It’s so easy to become completely and utterly focussed on the cars, especially on a day like today when the new F-Type was represented by several examples, and the monstrous, new XFR-S was in attendance, too – but as ever, it was also a great chance to meet and catch up with other motoring bloggers, journalists and the like. If I spoke to you on the day, either for the first time or the umpteenth time, it was a pleasure as always. If I missed you, I’ll be at SMMT North, so will hopefully catch you there. The rain held off right until the end, too, which was a nice bonus. The stars at JLR’s events are the PR team (big thanks to Sarah, Alexina, Kim, Bridget and co!) and of course, the cars.
My companion this time was my father, car photographer and fellow Vel Satis (and Avantime!) owner, David. In addition to the must-drive F-Type and any model ending in ‘RS’, we were also keen to try the new Range Rover Sport in one form or another – but we decided to ‘ease ourselves’ in with an old favourite.
Jaguar 5.0 V8 supercharged XJ-L Supersport (LWB)
Five word verdict? Dreamy, sublime, sexy, executive rocketship
As long as a canal boat and as sleek as anything you’ve ever seen, the Jaguar XJ oozes beauty from every angle – but alas, ogling it at from the outside for an hour wouldn’t have been a good move, so ‘unfortunately’ we had to slip in, turn on the mighty supercharged V8 heart and get cracking. The interior is to die for, with the plushest materials, a massive range of modern technology and a huge sense of occasion. There are so many things you could get distracted by, from the glovebox lined with purple felt, which opens by motioning your hand, to the panoramic roof, digital TV and radio. But your attention is quickly brought back into focus by the pace at which the horizon is pulled towards you. No, the supercharged V8 isn’t as raucous as in some other cars in Jaguar’s lineup, as the XJ-L is designed to be a rocketship limousine first and foremost. There’s a relatively modest rumble emitted on startup and a few burbles of thunder from the exhausts on occasion but overall, the XJ hurtles forwards with the grace of a magic carpet – a very, very fast one, at that.
The pre-programed route took us through quite a few 30mph zones to begin with, proving that the XJ-L can pootle about effortlessly until you spot even the smallest opportunity to stretch its legs, at which point, mash the ‘go’ pedal into the carpet and you’ll already find yourself in the next town. It really is that rapid, which is hugely impressive for such a crazily long (5.25m) and opulently palatial car. We can also now vouch that despite its laughable length, the XJ-L is also easy to reverse back down single-track country lanes for quite some distance.
The figures speak volumes, so let me just summarise them. It’s rear wheel drive, is fitted with an 8-speed automatic gearbox, produces a whopping 510PS at 6,500rpm and 625Nm of torque and can whisk you to 60mph in a mere 4.7 seconds. Fuel economy is cited as 24.4mpg combined, but I’m sure you expected that. One thing’s for certain – you’ll arrive at business meetings early, with a big grin from cheek to cheek. The price? £95,235 plus options, so the one we drove was more or less £100k. Every time I experience the XJ-L Supersport, it further cements itself as one of my favourite luxury rockets of all time. I just simply can’t wait for the arrival of the XJR very soon!
Jaguar XF 2.2 Luxury (auto)
Five word verdict? More character than the Germans
Having just been pampered at great speed by Jaguar’s finest saloon offering, it was admittedly a bit of a come-down to be sat in a diesel XF rep-mobile for the second car of the day, but I was nonetheless very interested in what first impressions I would glean, as the XF is obviously more readily attainable and abundant. David and I offered to share this XF with Chris Auty of DrivingSpirit, who smiled wryly at the same time as me once we discovered it was not only a 2.2 diesel XF, but a white one at that, if you know what we’re getting at.
Ever since its launch, I admired the XF for putting the cat right amongst the executive saloon pigeons, offering employees something with a little more character in comparison to the rather safe Teutonic options that once dominated. I’ve long thought that the styling of the XF is spot on, despite the subtle facelifts not looking quite as good in my view for some reason.
