The British economy may be in a perilous state but that doesn’t mean that every company is staring financial ruin in the face. Some companies are bucking the trend, increasing their sales and creating more jobs for British workers. The manufacturing sector is proving surprisingly resilient, with the automotive sector doing particularly well, and one company stands out as an example to all – Jaguar Land Rover.
The naysayers will point out that Jaguar Land Rover is not a British company any more, having been consumed by the Indian group Tata. This is true but Jaguar Land Rover continues its operations from their UK headquarters at Gaydon, Warwickshire. They employ 1,000s of staff and are desperately looking for more engineers to help them meet the increasing demand for their cars.
Tata’s investment is starting to pay off as the Jaguar and Land Rover products evolve. Gone are the old XJ and the overtly retro S-type and X-type, replaced by fresh modern designs packed with up-to-date technology. In the Land Rover camp the elderly Defender is still king of the hill, the Range Rover continues to be the best luxury off-roader and the new Evoque takes its big brother’s best qualities and squeezes them into a smaller, more appealing package.
The engine range has been overhauled and includes economical diesels and power-packed petrol V8s. Then there are the interior touches with animated LED instrument displays, external cameras, satellite navigation and sophisticated climate systems.
The portfolio of models offered by Jaguar and Land Rover might seem small at a time when rival manufacturers seem to be targeting ever-smaller niches but it allows Jaguar and Land Rover to concentrate on the finer details and make some superbly crafted vehicles. To see just how good the current range is I eagerly accepted JLR’s invitation to attend one of their Experience days at the Heritage Motor Centre, next to their plant in Gaydon.
Jaguar XF & XFR
The Jaguar XF has recently been treated to a bit of a nip-and-tuck that has transformed an already handsome car into a truly beautiful saloon. Not only that, it has been given a new entry-level diesel engine that promises to broaden its appeal.
The new 2.2-litre diesel offers 190bhp and features stop/start technology to achieve just 149g/km of CO2 emissions. That’s not important for a performance car, but it is important for the Jaguar XF to stand a chance in the highly competitive company car market. Attracting a BIK rate of just 22%, this new engine makes the XF a more appealing choice for over-taxed buyers.
It might be the cheapest engine in the range but this 2.2-litre diesel is more than up to the job. It is quiet and smooth, coupled up to the XF’s standard six-speed automatic gearbox. With 190bhp the XF is quick enough although the suspension doesn’t encourage you to tackle bends like a hoonigan. This Jaguar is setup for comfort, with a soft ride that masks bumps and imperfections. It’s an ideal cruiser, perfect for high mileage drivers who spend too many hours behind the wheel.
Where the XF is a fantastic all-rounder the XFR is a much more focused animal. With a 5.0-litre supercharged V8, the XFR has enough performance to embarrass ‘proper’ sports cars while also being able to carry four people in comfort. Blessed with 504bhp, the XFR can hit 60mph from a standstill in just 4.7 seconds and go on to a limited top speed of 155mph.
The ride of the XFR is much firmer than that of the XF but that just boosts confidence in the capabilities of this extremely rapid saloon. The icing on the XFR cake is the muted growl from the V8, encouraging you to open the throttle at the earliest opportunity. Despite my short time with the XFR I walked away hugely impressed by its capabilities.
If you are a captain of industry looking for a suitable place to conduct your business while being chauffeured between meetings you might first think of a Rolls Royce Phantom. The trouble with the Rolls Royce is that it can seem a little extravagant, particularly at a time when the economy is still trying to recover.
So how about downsizing to a Jaguar XJ 3.0 diesel? The XJ, an elegant and well-appointed saloon, is enjoying a high-profile boost from one of Jaguar’s most photographed owners, the Prime Minister. If the XJ is good enough for ferrying Downing Street’s dignitaries around the capital it must be good enough for a busy entrepreneur who is always on the go.
The long wheelbase version allows you to stretch your legs out in the back, lounging on the electrically adjustable leather seats. You needn’t worry about being disturbed by the clatter of a diesel engine as the 3.0-litre in the XJ is quiet and refined, with a feeling of being cocooned from the outside world. The fact this XJ also returns 40.1mpg will give your money-saving credentials a boost.
The Bowers & Wilkins stereo pumps crystal clear sound into the cabin through twenty (yes, 20) speakers while the four-zone climate control ensures that everyone is as comfortable as can be.
Should you wish to give your driver the day off you’ll also be pleasantly surprised to discover that the big XJ is a car that likes to be hustled along. With the extended wheelbase and wide track the XJ takes up a lot of tarmac and yet it feels much more compact to drive, inspiring confidence as you make the most of the engine’s 272bhp.
Jaguar XKR & XKR-S
Sadly I didn’t get time to enjoy the standard XK but I did have the pleasure of a quick run in the two hottest convertibles in the range. The XKR adds a supercharger to the V8 engine of the XK, raising power from 381bhp to 504bhp. With that much poke available the XKR is in danger of competing against some serious supercars but it manages to stay faithful to the XK’s roots.
Eager use of the throttle will see the XKR wag it’s tail before lunging for the horizon and keeping your foot on the loud pedal unleashes the V8 thunder from the four exhaust pipes, but take it easy and the XKR is happy to burble along at a sedate pace with the automatic gearbox gently working its way through the ratios.
Where the XKR is a rapid and elegant convertible, the XKR-S is a much more outrageous machine. Everything is turned up a couple of notches, from the power of the V8 (now 544bhp), the volume of the exhaust, and even the appearance thanks to aggressive styling add-ons.
