So if I was a modern motoring journalist thirteen years ago, I would have been given a new Jaguar XJR to tool about in. It would have been all freshly built, pampered and waxed, and in it’s current level of trim, worth about £72,000. Which in modern money, taking into account inflation and the gold standard, is one hundred and five grand. This is not my story, however – it starts off like a joke.
Yesterday, an Englishman took a train to Scotland to buy an XJR from a Welshman. Shortly afterwards, I did walk into a bar, but that’s where the familiar joke set up ends. I had parked my blue steed next to a country pub near Sunderland and the first thing I have to say about the Jag, allbeit in somewhat faded glory, is that it gave me a smile to swing my legs from the voluptuous leather cockpit and stride into the pub. “That’s my car that is,” I thought to myself as the sun went down over the hills behind the nearby pond. It felt decidedly British to be dining on paella on a Sunday evening with the Mackems while the V8 cooled its jets on the gravel outside. In the half-light, the bodywork sort of gleamed. After living in Texas for a decade, I had finally arrived into my own stereotype.
The car was clearly cherished by the Welshman who handed me over the key. I could tell he wanted to see my face when I started the engine, and the sport exhaust sound is very satisfying and not just a little menacing. It was with some trepidation that I tried to adjust the seat and steering wheel and guide the car out of the parking spot without crushing anything. It is a big car – an inch over five meters long – more than a meter longer than a Vauxhall Corsa. The extremities of the car are out of sight beyond the expansive bonnet. But surprisingly easy to drive – the steering is light and the car obedient if a little incapable of gathering speed. If you take a breath in and your right foot moves three microns down as a result of the inhalation, the car responds like it’s been spurred in a broken rib and starts to gain pace.
The heated leather seats are adjustable on so many dimensions that it was hard to choose one that was most ergonomically favorable, so I didn’t. I moved between a few favorite settings and settled down for a four hour drive. You don’t really sit on the seat. You become immersed in the cockpit. You are cossetted in walnut and leather – when the key touches the ignition, the seat and steering wheel come to meet you and make sure you’re firmly inside the driving tunnel. The controls are amusing – the tiny dials and steering wheel seem to small to guide a supertanker of a car. The single window wiper seems too small to clear the windscreen, but it isn’t.
The A-roads back to England provide ample opportunities for the XJR to show its road poise – the ride is effortless and the car goes where you point it. I remind myself to be smoother on the roundabouts as the tiny steering wheel was a disproportionate effect on the direction of travel. I find a few random turns sharper than I thought but the car is not flustered. I have to constantly check my speed as I am often travelling much more rapidly than I realize, but I eschew the dials and rely on the speed reading on my Sat Nav as it’s much easier to see.
I am eager to have a reason to engage the Sport button below the J-gate of the gear selector, and soon enough one presents itself as a car being towed slowly up a hill has conveniently lined up a series of cars. Quite a steep incline, better use the button. After pushing down the go faster pedal, the car leaps from being a mild mannered personal assistant and becomes a bare knuckle warehouse fighter. I don’t have time to find the indicator as the car has already started charging up the hill and its all I can do to hang onto the diminutive wheel with both hands. It’s all over in a moment and my Sat Nav shows 95 MPH. A complete overkill move for passing some cars at 30 MPH, but such an unexpected response that my adrenaline surges and leaves me shaking. I have driven fast cars on race tracks and not been as blown away. Once I stop laughing, I continue my journey no longer feeling a need to drive particularly fast most of the time.
Another time I pull up to a roundabout and realize I’m in the wrong lane as I pull up to give way. The supercharged engine quickly dispatches the other people at the impromptu sprint from the line, and because I’m so exhilarated by the torque and responsiveness of the beast, I fail to appreciate just how much faster I am going than the other cars until I peer into the rear view mirror and see them receding into dots. The XJR really is that fast. And you don’t really have time to look out of the side windows when you’re barreling forth with such great aplomb.
So I’m hooked on the power. Over the next four hours I work out how to use the cruise control, and this is the first car I’ve ever been in when I’ve actually enjoyed cruise control. Normally cruise control speed setting is a constant battle not to catch up to the car ahead, but in the Jag the whole experience just seems more relaxed. Maybe it’s the comfort, or the quietness of the ride, or the faith in the Brembo ventilated discs that were fitted at the factory, then replaced a few years back on this model, and stop the car as quickly as you’d care to be stopped.
The whole experience is like the day I first rode my Honda 959 RR – an unreasonably fast motorbike. I found myself thinking that I would never need to use all of the power available. But it sure is nice to have it. The Jag is the same – for most of the time you’re using 10 per cent of its capacity, and it has an avalanche of power in reserve – as if it’s magically tied into the US Strategic Oil Reserve. Surprisingly I beat an indicated 24 MPG on the 230 mile journey, so fuel consumption is not as disastrous as I anticipated.
The XJR is a pleasant surprise – kind of like the prop in the Eton rugby team. Polite and refined and well mannered most of the time, but also brutishly powerful and thuglike when need be. We’ll just see how practical it is for negotiating tight spaces for the crowded, double parked school run.