The Clarkson review: Jaguar XJR (2014)

Smooth as sandpaper, subtle as an oligarch’s superyacht

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The Clarkson review: Jaguar XJR

EVERY YEAR I make many filming trips to Italy and always enjoy the experience enormously. Italy cheers me. It excites me. I like its tomatoes and its exuberant driving style. I like Rome. I love Siena. And I adore Lake Como. I’m always very happy in Italy, and yet for my summer holidays I always go to the south of France.

There’s a very good reason for this. When you have some spare time in Italy, you feel duty-bound to go into town and look at a fresco. When you have some spare time in the south of France you feel duty-bound to go into town and have a refreshing glass of rosé wine. And I much prefer rosé wine to frescos.

This year St Tropez was even better than normal because in response to European sanctions Vladimir Putin apparently made it plain to the oligarchs that they should take their roubles and their gigantic boats elsewhere this summer. This meant there were fewer Speedos on the beach. And fewer prostitutes in the watch shops.

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There was another subtle change as well. Normally in August the town centre is stuffed with British-registered cars, but this year I hardly saw one. And that’s because they’d all been confiscated by the autoroute police on the way down.

I have proved on a number of occasions in recent years that it is faster to drive to the south of France than it is to fly or to take the train. Well, it isn’t any more, because the French have completely lost their sense of humour when it comes to speeding. They employ technology that the CIA would call futuristic and have dispensed with the niceties of a court system. You are stopped. And on the spot they take away all your money. And then they take away your driving licence. And then they take away your car.

Jaguar XJR

All of which was great news for me, because with the town devoid of Russians and people called Nigel from Hampshire it was easy to find a seat in a cafe for a glass of wine. And a doddle to find a parking space even for my extremely large Jaguar XJR.

I couldn’t have chosen a more inappropriate car for St Tropez. It sat in those narrow, fishing-villagey streets like those giant superyachts sat in the harbour. It looked ridiculous and it blocked the view, and trying to get it out of the underground car park in the Place des Lices was a bit like trying to get Winnie-the-Pooh out of Rabbit’s hole after he’d eaten all his honey.

However, for getting to St Tropez — that’s a different story. To avoid the autoroute Nazis, I came into France through the back door, from Italy, having set off from Siena. Think of that. Siena to St Tropez on a beautiful sunny day in a supercharged Jag. Envious? And so you should be.

To get round the perennial problem of European radio stations sounding a bit like the sort of noise that’s played to Guantanamo Bay prisoners as they’re being waterboarded, I plumbed my iPod into the dashboard, popped it in the air-conditioned centre console, set the climate control to 21C and pointed that big, imposing nose in the direction of the Côte d’Azur.

You don’t see many of these large Jags on the streets of Europe, and the sales figures back this up. It has not been a soaraway sales success. And I think there are two reasons. First, while it’s not a bad-looking car, it doesn’t appear anything like what we think a Jag should look like. It’s not lithe or graceful. It’s not pretty either. And it’s the same story on the inside. We expect a gentlemen’s club full of pipe tobacco, and the company has given us a vodka bar. Not bad, but wrong.

You don’t see many of these large Jags on the streets of Europe, and the sales figures back this up. It has not been a soaraway sales success.

There’s another issue too. Even the sportiest Jaguar saloons used to be able to glide over any pothole or ridge, but the XJR can’t. On one typically tight Italian slip road it hit an expansion joint and actually hopped alarmingly. This won’t really do. If Jaguar wants to sell a lot of cars, it must relearn the art of making suspension that suspends and absorbs at the same time.

If I’d been for a test drive in a car that hopped sideways on an expansion joint, I’d get straight out and buy a 7-series BMW instead. But I had many miles to cover and time was tight, so that wasn’t an option.

I needed to be at Nice airport to pick up various children in three hours. I had a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it was dark and I was wearing sunglasses. Then it was light. Then it was dark again. Ooh, there are lots of tunnels on the autostrada up Italy’s west coast.

And there are a lot of speed cameras too. But a friend had told me in Siena the night before I left, “Oh, don’t worry about those. They’re all broken.” That’s another reason for loving Italy. You can have as many laws as you like — just as long as they’re not enforced. You have only to count how many cars drive through pedestrian precincts to appreciate that.

And so I began to revel in that big supercharged V8, which pours its power onto the road like double cream. There are no histrionics, and, apart from a muted roar from the tailpipes, there’s no real sense you are picking up speed quite as quickly as you are.

Sometimes Italian motorists would try to engage the big Jag in a race away from the toll booths. They all lost. Mainly because most of them were in small Fiats. With diesel engines.

I shan’t say here how quickly I reached the French border. But I will say that afterwards I drove along sweating like a footballer in a spelling test. The speed limit varied from 90kph — or about 56mph — to 130kph to 110kph simply to catch out the unwary, but I wasn’t unwary. I was alert, which after a long drive speaks volumes for the Jag’s refinement. It is a bloody good cruiser.

At Nice it swallowed all the extra luggage, mainly because my son had brought only one T-shirt and two pairs of shorts for his two-week stay. And then we were off again, at 90kph and 110kph and 130kph, and then 90kph again.

Sometimes Italian motorists would try to engage the big Jag in a race away from the toll booths. They all lost. Mainly because most of them were in small Fiats. With diesel engines.

And after a short hop round the bay of St Tropez, which took only six hours, we arrived at the villa. And went to a party on a boat that finished at 5.30 in the morning. As I said, that Jag emphatically does not wear you out.

The truth is, though, that no big car of this sort wears you out. Big Beemers and Audis and Mercedes-Benzes are all quiet and fast, and they all have know-all electronics that can keep you cool and find your destination and play Genesis tunes from your iPod.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that on poor surfaces the Jaguar simply doesn’t ride properly.

For that reason alone I’d buy something else.

Clarkson’s verdict ★★★☆☆

Like a big German cruiser, without the suspension

Jaguar XJR specifications

  • Price: £92,395
  • Release date: On sale now
  • Engine: 5000cc, V8, supercharged
  • Power/Torque: 543bhp @ 6500rpm / 501 lb ft @ 2500rpm
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 4.6sec
  • Top speed: 174mph
  • Fuel: 24.4mpg
  • CO2: 270g/km
  • Road Tax Band: M


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