The gentleman finely dressed in Jaguar marked apparel patiently walking me through the controls of Jaguar’s all new XE stopped mid-sentence and eyed me, as if he’d picked up on a tell in my body language. “Have you driven a Jag before?”
My mind raced; I hadn’t. Seen Jaguars in all their glory? Sure, I’d even had the pleasure of sitting in a few. But for perfectly good reasons — cost, liability, rarity, inexperience, my comprehensive lack of wealth or social status — no one had entrusted me with the keys before. “I, uh, I’ve driven a number of clutchless manuals,” was about as far as I could get without lying to the guy who was about to grant me custody of the sub R500 000 vehicle for two days and a few hours. I then mentioned that I’d once (read; briefly) owned a Audi RS4, as if that somehow earned me any credibility in a parking-lot filled with hundreds upon millions of rands worth of fine British cars.
But I suppose you’ve got to start somewhere. After getting the 411 on the knobs and buttons that adjust the Jaguar’s drivetrain on a sliding scale between “stupid fast” and “pants-sh!ttingly fast,” I was handed a smooth, pebble-shaped key and cautioned not to bottom out the XE on a driveway. That left me with an upsetting vision in my head of the glossy, meticulously woven carbon fiber splitter scraping against asphalt while innocently trying to turn into a Dairy Queen. By this time my co-driver (a highly experienced motoring journo) seemed rather uneasy and anxious to get the trip started.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a valid concern. But left unsaid were dozens or perhaps hundreds of other rules and idiosyncrasies involved with driving a car like this — ranging from “Don’t enter a Fast & Furious-style street race” to “Don’t test the rated top speed of 249 km/h on the N1 Freeway.” Most of these rules I inferred; some I learned as I went. Others, I suspect, are unknowable unless you’re an actual millionaire with a garage full of these things, and others of a higher value.
The XE, to me, is a bigger, saloon version of Jaguar’s F-type turned mid-level model, thus slotting between the recently-announced all-new XF and the XJ — it plays in roughly the same space as Audi’s A5 and BMW’s 3-series. Of course, I use the term “mid-level” very, very loosely here: the base XE starts at over R530 000 and you can spend basically as much as you want on options, customization, and the XE’s mesmerizing additions. (Tack on an extra R250 000 or so for the hardcore, V6 engine powered XE S edition.)
For that money, the XE looks and acts the part. It has 335 horsepower on tap from a high-revving 3.0-liter, V-6 mated to a 8-speed transmission gearbox. But what truly separates this sports sedan from a garden-variety sports car is its weight: this British machine tips the scales nearly 46 KG lighter than a BMW M3, for instance, which gives it a supernatural power-to-weight ratio.
But this isn’t really about the XE. (You can already read great reviews of it here, here, and here.) I don’t have the street knowledge to compare it against its contemporaries — but I can tell you that as I cruised the city, schlepped out to Stellies, and braved the traffic north to Montagu, I found it to be a superlative car in basically every possible sense of the word.
This is about what it’s like to drive a Jaguar for the very first time, and to do it in the unforgiving streets and avenues of Cape Town. Here’s what I learned.
1. You are now a piece of exotic meat
“He’s the guys from TV!” a man shouted to no one in particular, coming to a stop mid-crosswalk at an intersection while pointing at us. (For the record, I nor my co-driver are ‘the guy from TV’.)
I knew there’d be gawkers, but not like this.
I don’t know to what extent it was because the Jag is a statement maker among the expensives — it doesn’t show up on the streets with the regularity of a BMW M-series or Audi’s A-class, or an AMG offering. But given that several people asked me “Can I take a pic inside of it?,” my suspicion is that it doesn’t matter.
The car doesn’t help its own cause. Even in white — a totally normal, unnotice-worthy colour — the exhaust growls an intoxicating note at idle with the subtlety of an air raid. While stopped at a light, pedestrians would run up to the car and take close-up pictures of the front and rear without saying a word. A couple of them asked for rides; one got angry with me when I declined at the pit-stop at the Shell filling station. It’s briefly entertaining, but at some point, I just wanted to disappear into the anonymity of the soccer mom cars and delivery trucks around me.
