Have you ever been to Coventry? If the answer is no, don’t fret – you’re not missing out on much.
If you have, you’d surprise me if you didn’t think it was mostly a sea of grey brutalist blandness. You’d surprise me even more if you told me you would visit again, and you’d actually frighten me if you said you wanted to live there.
Lest I bore you to sleep, I will not go into the history of the place and why it isn’t one of England’s prettier features. But what remains a great irony is the fact that this uninspiring city is still home to one of the most evocative and desirable names in the world of cars – Jaguar.
Like an E-Type on Coventry’s streets (okay, not quite), these big saloons stand out on our roads, their charisma shining through the dense forest of familiar Teutonic contemporaries. Because you simply don’t see as many of the former as you do the latter.
You know mainly why, but just put pricing and maintenance aside for a moment, and we’re left with the issue of engine size to consider. Jaguars, being traditionally big-engined (save perhaps for the X-Type, which was comparatively a-Ford-able), naturally command quite a sum in annual road tax, not to mention fuel bills.
Those in the money for one wouldn’t be too concerned about that, you say, but how about reaching out to more buyers? Add to that the global downsizing trend and the relentless quest for improved fuel economy and emissions, and so it happens that the XF and XJ now come with 2.0 Ti petrol units in Malaysia, the smallest engine to ever power both models.
And if you want something bigger (don’t we all?) but find the 5.0 supercharged V8 a bit of a stretch, both saloons can now be had with the new 3.0 supercharged V6. The XF gets the 2.2 Td diesel unit added to its range, and at the other end of the scale, the XKR-S enters the local scene in Coupe and Convertible forms.
What’s more, an eight-speed ZF auto gearbox is now standard across all models except for the XK, which carries on with the familiar six-speeder. As model range renewals go, then, you would agree that Sisma Auto’s is rather extensive.
To trumpet the new arrivals, the Jaguar distributor held a track day at Sepang a while back, which was attended by customers and members of the media alike. Available to try that day were the two new petrol powerplants, in the XF as well as the XJ – the oil burners unfortunately weren’t present.
Kicking the day off were the 3.0-litre engined saloons. With 335 hp and 450 Nm of torque at its disposal, the supercharged V6 delivers more go than you’ll need on the public roads, propelling both XF and XJ to 100 km/h in under six seconds and onwards to a limited top speed of 250 km/h.
Yes, believe it or not, the two weigh about the same at 1.66 tonnes or so, thanks to the bigger car’s lightweight all-aluminium architecture.
What’s impressive is the manner in which both cars gather speed. Make pedal meet metal and the needles climb rapidly in their dials, but you are not violently pushed back in your seat; rather, you are whooshed forward progressively but purposefully. But yes, they are pretty fast.
The powerplant is smooth, free-revving and provides a great soundtrack. The bass is taken care of by a contained, satisfying growl and the lead by the characteristic supercharger whine, encouraging you to push harder.
And when you do, both saloons oblige with crisp, sharp turn-in and good body control, even through the more steeply-cambered parts of Sepang’s North Circuit. Both are easy to drive quickly and hustle around corners, but the XJ deserves a special mention for hiding its bulk well, which is more than can be said for the rest of us. Gearchanges remain swift and hardly perceptible for most of the time.
Admittedly, I could detect little difference in performance between the XF and XJ where this engine is concerned, at least from the five short laps or so I spent with each. But now we come to their 2.0 Ti-engined brethren – there is more discrepancy here.
We didn’t get to take the XF 2.0 Ti out on the track; instead we chucked it round a makeshift slalom course in the car park grounds to assess its throttle response and handling. While the XF has always done well in the latter department, the experience was marred by rather significant bottom-end turbo lag.
It shouldn’t be as evident in day-to-day driving, especially when you’ve already got the revs up, but flooring it from rest results in up to a full second’s delay before push comes to shove, which gives you a reasonably good idea of how single-carriageway overtaking would be like.
Curiously, the problem isn’t as pronounced on the XJ 2.0 Ti – we’re told a different engine mapping contributes to this. And it shows – the luxury saloon has no qualms with sprinting off the line and throttle response is generally good, but its urgency recedes near the top end.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a quieter engine than the 3.0 SC V6, and manages to return a respectable quoted 8.9 litres of fuel per 100 km in the XF, and 9.3 in the XJ – not particularly far off, in fact, from the bigger engine’s 9.6 in both cars.
The big question is: does the 2.0 Ti feel underpowered? While it obviously doesn’t pack as much punch as the V6, you’d be nitpicking to deem it lacking – 237 hp and 340 Nm of twist get this big cat to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds. In comparison, the XF takes 7.9 seconds to do the century sprint – although both max out at about 240 km/h.
Still, a short stint around the race track cannot make for a full assessment of the cars. That will have to wait till Sisma Auto releases the big cats for testing on public roads. But one thing’s for sure: in our market, Coventry is finally a few steps closer to its German rivals.