satin Matte pearlescent white paintwork and front, rear and side sills which add to the overall lower, sportier look.

Some neat highlights have been added to the interior, the most striking being the removable pocket watch style clock made exclusively for the car by British watchmaker Bremont.

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