No place like home

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.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (26) Join the discussion on the forum

  • ck76 23 Dec 2012

    I thought Audi's were the most popular lottery win car purchases? (says a lot)

    My dad had a Series 3 XJ when I was 17 and I loved driving it. Was so amusing filling it up with fuel, then popping around to fill up the other tank too. God, imagine how depressing that would be at today's fuel prices?

    I know I have to own a Jag at some point (even if just in memoriam) however I'm very much in the BMW mould at the moment. For me, it's the tech, and the fact that I'm not quite in the price band for a XFR. XFR over M5....mmmmmm....toughie that one...

  • Digga 19 Dec 2012

    northwest monkey said:
    MarJay said:
    if I win the lottery I'd have a VW Sportline van
    Nothing like having a dream is there...
    O/T Intersting discussing this. Given that we're told the most popular post-lottery-win automotive purchase is... a Ford Festa ... a £40k van sets the bar considerably higher.

    Then there's the fact that a lot of people eschew ostentation, even if they do feel their extant wheels aren't everything they'd like. I understand vans are where it's at for the rich & famous - low key on the outside and as luxurious/bling [delete as you see fit] on the inside as any other form of transport.

    Apart from being sick to the back teeth of the whole "VW is unilaterlly cool" thing, what's up with a 'flash van' as a dream?

  • northwest monkey 18 Dec 2012

    MarJay said:
    if I win the lottery I'd have a VW Sportline van
    Nothing like having a dream is there...

  • Reardy Mister 18 Dec 2012

    benzpassion said:
    Chris Harris outs himself as a Judith Chalmers Wish You Were Here wannabe crossed with Daily Express style jingoist, in transparent attempt to revive dead cat, in vain.

    Two uber Jag-sympathetic pieces on the trot. Hmmm.
    I think where Jag is concerned you might be suffering from the very lack of objectivity you're quick to accuse others of.

    However having read your other posts, I like your style.

  • stuart-b 17 Dec 2012

    How safe is it to drive cars like that over there? Chris, did you ever feel 'unsafe' over there? I have no experience of SA.

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