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Shape of things to come

I don’t know about China, but here it’s the Year of the Jaguar — 75 years since baptism, sales up 42.5 per cent, the launch of the new XJ — and for one of their birthday parties, Jaguar took some hacks to try out the current model range on Germany’s notorious Nürburgring.

7 August 2010

12:00 AM

7 August 2010

12:00 AM

I don’t know about China, but here it’s the Year of the Jaguar — 75 years since baptism, sales up 42.5 per cent, the launch of the new XJ — and for one of their birthday parties, Jaguar took some hacks to try out the current model range on Germany’s notorious Nürburgring.

I don’t know about China, but here it’s the Year of the Jaguar — 75 years since baptism, sales up 42.5 per cent, the launch of the new XJ — and for one of their birthday parties, Jaguar took some hacks to try out the current model range on Germany’s notorious Nürburgring. My brother lapped it last year on his Triumph Tiger, easing off at 120mph as Porsches flashed past him into a blind corner, after which he had to squeeze between two Ford Transits fighting a lumbering duel.

We began more sedately, picking up an XJ at the airport and cruising through wooded hills and prosperous villages to the Ring. I didn’t know what I’d think of the new car, having owned two (three?) 1970s models and being a lustful admirer of its final, post-2003 incarnation. But it had to change: sales had bottomed out and its three-box configuration — bonnet, body, boot — looked dated (if still beautiful) alongside the almost universally two-box competition. How would the new one compare?


I liked it. Forget the drive, which was as smooth and consummately capable as a Jaguar should be, whether in 3.0-litre diesel form (40.1mpg combined) or 5.0-litre petrol V8 (23.4mpg in top-of-the-range Supersport). Forget the ride and handling, which is taut, effortless and flattering — the car finds its own line so naturally that you feel you’re a better driver than you are. Forget even the excellent interior, despite its glass roof and the uplifting sense of space, light and clarity. Just consider the shape, surely the boldest innovation at Jaguar since William Lyons penned its predecessor in the 1960s and destined, I suspect, to be as successful.

Superficially, it resembles the current XF. But look again at that rear, the hardest part to get right and the bit that, in its currently fashionable bulk, lets down most of the competition. In the XJ it’s asserted rather than ineffectually hidden, a shapely positive feature rather than something that tries to pretend it isn’t as big as it is. The result is a car that, from grille to tail, stands out in any city street without appearing to draw attention to itself. It’s already a success among reviewers and is garnering awards, most recently the What Car? Green Award for luxury cars. Jaguar products overall have again come second in a US J.D. Power survey.

And so to the Ring. There are two, the 12.9–mile public one that frightened my brother and the linked but separate GT/ Formula One track that we had to ourselves for the day and which features a 150ft rise (the highest in the world, I think). Helmeted and under reassuringly expert instruction, we were dispatched around it in XKRs and XFRs. I can’t tell you at what speeds because I dared not take my eyes off the road. What I can say is that if you think the XF saloon — let alone the XK sports tourer — can’t hack it on the track, just try it. It’s more capable than the great majority of us mere mortal drivers. And don’t forget the helmet.

Then there were the skidpans, one with an electrically operated metal grid that you hit at 40–50mph and which throws the car left or right with varying violence. You’re quickly reminded how good electronic stability aids are and how much you have to learn — or relearn — when you switch them off.

Finally, there was a small selection of heritage cars, ranging from the late Queen Mother’s beautifully appointed XJ, which she willed to Jaguar, to an original C-Type. No electronics on that and an exhaust note to set the hills alight. Modern cars almost drive themselves but those beasts drive raw, like riding bareback. They didn’t let us behind the wheel — they want to keep the car — but it’s enough to have done a circuit in one. It was how I imagine it feels to be in a Spitfire. Happy birthday, Jaguar.


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