2. Other drivers are weirdly nice to you
I, like many, have a preconception about super luxurious drivers in that they are not good people. They think they’re better than you, they have considerably more money than they know what to do with, and — let’s be honest — much of it probably came from illicit sources. They’ll cut you off in traffic, wave their Black Card around at the bar, and leave a 12 percent tip. They’re inappropriately over- or underdressed at all times.
This isn’t a fair stereotype, inasmuch as no stereotype is fair. And, in fact, I know good people who own Jaguars. But it’s a common stereotype nonetheless.
I didn’t experience any of this hatred. If anything, there was an almost surreal deference to my presence on the road. Even in nightmarish gridlock heading out into Cape Town from our countryside drive, I could just start to drift into another lane (with or without my turn signal – please do not try this at home) and gawking drivers would get the hell out of my way. And on the every-man-for-himself freeway of N1, I made multiple errors — blocking the box, getting confused in the Paarl pass, standing in a No Standing zone in rush-hour traffic — without a single honk. It must be the attractive daytime lights.
While this was wonderful for me as the driver, please, don’t afford luxury car drivers any special treatment. I would’ve honked at me.
Jaguar 3.0 Petrol (V6)
Power: 250kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 4500rpm
Transmission: eight-speed electronic
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Price: R908 100
3. Everything is terrifying
Red knuckles, clenched rear: there was no moment in or around the XE where I wasn’t analysing the pavement ahead of me, calculating the trajectories of the drivers nearby, looking around for ill-meaning people, and planning an escape route for me and the vehicle should something start to break bad.
Driving luxury sports sedan is not a relaxing experience – for a first timer that is. There isn’t really an opportunity to revel in it, take it in. If anything, I’d put the stress level on par with, say, driving a box truck in an area crisscrossed by overpasses. The stressors are different, but the knot in my stomach was the same.
You could make the argument that a high-strung performance car like this shouldn’t be a relaxing experience. I hear that, but it’s not good for the heart. Just let me cruise down a twisty patch of asphalt without the constant fear that someone driving the other way is going to cross the double-yellow and level me, you know? Yes, that can happen in a R120 000 car just as easily as it can in a R920 000 one — but at least insurance is a no-questions-asked proposition on a normal car. I gathered from the lengthy contract I signed with Jaguar that there would, in fact, be some questions involved had I wrecked it.
By my estimation, the only way to drive the XE stress-free is to be so wealthy that a fender bender, a break-in, or a head-on collision with jersey cattle will relieve you of an imperceptibly small percentage of your bank balance. That certainly doesn’t apply to me, and I bet it doesn’t apply to a significant fraction of real Jaguar owners, either. The XE is smooth. Once you get settled in, it is the most heavenly ride ever. My co-driver (Sibonelo Myeni from iMoto) and I briefly analysed what would prompt South Africans to take advantage and purchase one of these beutes. In defense, as black South Africans, we concluded that the social factor would prompt us to close deal on the XE (2.5 Diesel and V6 are our faves). Knowing you’re purchasing this Jag to be seen, noticed and talked about. Knowing you’ll be driving this out of cheer pleasure and relaxation – those are the selling points.
4. Its a religious experience
For all the hassles, living with a Jag could be awesome. As a lifelong car and tech guy, I’ll say that there’s absolutely nothing else like it. It helps that the XE is so meticulously designed and livable — front seat passengers (my co-driver here) commented that they were surprised at how much room they had, the back-seat is a let-down. And the boot compartment is big enough for a couple of people to disappear into the Clifton beach for a few days. And I’m assuming that’s exactly how the moneyed couples who own these cars actually use them.
But the tao of the XE isn’t merely a product of the raw power and the stunning looks: driving a car like this connects you to the machinery and the road in a way that other cars do not. The XE made me feel like I was a quicker, more responsive, and a more capable driver. Let me be clear, that effect is mostly psychological — a vehicle with this amount of power delivered to the rear wheels and a top speed north of 280km/h can both humble you and end your life — but it’s a euphoria that I don’t think you can get from any lesser car.
None of this matters in practice, because the XE is an exceedingly rare car for the not-so-rare people. You and I just happen to be among them. But like many rare things, it’s a beacon of aspiration; an example of the incredible things humans can make when they put their minds to it. Even if you never drive it, its existence is somehow still exciting.
But yes, as I learned, driving it is pretty nice, too.