Jaguar is back on top

imageJaguar may yet return to the big time with its XF saloon, says Neil Lyndon.

For the introduction of its latest range, Jaguar chose the Perthshire highlands – as heavenly a place as any in Britain to try out the fastest road-going Jaguar ever to enter production. Long sightlines and relatively unbroken road surfaces allow a high-performance car to be driven with a freedom you might never find south of Nottingham.

Despite these attractions, however, I doubt if I used more than a third of the powers of the new £97,000 XKR-S. If you so much as rest a toe on its throttle pedal, the five-litre V8 engine growls through its four exhaust tail pipes like a hell-hound protecting a bone. If you do press the pedal to the floor, it flings you back in your seat and takes off in a tumult of sound and motion.

Jaguar has, of course, made many fast cars in the past but this is its first equivalent of a muscle car that will scare the horses senseless. The XKR-S has some of the brutal excesses of a Dodge Viper – a top speed of 186mph and 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds come close to that ludicrous monstrosity. The difference is that the XKR-S’s suspension system, with upgraded computerised controls, delivers a composed and compliant ride instead of the Viper’s spine-jarring hammering. Even so, the XKR-S’s powers were way out of place on Perthshire’s genteel byways.

Far more fitting was Jaguar’s new 2.2-litre diesel version of the XF saloon. This XF’s overall average of 50+ mpg comes close to many mid-range family hatchbacks such as several versions of Ford’s Focus, yet its performance is more than equal to that of the original E-type – while (a distant cry from the E-type) seating five people.

These are amazing signs of the progress that Jaguar is achieving, but the key question is “Are they, at last, making cars that don’t fall apart?”

A brief test with press cars in launch conditions tells you nothing. But the latest impartial data is – let’s speak with bated breath – encouraging.

Jaguar came third out of all manufacturers in the latest JD Power survey of car owners in America, beating constant winners like BMW and Skoda. The XF was placed 17th out of all cars in production for customer satisfaction in that survey. The Which? 2011 Car Survey, which compiles a comprehensive account of a car’s real-world performance, gave the XF 82 per cent for customer satisfaction and 81 per cent for reliability. These figures place the XF ahead of the Mercedes E-class but behind BMW’s 5-series.

Such podium finishes are a heartening sign for Jaguar. The XF’s immediate predecessor regularly scored in the low 70s in such surveys, though even that was an improvement on the bottom-of-the-league places that Jaguar routinely filled 25 years ago.

It looks as if Jaguar might have found a caring home in the Indian Tata Group, which acquired it from Ford in 2008. Despite press anxiety at the time, we seem to be enjoying the best Jaguars ever made.

Gearbest TS - BT35A08 Bluetooth 3.0 Car Audio Music Receiver with Handsfree Function Mic
TS - BT35A08 Bluetooth 3.0 Car Audio Music Receiver with Handsfree Function Mic only $2.99