Put through the paces: Jaguar XKR-S

In the country of England, there’s a growing disinterest among young people in getting a license and owning their first car. There are a few theories on why this is: high gas prices, increasing trends in ‘going green’ etc. But the one that sticks out for me is the epic amount new drivers have to pay for insurance over here. New drivers have to shell out thousands in insurance, sometimes adding up to more than the actual car they’re paying to insure. In the U.S we long for the day where we don’t have to take that big yellow eye sore of a bus to school, no matter the cost. I’m glad to say getting my license was one of the greatest and most freeing experiences I ever enjoyed; getting out of the house whenever I wanted, unnecessarily racing my friends home in their cars, going to parties and not getting dropped of or picked up by the ‘rents. Not getting my first car? I can’t even fathom the thought. It actually took all my strength to type that first sentence with out being sick.

It’s because of this and being 23 that I have such a hard time driving worthwhile cars at press events. The first monthly Jaguar press event I went to, I could only drive the 2.0-liter diesel engine cars. Not exactly what I had in mind, especially since the monstrous XKR-S recently came out. No, because I was under 28 they barely trusted I could feed my self and go to the bathroom all on my own let alone drive their super-coupe. I tried to tell them that I’ve worked as a valet and had driven everything from Pontiacs to Porsches to Rolls-Royces (albeit only 300 ft to park them). It took a few more appearances at these monthly press events and some American charm but I eventually swayed the lady in charge of the keys to hand over the rest of Jaguar’s fleet.

After months of being jealous of all the veteran journalists getting a go in it, I finally got my ride in the XKR-S.

I don’t care how old you are or how many discounts you get on your insurance; everyone is 23 when they walk up to it and immediately 12 years old when they sit behind the wheel of an XKR-S. Jaguar built this car with one thing in mind and that was pure performance. A facelift at the front sees aero aids on the sides and a new splitter under a revised front fascia. Around back, a carbon fiber spoiler makes an appearance and quad exhausts hug the rear diffuser as well. All of which hint at Jaguar’s proven racetrack heritage.

I barely got out of the complex and on the main road before I jabbed at the accelerator and unleashed all 543 horses. The sound that came as a result was instantly addictive (epic WW2 fighter planes come to mind). 0-60 takes a mere 4.5 seconds and 100mph in 8.7. Trust me, I tested it and retested it and then my colleague tested it some more. The claimed top speed is 186mph, but I’ll take Jag’s word on that one.

Engineers just didn’t simply add more horsepower though; through the corners the Jag stays flat and planted. Stiffer suspension and retuned adaptive dampeners help keep the front facing forward and the rear tires behind you. I couldn’t even tell the car had any body roll until I saw the cornering shots. A lot of people have complained that the suspension is too stiff. But that’s like ordering apple pie and complaining that it has apple in it. The roads weren’t exactly smooth where I tested it but I just might be used to the track tuned suspension of my Kawasaki ZX-10. Therefore my spine is permanently lodged in the top of my skull and my pelvis had turned to dust long before I sat in the sporty bucket seats of the R-S. The steering wasn’t as confidence inspiring as I would hope in a high horsepower rear drive sports car, there wasn’t much feed back when something went out of line. Luckily the car is easy enough to handle that you can react quick enough and not do doughnuts every time you turn in to a corner.

This is where I question the dedication of the car though. Most sports car companies have sportier versions of their best cars and then track oriented versions on top of that. Porsche’s 911(the main competition) has the GT3 and then the GT3 RS. The problem with the XKR-S is that I don’t think the suspension was stiff enough. The GT3 RS is a much larger step up in the way that there is literally nothing left in the car except the essentials: seats, steering, A/C…and thats pushing it. Things that have been added are along the lines of a roll cage and a fire extinguishing system. The metal Porsche emblem on the hood is even replaced by a sticker just to save weight. Looking at the back seat that should have been the first thing to go in the Jag since it barely exists in the first place. The dedication towards the track is a little half-assed. If the R-S is going to be a top of the range, track oriented car, I wish it would separate its self from the next model down with a little more than tuned suspension and 30 extra horsepower.

For what it’s worth I’ve never had nearly as much fun in any other car, being a valet or journalist. I want make the exhaust note my ring tone and call myself over and over just to hear it on a regular basis. That’s what Jag did get right with this car, the whole sensory experience; the exhaust bark, your head getting pinned back when you hit the gas and the seats hugging you when you get side ways. Just making you feel like a kid and enjoying the ride. In an era where planned obsolescence is all too common I’m afraid the XKR-S may have fell victim to it, hinting Jaguar could have done more. But as a 12 year old, the XKR-S is one of those cars that would have me longing for my license and an empty stretch of road.


Put through the paces: Jaguar XK and XK-R

Joining the infamous Jaguar two-door sports car family is the 2012 XK and XK-R. Starting at a base price of around $85k with the XK and rising to just above $100k with the R badge.

The base model XK, though the normally aspirated of the two, is no slouch. The free breathing V8 brings a healthy 385 Bhp in at 6500rpm and supplies 380lbs of torque at a lowly 3500rpm. All that power is put to the rear wheels via crisp six speed electronic paddle shifters. Keeping it shiny side up is Jaguar’s own adaptable traction and stability control systems.

When you’re taking it easy in automatic it’s easy to sit back and appreciate the luxury of the roomy and finely crafted interior. Neither the driver nor front passenger will ever complain about getting cramped. Only plan on bringing along one friend though. The back seats are a joke even if those two extra friends are double leg amputees.

