The Jaguar XF was not my first choice of vehicle to drive in Britain, but it was the smart one. I’d wanted an F-Type convertible, in case there was no rain, but my wife saw the tiny trunk space and killed that idea. “I’m not living out of a carry-on for a week,” she declared, unreasonably.
The XF sedan has a considerably larger trunk and our marriage was saved. It also has comfortable leather seats for three passengers in the rear, in case even more room is needed. It even has a sleek, low-slung appearance, though not enough to turn any heads here on the narrow, hedge-lined roads of Devon and Cornwall. Jags are everywhere in Britain.
Jaguar calls the XF a mid-sized sport sedan. The least-expensive version starts in Canada at $58,900, and it’s available with several powerful engines, but the test loaner had the smallest gas engine under its hood: a turbocharged two-litre four-cylinder that makes 250 horsepower (though three horsepower less for Canadian models). That was quite enough for shifting the car and all our weight, but not for impressing any Mercedes or BMW owners.
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Not to worry, though, because it was in “R-Sport” trim and looked the business: tinted windows and optional 20-inch wheels added a touch of menace, even if it does take more than six seconds to reach 100 km/h from standstill. It also included an optional panoramic sunroof, which lifts and retracts to open the front half to the elements and lets you pretend, almost, that you’re in a convertible. My wife, however, preferred the sunroof closed.
All was well, except we were to meet up with her sister and her husband, who live in northern England and own a 2017 Audi TT convertible. They insisted on dropping the roof at every opportunity. “When the sun comes out here in England, you have to make the most of it,” they said. My wife shrugged. I pressed the XF’s starter button and cranked the air conditioning.
Last month was unusually hot and sunny in Britain and my in-laws lowered the roof on their car for almost the entire time it was moving. Mind you, this was partly out of necessity: The noise of the wind helped drown out an incessant beeping from the Audi’s warning system, letting them know the key was not in the car. Except it was. They called the Audi assistance program, which called the Automobile Association (Britain’s CAA), but nothing could be fixed until a return home. In the Jaguar, we enjoyed the enclosed silence of the ride.
The XF’s small engine may be only adequate, and its eight-speed automatic gearbox merely efficient, but the drive itself was sublime. The R-Sport includes an improved sport suspension for its extra $8,000, as well as all kinds of cosmetic touches, and the car swung its way confidently around the blind hairpin bends of England’s West Country. I tried selecting my own gears with the paddle-shifters, but kept making a mess of the shifts, lugging or overrevving the engine; this just drew comments from my wife, so I ended up leaving the transmission in Drive and letting the car deal with it.
Fortunately, the Jag was also very comfortable. Press the starter button (which pulsates red, like the Ford Mustang) and the gear-shifting knob rises from the console. The air vents swivel open on the front fascia. The Welcome screen in the centre offers a personalized greeting of “Hello Mark” and the entire car makes you feel pretty good about life. This helped as a distraction while the in-laws lowered the roof in their beeping Audi.
It doesn’t take long to get used to driving on the other side of the road and it helps that the steering wheel is on the other side of the car, but it does take longer to get used to opening the right-side door to access the driver’s seat. It’s important to always leave something in the storage of the passenger door, so you can claim that’s why you went first to that side of the car. I played out this ritual many times in the British parking lots.
Toward the end of our week here, the weather closed in as it always does in Britain. At the beginning of our final day together, with dark clouds gathering over the Atlantic coast, we agreed that if it should start to rain, I’d pull over and wait so the Audi’s roof could go back up; they were following us because only the Jaguar had Navigation, which was a considerable improvement on its earlier attempts at mapping.
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On the road down the coast, the clouds finally swept in from the sea and a sudden downfall drenched the road. “You’d better pull over now,” said my wife, watching in the mirror as her sister hunched in the TT’s open seat. “I’ll pull over as soon as it’s safe to stop,” I said, passing a place where it was safe to stop. And another. And another. The automatic wipers were moving quickly now across the windshield and the Audi behind was flashing its lights desperately.
It took a while to find a place that was truly safe to pull over, by which time most of the rain had fallen. My in-laws closed the roof, which held in the humidity of the damp seats. Such a shame. We got out to make sure all was well and then, after a check of the inside of the Jaguar’s passenger door, returned to the comfort of the sedan. Who’d ever want to drive a convertible?