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Friday 14th December 2012


NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Monkey decides the XFR would be his perfect wheels - if he lived in another country


Why do Jaguars always look so much better with foreign number plates on them? Is it simply the case that the DVLA's chosen font has always looked so large and unflattering, or is there something more subliminal at work here - the Englishman abroad perhaps?

Enjoying December back home are we?
Enjoying December back home are we?
Maybe it's a combination of the two - certainly when you see a Jaguar XFR in Cape Town's piercing morning light, it somehow reveals individual shapes and an overall presence that are missing back home. Removed from the context of European traffic the already dignified XF facelift takes on an almost stately role and in white, well, people gawp.

I have a day off after a shoot, and the editor of CAR South Africa has lent me his long-term wheels. The most powerful machine I have driven previously in Southern Africa had 80hp, and I nearly managed to crash that several times. This is not a road test, or a feature. It's me and a camera and a few thoughts on driving an XFR for a few hours on African soil.

All about context
South Africa has some unexpectedly brilliant roads - the previous day we'd been up in the hills above Franschhoek enjoying a scenery and road-surface combination that felt like a kind of Californian interpretation of the Route Napoleon - truly inspirational places to enjoy from the seat of a decent car. But being knackered today, I thought I'd mooch over the hill behind Cape Town, grab myself a coffee in Camps Bay and then saunter along the coastal road.

If a 500hp saloon could be said to be subtle...
If a 500hp saloon could be said to be subtle...
For this I would need about 125hp at most - and this was the first thing that struck me. Out of its European context, dragged away from the usual group test situation with Ms and AMGs, on an unfamiliar road network, the cooking XFR has a turn of speed which makes 500hp feel like 750hp. Either that or the local fuel is rated at 110 octane.

The basic XFR is now the forgotten car of the Jaguar range. There's a funkier Speed Pack version and the new is-it-a-Holden XFR-S with its 550hp, but you can still make a very strong case for the standard car because it looks so innocuous compared to its rivals. To the untrained eye, even in white, this doesn't appear much more shouty than the large number of less potent XFs that seem to float around the Western Cape. Is it the most subtle-looking member of the 500hp super-saloon club? Quite possibly.

Ocean-based near miss not pictured
Ocean-based near miss not pictured
Warning shot
There is something about the engine calibration on this particular powertrain which means that regardless of the car in which it is located, the throttle response from a standing start is too severe. Judging a smooth getaway is hard enough when you know where you're going - as a dithering tourist I nearly manage to donut the thing at a T-junction. Once you're up and running, it's responsive and very quick.

The ride is firmer than I'd expected in town proving that a car which can be pretty absorbent on bad British surfaces can struggle on a different continent, even if they look pretty similar. Tuning suspension for a global product really is a very tough game. On smoother stuff, the car works better, so much better that I'm bullish enough attempt my own (almost) bolt-on tracking photograph using that famously risky technique: holding the camera outside the car whilst trying to drive. I'm so sure that Dan will appreciate such efforts that I nearly drive the XFR straight into the Atlantic, which would have been a disappointing way to end things - especially as the images recorded by dangling a Canon 60D next to the door skin are best described as crap. Hey-ho, worth a try.

Cleanliness is the other aesthetic difference between here and the good-old UK. Some cars look good dirty - I'd go as far as saying that I prefer most cars looking dirty - but Jaguar saloons present a better face to the world. There's no wet mud here at this time of year, no flecks of mud appear on its flanks all day and by the end I'm beginning to warm the concept of a clean car. Which is enough to make me head for the airport and the flight home.

There's no place like home
There's no place like home
Home comforts
If the exterior design is cause for celebration down here, the interior is arguably even better. I know the touch screen doesn't really work and the Bluetooth phone offers a special brand of un-connectivity, but in fading light, and despite its dramatic lighting, it makes me feel like I'm cocooned inside a little piece of England. The details that passed me by when I drove an XF Diesel S for the first six months of 2012 assume a different importance here - they're like a comfort blanket.

This is just as well because just as I'm telling myself that driving standards have improved beyond all recognition in the 18 years since I first drove down here, a UN-spec Land Cruiser decides to turn right 30 yards before the junction. From the inside lane of a dual-carriageway. How something didn't get T-boned and destroyed is anyone's guess. For a pampered European like myself, seeing that kind of thing sends me into a flat-spin: it's completely beyond my comprehension and outside frame of reference. The calm cabin of an XF is about the best place imaginable to reduce the pulse after the event.

For someone who travels too much, I have little interest in being abroad other than getting the job done. I like living in England. But if I was forced to live abroad, I'd like to drive a British car to remind myself of home. In the UK I'd have an M5 or an E63 over the XFR any day. But overseas, I'd have the Jag. Many of you will think I'm mad, but hopefully some of you will understand.

Author: Chris Harris