King of the cats
The top Jaguar is equal parts limousine and (old) boy racer
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.