Inside, the cabin quality was very high but not as sumptuous as the XJ and some of the plastics and other components felt a little harsh by comparison. But considering the XF 2.2 Luxury costs a third of the price, it’s a relatively lovely interior and the retracting air vents and gear selector always produce smiles from the occupants. The Satin American Walnut Veneer wood was a welcome touch and brightened the cabin up with an extra helping of quality. David and Chris did comment that the centre console felt rather high up and boxy between them, making them feel a little hemmed in, but this was only a small criticism.
The 2.2-litre, Inline i4 turbocharged diesel unit is derived from Ford, produces 200PS at 3,500rpm along with 450Nm of torque at 2,000rpm and has a 0-60mph time of 8 seconds. From the cabin, it sounded no louder or quieter than the majority of comparable diesel engines on the market and pulled the RWD car along nicely, helped by the 8-speed automatic transmission. For a more engaging drive, you can use the paddles. The steering responded more than adequately and the ride quality was very good overall, although we did find the suspension rather softly sprung, the car bouncing along on some roads.
This was my second XF experience, the first being in the smooth-as-silk 3-litre V6 Sportbrake back in February. It’s up against stiff competition from the Germans and even from newcomers like Lexus and Infiniti, but I’d have a Jaguar XF any day, as they definitely have more character and class.
Jaguar F-Type V6
Five word verdict? Entry level still amazed us
At last, we grabbed the keys to an F-Type, Jaguar’s newest, hotly-anticipated 2-seater sports convertible. The F-Types were inevitably in high demand on the day, with various specs available, but we were quite pleased that ours was the bog standard V6. No ‘S’ badge, no V8 – just the entry level V6 – the most ‘affordable’ F-Type, at £70,260 as tested.
The face of the F-Type isn’t dissimilar to that of the XKR, but that’s no bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, and I think Ian Callum and his team have done a fantastic job of styling the rear, from the beautiful lines, curves and angles blending seamlessly together, to the sleek light clusters and centrally-positioned exhausts.
All I will say about the interior is that it was mainly upto Jaguar’s usual high standards, aside from a few cheap-feeling dials and surfaces. The sports seats were fantastic and the centre console is driver-focused, further enhancing the perception that you’re behind the wheel of a road-going fighter plane.
You’ll all no doubt be interested in how we felt the entry level F-Type V6 performed. Incredibly well, is the answer. The base supercharged V6 bursts into life excitedly. It picks up pace fast enough to satisfy the cravings of most human beings, especially taking into considering the rather limited opportunities we have in the UK for driving like one’s hair is on fire. It handles magnificently, cornering supremely flatly, with wonderfully crisp and responsive steering, neutral dynamics and effective brakes. Fine, there is a fire-spitting V8S version available, or the middle of the range V6S, which many say is THE F-Type to go for – but this base V6 ticked all the boxes for us as it was. The icing on the cake was finding the Switchable Active Sport Exhaust button. Yes, we really should have read the spec’ sheet before we set off, and yes, it made a difference – an aurally magnificent one. With the sport exhaust switched on, clever use of the flappy paddles resulted in us having one hell of a conversation with the engine, all kinds of burbling, popping and crackling coming out of the rear end.
The F-Type was worth the wait and although we can’t fully issue a verdict without having driven the V6S or the V8S, we don’t reckon the V6 will disappoint the majority of folk. I’ll still drive a V6S and V8 as soon as I can and let you know, though!
New Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE
Five word verdict? Popular 4×4 justifies its appeal
The Range Rover is largely regarded as the ultimate luxury 4×4. The previous Sport model was based on the excellent Discovery 3, whereas the new 2013 Sport is based on the marvellous all-new Range Rover, making it more genuine, somehow. Aesthetically it looks pretty darn similar to the big daddy Range Rover, but they have given it a sprinkling of Evoque-ness too.
I drove the previous generation 5-litre V8 supercharged Range Rover Sport in Autobiography guise at Gaydon last year and was blown away by the two-tone leather interior’s quality and also the remarkable pace. This new Sport had a sumptuous interior, too, but was a little on the sombre side and wasn’t quite as highly specified in HSE trim. Only Texan or Saudi oil barons or similar need apply, though, owing to the enormous fuel bills. And back in February, again at Gaydon, I drove the all-new Range Rover in TDV8 guise. I only experienced it on normal roads and am yet to venture off road in one. Needless to say, the interior left you wanting for nothing – but the V8 diesel didn’t excite me at all – and nor did it in the previous generation, either.
