On an annual pilgrimage to Scotland in pursuit of silver salmon, Richard Parker enjoys the many charms of the Jaguar XJ R-Sport saloon.
As has become traditional in September, I was heading north with Country Life’s Editor Mark Hedges in the never-ending quest for the leaper. Over the years, our transport has been on an upward trajectory, from the baseline of a Range Rover in about 2005. This year, I was promised an icon, a car of legend and, to most, extraordinary sculptured beauty bearing a prancing horse on the bonnet and boot.
When endeavouring to maximise the prospect of catching a salmon, timing is everything; you need to hit a weather pattern promising clouds and rain. I discovered that timing is important for prancing horses, too. The week I was chauffeuring Country Life’s own giant of letters to Scotland turned out to be the same week as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The consequence was that Ferrari no longer had a car available for two middle-aged fishermen. All press cars understandably followed roads leading only to West Sussex, not a place renowned for its run of autumn fish.
However, there’s another leaping creature to add to the menagerie and it was the Jaguar that came to our rescue. Jaguar may not have quite the immediate cachet of Ferrari, but, on our drive up, it occurred to me that cats catch more fish than horses, which just might be a good omen.
Jaguar also has quite a pedigree. Seven-time Le Mans winner, fourth on the all-time constructor list, only two behind Ferrari, maker of perhaps the most beautiful racing car ever built (the D-type) and the once-fastest production car (XK 120), not to mention the E-type.
Times changed. One wonders what the Jaguar management made of the PR coup when, on November 17, 1999, the then Tory leader William Hague said in the House of Commons: ‘People work hard and save to own a car. They don’t want to be told that they can’t drive it by a Deputy Prime Minister whose idea of park and ride is to park one Jaguar and be driven away in another.’ I imagine that ‘Two Jags’ Prescott might not have been the target market for Jaguar’s marketing department.
It seems to me that, like John Prescott, four-door saloons are not necessarily things of beauty and although, of course, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, I concluded that, unfortunately, the Jaguar XJ R-Sport SWB 3.0 V6 bucked no trend. From outside, this is an enormous car, idiosyncratic to look at. Most car manufacturers avoid straying too far from a design standard, but Jaguar has a history of boldness. The mark 2, 3.8-litre four-door saloon of the 1960s looked unique and collectors still spend thousands restoring them. The same won’t be happening to the XJ R–Sport any time soon.
However, at least it’s different to look at. There’s something else about this car, too – it’s fabulous to drive. It looks vaguely purposeful and your eyes have not been deeived; it’s very comfortable and very fast. Of all the cars I’ve reviewed for Country Life – Range Rovers, Porsches, Rollers, Bentleys and Aston Martins – this is the non-pareil for comfort and elegance; pace with grace. It’s also the cheapest by a country mile. The one we drove costs £72,000 new, but you can pick one up second hand for about half that. It’s also economical – we averaged nearly 50mpg.
The back seats looked a bit cramped in terms of headroom, but that may have been a consequence of the nine fishing rods, three nets, 14 reels, three pairs of waders and various fly boxes we had chucked in. Bearing in mind it’s only really possible to use one fly-fishing rod at a time, we never quite reached the stage when either of us could travel in the rear. That the Editor would have fitted comfortably, and with room to spare, says little.
Thus, I remain a Ferrari virgin – I’ve never sat in one, let alone driven one. However, would we have got all our clobber on the back of an Italian pony? I doubt it. Would we have used the extra power? No. Would we have turned more heads? Yes, of course. However, we fishermen are superstitious types and horses and fish don’t mix.
As I lay on a grassy bank on the afternoon of our last day, staring at a blue sky checked with puffy clouds and contemplating the 42lb of salmon I’d had the staggering good fortune to land over two days, I felt sure that Jaguars and fish are nothing if not compatible.
On the road
Model: Jaguar XJ R-Sport SWB 3.0 V6 diesel
Price: from £72,415 for the basic model
Annual road fund licence: £190
0–60mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined fuel consumption: 48mpg