First Hand: A Clowder* of Cool Cats


My first Jaguar experience took place when I was six years old; for some reason my parents abandoned their penchant for 1970’s Renaults (4, 12 and 16 I seem to recall, but not in numerical order) in favour of something meatier; a Mark 2. After all that Gaelic plastic and leatherette the walnut and cowhide was a revelation. Sadly in the heat wave of 1977 the 2483cc engine gasped it’s last on the A303 outside Sparkford, home of the Haynes Publishing empire. Not even the proximity so many manuals could convince my parents to embark on the mighty repair.

My latest Jaguar Experience is altogether more thrilling. August 2010 finds me rocketing round Silverstone’s tight Stowe circuit in a 500 BHP XKR coupe; I approach a chicane white-faced with adrenalin. My passenger and professional driver/guide barks orders “Hard on the brakes. Harder! Harder!” Despite his instructions I overcook it…thankfully some clever actuators kick in and traction control saves me from more spectacular embarrassment.

I’m attending a hybrid press/ revered-Jag-owners event in which punters and journos get to tarnish spanking new motors with their hot and sticky hands. It’s based in the new Stowe Complex, a custom built facility designed for such corporate shindigs,

Parked outside are over forty box-fresh vehicles; they encompass the entire 2010 range. The goal of these Ian Callum designed cars is to redefine the brand in quest for young consumers. As a result there’s much muscular styling in the body (which both honours Jaguar’s pedigree and is easy on the eye), while inside the gentleman’s club interior of old has been banished in favour of trick design features, club-like interior mood lighting and amazing sound systems.

That morning I drove a long wheel base XJ (limo plush peppered with clever details) and the 3.0 XF Diesel, (the most glamorous of family cars fitted with Jaguar’s sequential-shift paddle changers)…but the one I really had my eye on was the top cat, the leader of the gang, the £75,000 5-litre V8 XKR.

A light sprinkle of rain had seen the more experienced drivers begin murmuring words like “greasy”, but that didn’t stop me donning a helmet and stepping into a gloss red Coupe. The noise was fantastic and although the other cars had been quick enough, this was a whole new league. 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds for starters. The car felt light and nimble and even on the short 1.2 mile circuit it was easy to power past other motors on the track.
As I pass the pits for the umpteenth time my driver/guide calls, “Last lap”. I blip the paddle shifters down a gear and stand on the throttle. Now the chicane is approaching; the Driver Guide sits silent as I do my level best not to embarrass myself again. “Better” he mutters as we exit. I can’t really justify how satisfied I felt.

Funnily enough my day had begun in a Renault. I arrived at Silverstone in the family Megane, if that old adage that we turn into our parents is true, surely that means next-stop big fast Jag?

*clowder: the collective noun for cats. No, we didn’t know either. Thank you Wikipedia.