I was therefore very interested to see how the all-new Range Rover Sport performs with the SDV6 engine. We weren’t disappointed, especially when you consider what kind of people typically buy full fat Range Rovers or even Range Rover Sport models these days: middle class families, businesspeople, wealthy singletons, country folk, farmers, doctors, construction firm bosses and yes, a few footballers. Most buyers in that list are after a roomy, practical, safe, luxurious, high tech vehicle capable of occasional, modest off-road action, but one which is easy to live with and won’t cost a fortune to run. Does the new Range Rover Sport tick those boxes? Yes. The 292bhp SDV6 powerplant could barely be discerned from inside, it really was that quiet. On kick-down, it’s not the most exciting V6 diesel to listen to and I actually get more pleasure from my Vel Satis’, but it certainly propels this heavy-ish beast with enough pace and grace, the 37.7mpg published economy figure sealing the deal, so to speak. Importantly, CO2 emissions are kept below the 200g barrier at 199g/km. The commanding driving position instils in one a sense of invincibility, so we somewhat chucked the new RRS around each bend – and the results were very impressive. It felt taut, safe and even sporty, which is rather apt, considering its name. Many of you have likely seen Top Gear’s recent feature on it, so will know how amazing its Terrain Response system is for tackling almost any surfaces. We obviously didn’t get an insight into this on the country lanes and A-roads around Solihull, but we somehow just knew that it would do the business if we required it to.
Only time will tell when it comes to the new Range Rover Sport’s reliability, but from our brief stint in it today, it feels every bit as good as it’s ever been, both inside and out on the road.
Jaguar XKR-S Coupe
Five word verdict? Absolutely perfect (for two people)
You know what I said at the start of this writeup, about me never failing to thoroughly enjoy each JLR event which comes along? The same can most definitely be said for each time I drive the XKR-S. The first time was down at Gaydon a couple of years ago. The second time was on the heavenly Alpine Hill Route at Millbrook Proving Ground, followed by a few laps of the high speed circuit. Today marked my third time, after David and my fellow car finder Nick Johnson had filled their own boots.
All three of us feel that the XKR-S is superlative in every way. I had previously ‘only’ driven it in convertible form, but the coupe was just as exhilarating. Just look at the thing. It takes one’s breath away, from every angle. Inside, we did all feel that the cabin’s beginning to date slightly, but remember than the current generation XK has been around since 2006, and it certainly doesn’t stop the XKR-S oozing character by the bucket load.
Most people who have had the privilege to drive an XKR-S agree that the pièce de résistance is the absolutely unbelievable 550PS V8 engine which is capable of 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds, matched by an equally phenomenal exhaust system and near perfect handling. Today marked David’s first turn behind the wheel, having previously been a passenger. Before he’d even driven out of the car park, he was beaming from ear to ear. The XKR-S just does that to you. Press the accelerator even lightly and you can still hear it roar. Floor it and a million elephants are unleashed. It sounds like you’re sat inside a Spitfire. As David said, the number plate should have ended in ‘OMG, not ‘OGM’! It’s the most powerful sports production car Jaguar have built to date – and good on them, it’s amazing.
One might think that a car which sounds as ferocious as this will be a handful to drive, but this is another area where the Jaguar XKR-S excels. It’s just so very easy to drive. Sorry, but I can’t really fault it in any way, not even after driving it for the third time. Oh, there is one thing, I guess. David, Nick and I did intend to all go out in the XKR-S coupe, taking turns behind the wheel, but the rear ‘seats’, headroom and legroom are more or less non-existent and I didn’t want to have to inform the JLR team that anyone had had an unfortunate moment of incontinence while shoehorned in the back – so we gave up and went out in pairs.
Some chap turned up in his brand new Aston Martin when we were pulling back into the Hampton Manor car park in the XKR-S, but despite him demonstrating the Aston’s repertoire of noises, I still only had the eyes and the heart for this masterpiece of a Jag’.
So there we have it – four Jaguars, one Range Rover and one absolutely magnificent range of cars from a brand that can do no wrong at the moment. Thanks once more and see you all again soon.