Jaguar XF wins car of the year!

21 01 2008

This is just a quick note between rants. You can’t believe how delighted I am that the Jaguar XF has won the 2008 “What Car?” Car of the Year award. The XF was such a brave move by a company notorious for building stuffy cars aimed at the 60 year old, golf playing crowd and I’m overjoyed to see it getting its dues.

Jaguar XF; ‘What Car?’ Car Of the Year, 2008

I’m well known for my dislike of manufacturers who refuse to move forward. They spend their time and money pandering to the whims of the few from the baby boomer generation stuck trying to relive their youth. Dodge Challenger, Fiat 500, new Mini and new VW Beetle… Yeah I’m looking at you. However, of all the manufacturers that insisted on this lazy and uninspiring school of design, Jaguar was by far the worst.

They dragged everything out of the old car and shoved it into the new ones. Inside lived switches like something used for intercepting Nazi transmissions and the wooden dashboards… I mean seriously, why so much wood in a car? Is it there in case the boiler runs out of coal? Lets not even speak about the exterior, grimly hanging on to that horrible grill. The only car with a stupider looking front end for the sake of some BS ‘tradition’ is the Veyron.

Even the XK earnt my wrath. The Aston Martin is a pretty body design, but its stale. They’ve been slapping updates onto it for over a decade now and for Jaguar to go and build the same bloody thing… Yes its pretty, but if I wanted a car that looked like a DB7 I’d have bought the sodding DB7.

Attention British Journalists and particularly Mr Clarkson: This is the DB7. They built this car in 1994. It was very pretty. However:


DB9

These are all the same bloody car with different headlights. Please stop raving about it. It’s now 2008 and it’s getting to be embarrassing.

The XF is the very epitome of what needed to happen if the British automotive industry was to be saved. With Ford getting ready to bow out and Jaguar currently in flux, it certainly picked the right time to appear. It’s a car that focuses purely on the end result, while everything before it focused on the means to get there.

Prior to the XF, in order to provide a luxurious four door saloon, Jaguar would go through a long list of must haves. Stupid grill, check. Carve the interior from a tree, check. 90 year old man living in the boot to get the musty smell just right, check. On and on it went. A long list of components that when put together in the 1940’s built a fantastic car. When put together in the year 2000 they resulted in a labouring monstrosity that made small children cry.

Jaguar have done a complete 180 with the XF, they built a proper luxury car then added the touches to make it a Jaguar. The Jaguar is reborn. Now the start light gently pulses like a heartbeat as you approach. Push it and the car awakens. Vents rotate out and the gear selector rises up into the palm of your hand. Its still a Jaguar, pieces of wood appear around the interior, you sink into masses of top quality leather and there is still an over-sized grill hanging off the front. But now it feels like they’re building luxury cars, not just gluing together pieces of old Jaguars.

XF Interior

A lot of people don’t like the start-up procedure, or the subtle blue lighting through the interior. But here’s my take on it. When it comes to the Aston Martin’s of the world, I cringe at every start-up. Emblazoned across the dash appears “Power, Beauty, Soul.” Its just so… American. The proper British way of doing these things is to never say it. You never, ever spell it out. If you need to tell people you’ve got that certain something, the truth of the matter is you don’t. That’s why the Aston Martin is so embarrassing when it insists on shouting a marketing catch phrase every time it’s started. The Jaguar simply exists. It leaves you struggling to describe just how good it is, while it modestly sits in the corner being gorgeous and wondering what all the fuss is about.

When you push the start button, it acknowledges you’ve arrived. Like a good butler it delivers the gear selector to your hand, ensures the air-conditioning vents are just as sir likes them, makes sure the car is in working order then waits for your next decision. Yes its flashy, there are blue lights and computer screens but try thinking of it this way. In a nice restaurant a drinks waiter will approach your table. If he waits attentively, hands over the wine list then commends you on your choice before disappearing with a bow, it’s an altogether classy affair. If he stands by your table shouting the prices of each bottle and asking for payment in advance its tacky. Whether the drinks waiter is wearing a top hat and tails or a modern Armani suit is of absolutely no importance to the proceedings.

