King of the cats

The top Jaguar is equal parts li­mou­sine and (old) boy racer

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - PAUL POT­TINGER paul.pot­tinger@news.com.au

IMAG­INE, if you will, en­ter­ing an air­craft car­rier in a sail­ing re­gatta. Surely only that could be less fea­si­ble than putting this big­gest of Jaguars through so tight and tech­ni­cal a track.

Yet there we were on a pri­vate play­ground in up­state Wash­ing­ton and the XJR was fairly carv­ing it up, shrink­ing around one — as the cliche goes — in a way the best big fast cars will.

With the sub­se­quent emer­gence of those V8 uber cars — Benz’s S63 AMG and, only last week, Audi’s S8 — it’s a won­der some en­ter­pris­ing soul hasn’t started a li­mou­sine rac­ing se­ries. Hor­ri­bly exclusive and un­demo­cratic of course, though I’d watch it if only to see physics so brazenly de­fied.

That’s pretty much what oc­curs when a good bit more than 5mx2m of Bri­tish heavy metal is shoved through the sort of course that taxes driv­ers far more ca­pa­ble than I. The 1800kg cat feels like some­thing much lighter and lither. There’s next to no roll through the tight­est bends, only ad­he­sion as the elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial ap­plies full lock­ing torque al­most in­stan­ta­neously and the sports set­ting op­ti­mises throt­tle and gear­box re­sponse.

And this was the long­wheel­base ver­sion, mind you, not the shorter but hardly less im­pos­ing ver­sion sold here.

Fast for­ward from the US west coast in Au­gust (or in an­other sense, go back­wards) to this part of the world last week.

Cer­tainly track ac­cess would di­min­ish the sense that driv­ing the growl­ing great fe­line in this coun­try is a weep­ing waste. Un­less, of course, you’re res­i­dent of Alice Springs.

At the le­gal free­way limit, the purring (an­other cliche, but sorry, it’s so very apt) 5.0-litre su­per­charged V8 turns over at only 1200rpm in eighth gear — al­most 6000rpm short of red­line — at a road speed of lit­tle more than third of the 300km/h the speedo sug­gests pos­si­ble.

An oc­ca­sional furtive burst of ac­cel­er­a­tion hints that this li­mou­sine is at heart a sports sedan. If you doubt me, the sprint time to 100kmh is 4.6 sec­onds.

For the greater part of our Sun­day cruise we’re borne along by the fat cush­ion of torque that the su­per­charged eight ac­cesses al­most im­me­di­ately. The equally im­pos­ing power band is barely tick­led.

The only real give­away that this is not a com­par­a­tively com­mon XJ is the ride. The lat­ter is lushly cos­set­ing; the R car’s ex­pe­ri­ence is, if not terse, then cer­tainly more alert. This is down to the pur­pose-made Pirelli tyres wrapped around those be­spoke 20-inch char­coal al­loys.

If the XJR’s vol­canic ca­pa­bil­ity re­mains corked, there are far less pleas­ant ways to tra­verse great ex­panses of the coun­try.

Jaguar de­sign has evolved to the point where its cars strike a sin­gu­lar note, es­pe­cially in the high-con­trast white coat with black ac­cents of our test car. The vi­su­als speak of a de­signer who has been al­lowed to make choices and so here we have a car that is as much about what it isn’t as what it is.

Jags aren’t bur­dened by 100 years of care­ful grille man­age­ment — think BMW — nor are they im­pris­oned in con­tem­po­rary de­sign lan­guage, a la Audi with its vir­tu­ally iden­tikit sedans from the com­pact A3 to the XJ­com­pa­ra­ble A8.

The in­side story is a syn­the­sis of old and new. The ro­tary gear se­lec­tor is unique to Jaguar-Lan­dRover but it’s moved through gates much like a con­ven­tional lever rather than a newer-style elec­tronic shifter. The speedo by tra­di­tion is ana­log rather than dig­i­tal but it’s novel — a vir­tual back-lit dial that fades to black when the ig­ni­tion but­ton is switched off.

You see and feel you’re not sit­ting in a Ger­man car. Be­ing for chap racers, the ex­pected half-stitched leather and al­can­tara sur­faces are en­larged by car­bon-fi­bre so that when you get to have a crack, the feel­ing that you’re in cock­pit rather than a cabin is en­hanced.

If you’re not run­ning hot you can at least warm your hands on the heated steer­ing wheel. A dis­cor­dant note’s struck by the cheap plas­tic gear shifters at­tached to this.

(Same goes for the Range Rover Evoque driven last month — what is it with J-LR? Did they cop a con­sign­ment from the Ford parts bin?)

Yet such is the adroit­ness of the eight-speed au­to­matic and so con­stant the torque that man­ual gear shift­ing is pretty much re­dun­dant.

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