It's not often we get the chance for a bit of arctic testing here in the UK, but the recent bout of wintry weather gave us the chance to see how well a 500bhp rear-drive super saloon would handle the ice and snow on a 1000 mile round trip from the South Coast to Scotland and back.
So even as the BBC was proclaiming its dire 'don't drive or you'll probably die' message that has accompanied every fall of snow since the wireless was invented, we were gamely shoving suitcases, emergency rations, blankets, a small shovel and one large dog (complete with doggy bed) in the back of the PH Jaguar XFR.
You can stuff quite a lot of 'stuff' into the luxuriously leathery interior of an XFR, including a 6' Christmas tree as we discovered a few weeks earlier. Having dug out my usually indispensable inflatable roof-rack especially for the occasion, it turned out to be far too cold to stand around in the garden centre car park while the missus tried to inflate the tubes and strap it to the roof. A quick fumble under the boot lid had the split-back seat neatly folded, and the trussed-up tree was slipped deftly in from the rear before the Jag had a chance to blink. (Thanks to 'non drop needles' the Hoover quickly sucked up any reminders of this brazen assault on the old girl's dignity.)
A little later then, away it was to Scotland for a long-standing family commitment and a journey for which the long-legged and luxurious XFR would generally be unsurpassed. At least if it wasn't for all that pesky snow that made us think we'd need a Land Rover.
As it turned out, the Highways Agency had done a pretty good job of keeping the country's main roads open, and the BBC had done an even better job of keeping traffic off them. Combined with a bit of luck that allowed us to route around the worst of the snow as it was falling, would you believe we made the round trip in record time on an almost deserted motorway network? And that's in spite of having to keep the speed down for significant stretches where the snow and slush had got the better of the gritters. The muscular Jag took the journey in its stride, swallowing the miles without a care.
Because it's an XFR, we travelled in splendid comfort too. The cabin may be a little tighter around the elbows than its German rivals, and the interior architecture more enveloping thanks to the swoopily raked windscreen but this affords an extra sense of snug security when you're travelling, making even potentially stressful drives like this one feel that little bit more relaxing. There's no shortage of leg and headroom, and the seats are brilliantly adjustable.
The sound system is great too, and - although I never thought I'd say this - the heated steering wheel even proved its worth on a couple of mornings after I'd scraped six inches of snow off the windscreen with my bare hands. (We saw 'minus 8' on the dash readout, although it was only -6 when I remembered to take a picture.)
The TMC-enabled sat-nav let the side down a little though, several times offering to divert us around 'slow traffic ahead' that turned out not to exist. Frankly I've taken to ignoring most of its advice about re-routing round incidents and obstructions, as often the problems appear not to exist at all, and when they do the alternative choices are just as awful - perhaps a result of everyone else's sat-nav 'thinking' the same thing. TMC aside though, I do like Jaguar's nav system, both for its easy programming and the dulcet tones with which the lady inside delivers her instructions. (Although she doesn't say 'please', like the even more charming sat-nav lady I've just met in the Merc E500.)
I'm not quite so sure about the touch screen controls for everything in the Jag, either. Luxuries like the heated seats could do with an easy to find 'one-touch' button on the dash for instance, instead of being forced to scroll through several screens to access the controls. It's the same story when switching from 'nav' to 'audio' or 'vehicle settings' modes, a process which can sometimes require a little too much concentration - not to mention a long-ish reach to the touch-screen itself. Could I be hankering (ever so slightly) for a BMW-style iDrive set-up with a knob to twiddle on the central armrest? Yes maybe, and I never thought I'd say that, either.
So what about those 500-plus horses romping in the snow? You'd be forgiven for thinking the combination of a supercharged 5.0 litre V8, whopping great Dunlop Sport Maxx 285/30 rear tyres, snow covered roads and a chump in the driving seat would be a recipe for unbridled disaster. I thought as much myself as we skittered randomly over the first 25 yards of the journey, but then remembered the 'winter' setting on the transmission tunnel and with a bit of help from the onboard computers found a reassuring amount of traction over even the glassiest of surfaces. After that, the car remained in winter mode for the entire journey, apart from a couple of empty car parks on the M6 services which had just benefited from a fresh dusting of the white stuff - prompting a bit of low-speed 'snow-drifting' that amused neither the missus or apparently the dog. (Although between you and me, I still think the dog enjoyed it...)
According to the trip computer, we completed the round trip at an average of 22.5mpg, the only real fly in the ointment being a 'low brake pad' message on the dash when we arrived in Scotland. I rang our local Jag dealer who reckoned the warning still left us with 2,000 miles of pad wear, so we carried on regardless.
On our return we booked the car into Guy Salmon in Thames Ditton, who diagnosed a sensor fault. In fact the pads had been recently changed by Jaguar themselves who - because our car has been used for high-speed demonstrations at a couple PistonHeads track days - have been regularly checking the car over and changing the 'consumables' like pads, tyres and oil. Because of that, we've not been able to keep a handle on actual service costs, although with over 20,000 miles on the clock now we'd only have been due a single service - intervals for the car are a respectable 15,000 miles.
Overall, and in spite of the few niggles mentioned above, the XFR continues to dazzle us with its level of accomplishment - matching awesome outright performance to a level of comfort, refinement and luxury that by general agreement sets the standard in the super saloon sector.
I've spent a lot of time with various XFRs now, from flat-out Nurburgring laps with Dirk Schoysman to cross-country road trips and the M25 commute. On a purely personal level, I can't think of another mainstream production saloon that delivers more of the 'feel good' factor right across the board. This one's going to have to go back to Jaguar soon, and that's going to be a wrench!