In other words, to all the (Old) people currently poo pooing the new interior, for your own sake be quiet until you’ve actually sat in the car and experienced it. It just works, trust them, they’re British. The Jags are still achingly stylish and quintessentially classy. The only difference is that they’re cool now too. The cat’s got its claws back.

Cringe / Class





Singing from Six Cylinders.

18 01 2008

The day is nearly here when the songs will end. No more operatic bellowing from European exotics, no more throbbing baritone howls from big V8s and no more snorting and snuffling as Japanese power plants come on and off of boost. Fuel is getting expensive and electric alternatives are becoming viable. Soon the song of the fire breathers will be leaving this earth.

A lot of “experts” will tell you good riddance, they will claim there is no more music in the emissions from a cars exhaust than there is in the emissions of an overweight uncle after Christmas dinner. And they’d be wrong.

The ballad of internal combustion is a primeval tune. Many of us have lost touch as we grew older and now consider it nothing more than noise. But you only need to look at the face of a toddler drifting to sleep from the sonorous lullaby of the family car or children racing about, emulating their favorite four wheeled musicians. You’re welcome to disagree with me, you’re entitled to call it noise, but before you consider me a fool I’ll ask for just one request. Go and ask a 5 year old whether they think the work of Mozart or the howling of a pack of V8 Supercars is more exciting. Cars sing, there’s no denying that, the question is if you remember how to listen.

Even if you cant hear the songs of fire, I can tell you there are still petrol drinking vocalists that can bring you back. The wall of sound from a top fuel dragster or the Valkyrie like wail of an F1 car will have you reeling with their sheer power. The whistling turbos and explosions from the exhaust of a WRC car will resonate with your heart beat, and the enraged bellow from an Aston Martin driven in anger is guaranteed to make your hair stand on end. These cars will move you, even if you aren’t sitting inside them.

Well at least they still can for a little while… I acknowledge the internal combustion engines have to go. We’re running out of fuel, and the environmental damage they’ve caused has been nightmarish. I know and understand these things, but when the day comes I’ll still shed a tear. Like a diva with outrageous demands they’ve worn out their welcome, but by god when they sang they could make time stand still.

So where to from here? Once the last car falls silent, struck mute by the march of progress, will the revheads disappear? Will the enthusiasm run out when an excited roar turns into a washing machine like whir? Will the car become nothing more than a tool to move us from a to b?

Well of course it bloody well wont! Cars are an art form and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have something to say on the subject. Perhaps they like them small and cute like a Copen or huge and imposing like a 300C, sleek and sexy like a 430 Modena or bulging and muscular like the R8 Commodore. Or perhaps they are completely devoid of taste and like Hummers, takes all sorts. Whatever the style everyone will have a preference, something they find hidden within the body work of these wonderful machines that they believe represents them, their personality, something innately human. Cars, like all good art, make a statement and every one of us can hear them when the time comes to buy one.

That’s why the soul of cars will live on. That’s why the enthusiasts will never fade away. Cars might stop singing, but they will always have something to say. I’ll miss the sound of a burbling engine, but as I sat in a park the other day I looked at a statue by Stuart Elliot. It never had an engine, it’s never moved. It was simply the shape of an FJ Holden Ute skillfully carved from bricks and just as loveable as the real thing. Children scampered over and ran around it, that pile of bricks made them happy, it made them feel. That means it’s alive and it has soul. As long as we as human beings retain our humanity, the car will be more than a tool, more than a machine. The car will always have personality. It will be our traveling companion, our friend who will bring us the world at the turn of a key.

Well that’s it for sight and sound. I’m not going to bother with the senses of smell and taste. While I’m sure for some there is a thrill in licking a car seat, it’s not really what I’d call art. Of course there is that final aspect of cars, the feel. Did you know they dance? As a matter of fact there is an Alfa in the driveway for my next test which is just dying for me to come tango. Believe me, in my review I’ll tell all. Perhaps she will whisk me through corners, and need a steady hand to stay under control. Maybe she’ll be smooth and svelte or rude and harsh… it’s hard to tell with Alfa’s. Anyway my mum raised me to be a gentleman, so I won’t linger any longer pondering what I’m in for. After all, everyone knows it’s bad manners to keep an Alfa waiting.