A big carbon fibre wing appears on the back and the front boasts a carbon fibre splitter (careful on the speed humps!). The XKR’s smooth lines are now festooned with air intakes to help cool the enormous brakes and hungry engine. The visual changes might not be to everyone’s taste but there’s no questioning the effect on the driving experience. Faster and louder, the V8 hammers out an awesome exhaust note that compels you to drop the roof and revel in the theatrical pops and bangs. The XKR-S is not for shrinking violets!
The XKR-S is a stunning machine but at a cost of £103,000 it makes a good argument for the ‘less is more’ approach. Save yourself £19k and take the XKR instead, you’ll barely notice the difference in performance.
Range Rover Evoque
The Range Rover Evoque has proven to be a runaway success and is one of the reasons that JLR are looking to increase their production capacity. The compact 4×4 design may split opinion (‘it looks like it’s been trodden on’ is a comment I’ve heard a few times) but it has some lovely details such as the rear light clusters.
The Evoque really shines on the road. The suspension is supple enough to cope with badly pot-holed roads but throw it into a series of bends and it remains flat and composed, with its squat profile helping to keep the centre of gravity down as low as possible. It’s as easy to throw around as any normal hatchback with a sharpness that you wouldn’t expect from such a tall machine.
There was no opportunity to test the off-road ability of this SD4 model but the diesel engine and six-speed automatic gearbox make a good combination. The 190bhp 2.2-litre is essentially the same as that in the XF and helps the Evoque despatch the 0-60mph spring in 8.0 seconds and reach a top speed of 121mph
The Evoque pictured here is the SD4 4WD coupé in Dynamic trim, costing over £44,000. That’s a lot to ask for a compact off-roader but fortunately the price of entry to the Evoque club is being lowered considerably with a new two-wheel drive version. Now you can get yourself into an Evoque for as little as £27,960 so expect to see plenty more on the roads in the coming months.
There was one interesting detail I noticed as I played with the cruise control on the Evoque. As you set the speed the instrument cluster pops up a chart showing your expected CO2 emissions at the selected speed. It’s one way of increasing a driver’s sense of environmental awareness, although it might mean more to people if it quoted decreasing fuel economy as the speed increases.
I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of the Range Rover. I’d never driven one before but its big, wallowy form never really appealed to me – I prefer small, compact and lively. Yet the Range Rover continues to reign supreme in the 4×4 market so there must be something to like. Now was my chance to take one out and give it a try.
As expected, the Range Rover feels big and heavy. Performance is adequate, with the 4.4-litre V8 diesel using all of its power to haul the Range Rover’s considerable bulk. Surprisingly the big Rover felt more controlled than I expected on a series of sharp curves. There is still a considerable amount of body roll to contend with but it’s the way the Rover deals with the road surface that impresses the most.
On the way out of the Heritage Motor Centre’s car park there was a series of small speed humps. At least there was when I tried the other cars, because in the Range Rover you could be forgiven for not noticing them at all. There is very little that troubles the Range Rover’s suspension, resulting in a wafting ride that is extremely comfortable.
Sat high in the cabin, looking out over the tops of cars, hedgerows and small buildings the driving position could best be described as ‘commanding’. You certainly look down on other road users but then you have to from that altitude. The upside is amazing visibility, great for parking and pulling out of blind junctions. Talking of blind junctions, the Range Rover features some very clever cameras that allow you to see the view from the tip of the Rover’s nose, allowing you to get a much clearer view of the road to the sides.
This £83,000 Autobiography-spec Range Rover was very well equipped and featured all the latest gadgets to appear across the rest of the JLR range. The centre console also holds a number of buttons to control the Range Rover’s off-road systems and variable suspension. It’s off-road capabilities are unquestioned and it’s this combination of on and off-road performance that lies at the heart of the Range Rover’s appeal.
So while the Range Rover would be far from the top of my dream car list, I now have a better understanding of why it’s so popular. It really is rather good.
What About The Defender, Discovery & Freelander?
Unfortunately time got the better of me and my day was cut short before I had chance to go out in the Land Rover Discovery and Freelander. Both cars are still a part of the Land Rover range, although you have to feel sorry for the Freelander – the Evoque has stepped in and completely overshadowed it. Admittedly the Freelander sells less to school-run mums and more to people who need a rugged off-roader, but it is starting to show its age in the lineup.
While I didn’t get to take a Defender out on the road I did get to have a play in one on the tough off-road course. The Defender is almost as old as the hills it so willingly climbs, with a cramped cabin and awkward driving position that make you wonder if you’ve got caught in a time warp. None of that matters when you point the Defender up a steep and slippery slope, gearbox in low-ratio and with diffs locked. It hauls itself up with incredible ease, shrugging off the effects of gravity as it clambers over obstacles finds traction where you wouldn’t expect it to. The only thing that lets it down is a surprisingly large turning circle, apparently a consequence of the old beam axles fitted front and rear.
What Does The Future Hold?
At this moment Jaguar and Land Rover have a range of superb products but that doesn’t mean they’re sitting back and taking it easy. For a start Jaguar have a hugely important car on the way that will sit below the XF. This will have the unenviable task of taking on the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series, so Jaguar’s team of designers and engineers are going to have be on top of their game.
There is also a revised Range Rover and Range Rover Sport on the way, given away by the camouflaged prototypes buzzing around the roads around Gaydon. Expect the same all-conquering off-road capabilities with a side-order of eco-friendliness. Even the Defender is in for a refresh, with designs for an all-new model being showcased at recent motorshows.
Oh, and then today there was the announcement of the all-new Jaguar F-Type coupé, arriving in mid 2013. Exciting times indeed!
The future really does look bright for Jaguar Land Rover. They’re building British cars using British designers and engineers and that’s something we should be extremely proud of.