I think it’s fair to say that my ongoing love affair with the British motor industry is all-consuming and, sometimes, irrational. You might not understand why I choose to like cars such as the Allegro Vanden Plas, Panther Rio, Avon Triumph Acclaim or Talbot Sunbeam, but I do – and I’ve made it one of my life’s ambitions to record every single aspect of it for future generations to enjoy – and perhaps weep over what we’ve lost.
However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, because the British motor industry is currently alive and kicking, producing some of the world’s finest cars. It’s a fact that is sometimes a little easy to forget, what with the loss of so many large car factories in the Midlands over the past five years or so, and one that was rammed home last night when I dropped my usual drive for a Jaguar XFR.
I must admit that I sometimes have a love-hate relationship with Jaguar. Memories of a lovely XJ40 that left me high and dry once too often are hard to banish but, given that my recent leaping cat memories have all been good, it’s been rather more love than hate of late.
It’s also funny how much the debate about Jaguar styling has been sparked off again with the arrival of the Bertone B99 Concept. That car, which wowed the crowds in Geneva, clearly looks like an XJC pastiche, but also shows that there was considerable mileage in the old XJ style before Ian Callum got brave and penned the XF.
I immediately fell in love with the XF styling when it first appeared in 2007 and am really pleased to see that the passage of time hasn’t dimmed its charming good looks. Today, the XFR, riding on 20in wheels and bedecked with go-faster detailing, looks absolutely stunning – it proves that we British are still capable of designing and building a car that needs absolutely no apologies.
Inside, it’s just as impressive, because it’s stacked with equipment and cleanly designed without that palpable air of coldness you get with the German opposition. It doesn’t shout ‘Jaguar’, of course, and that is seen as a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective of the cars.
There’s plenty of finer detailing inside to encourage you to warm to the Jaguar. The start/stop button that pulses when you get in, the cylindrical gear selector, the touch sensitive controls, the supportive seats and the steering wheel controls that are both comprehensive and simple to use. It’s a long list that would be a lot longer with familiarity – unlike the downsides, which amount to bulky and badly positioned A-pillars and a touch screen display for nav/ICE/climate control (which is my problem, as I passionately dislike them like this because fingerprints drive me to distraction and I’m not yet ready to go all LJKS by wearing driving gloves).
In short – it’s a good looking thing. Underway, though, the XFR is amazing. It has a wonderful bass-heavy soundtrack, all V8 and warbly without the blare of less cultured saloons. Throttle response will wake any slumbering driver, too – thankfully, the traction control won’t intervene too early- even on default setting – leaving the wheel writhing in your hand as a good performance car should when you gun it. Talking of gunning it, with 500bhp on tap, it’ll go down straights like a kicked cat. Brilliant…
This cat’s poised, agile and light to the touch in the corners – which is quite a dynamic feat considering it’s such a heavy car, and one that feels so planted in the straights. Balance is something the XFR has plenty of and, if you feel like a back road strop but may not be blessed with the god-given ability of a racing driver, you’ll still come away having enjoyed yourself without getting anywhere near being in trouble. That’s why I love the XFR – it is fast and friendly and has bags of presence without drawing adverse attention to itself.
The XFR isn’t perfect, though. The damping isn’t quite there on some of the heavily rutted rounds near Octane Towers, but we can’t think of a better full-sized performance car running on a conventional suspension system that does it better than the XFR. That, though, is a minor flaw inherent with all of the cars in the XFR’s peer group – if you want a cossetting limo, buy an XJ or even a Citroen C6.
More than anything, the fact that we can still build cars like this makes me proud to be British. I want one and, although I can think of many more sensible ways of spending £64,400 before options, there are few that would make me feel as good as this XFR.