When you finally do put the power down and hit those country roads this cat comes alive. If at all possible go for the soft top, on a nice day regrets are impossible. The suspension is soft enough to hit bumps and potholes without a second thought but firm enough to handle the corners like a pro.

The XK-R takes the range to the next level. Combining the same snappy transmission as the XK, stiffer suspension and the added supercharger you can tell where Jag is heading with this one. The R model gets a massive 510 horses blown into it and a tire melting 461lbs of torque to up the ante. These figures make for an exciting ride through the corners as well as add to the auditory experience. Select ‘R’ on the shifter knob and the exhaust opens up to a symphony of a baritone V8 and the soprano supercharger. Driver be warned though, while lateral grip of the XK-R is impressive mid-corner, exiting a corner can be hair-raising. The rear tires spin under power all too easy and you may be hard pressed to tell when they do let go.

Stiff suspension or not the convertible is the way to go on either model based on vocals alone. With the top down on a nice day you wont care how may bumps you hit. And when stringing a few switchbacks together you’ll be glad you only have one friend because the legless guys in the back would’ve only upset your weight distribution…

Following Cadillac: Looking Forward

“History repeats itself”, one of the most used cliché’s in the English language. Nevertheless, a cliché that proves itself true time and time again. For a certain car company, I would imagine they are banking on that.

In 2002 Cadillac unveiled the Cien concept at the Detroit Auto show. With a 950 bhp, mid-mounted 7.5 liter V-12, a design inspired by the F-22 Raptor and an exotic European stance, it looked like the epitome of what a performance car should be. Sadly, though, it was never to be put into production. It was more of Cadillac just flexing their muscles.

Now jump forward 8 or 9 years. Cadillac has, arguably, one of the best performance sedans and coupes in its class. Coincidence? I think not. When car companies produce a concept never to see light or even a halo car that makes it to production, the trickle down effect is inevitable. The CTS-V may not have a 950 horse V-12 in the back seats, but if you dilute and filter the Cien enough you sure would come close to it. And that’s saying a lot.

The point I’m trying to make is that Cadillac is at it again. Cadillac unveiled the Ciel at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. One of the most prestigious car shows in the world. It is home to the most expensive and luxurious cars known to man, past and present.

The Ciel is powered by a twin turbo 3.6 hybrid V-6. I know that doesn’t sound like much compared to Cadillac’s of old nor does it even hold a candle to a Rolls or a Bentley V-(insert large number). But that’s because Cadillac is aiming this luxury car at the 99%ers, if you will. The level of luxury however could easily be mistaken for a 1%er. From the swooping lines and suicide doors on the outside to the smooth olive wood dash and elegant yet simplistic interior, it robs from the rich and gives to the middle class. Passengers, who you might mistake for the owners, have more   than enough room for comfort. The headroom has to be measured in miles due to the drop top.

If Cadillac follows a similar path to that of the Cien to CTS-V route, starting with the Ciel, the possibilities are limitless. At the very least I would suspect a car that could easily compete with the top range BMWs, Mercs and Audis in the luxury and grandeur department yet still be half the price.

If history has anything to say about it, the Germans should start to worry… again.

Following Cadillac: The New Mantra

Since about 2004 Cadillac has redesigned its self to compete with the European luxury brands. However, now a days it isn’t enough to just be a lofty road yacht. To compete you also have to have power, performance and sleek modern styling along with the first class comforts. Below I posted 2 Commercials that aired in the U.S that show Cadillac’s new intentions. Both videos make claims to a heritage once forgotten. I believe that Cadillac are on the right track to prove to a new generation that they once were the standard of the world and are gunning to retake that crown.

Following Cadillac: A brief history

Named after the founder of Detroit its self, Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac, the Cadillac Automobile Company had a meteoric rise to fame with in the industry. The company was founded by Henry Leland in 1902 and bought by General Motors in 1909. But by 1908 it had already won the prestigious Dewar Trophy from the Royal Automobile Club of England by showing off its capabilities of interchangeable parts in a reliability test. Thus being the first American Automotive company to win the coveted award. Cadillac went on to win the award a second time in 1912 for putting state of the art electric lighting, starting and ignition technologies into a production car. It is from this foundation that the company acquired the slogan ‘Standard of the World’.

There are many primal amenities that your car contains that were pioneered and first put into production by Cadillac. Cadillac was the first car company to put into production cars with fully enclosed cabs protecting the occupants from the elements. Simple yet ahead of the curve. Probably thought to be the most logical system on a car today was first introduced by Cadillac making the act of driving and learning to drive elementary: accelerator pedal on the right, brake to the left of that and clutch to the left of the brake. Systems that came before what we have today were much more complicate and not very user friendly. Also worth mentioning in 1964 Cadillac introduced the first climate control system allowing the driver and passengers to set desired temperatures with automatic heating and A/C. And for those reading who know how a modern transmission works, Cadillac also introduced the first clash-less syncromesh transmission. It was innovations such as these that hoisted the company to be the premier car company in the U.S and to what the world looked to for the new standard in the industry.

In 1927 Cadillac introduced ‘designer styled’ body work as opposed to the function following form, auto-engineered cars driving around at the time. From then on Cadillac was recognized by its outrageous styling. As the trunk lids and hoods stretched and grew to aircraft carrier credibility, there was more room to play with when it came to styling. In the 50s and 60s some companies went the route of jet age styling and designed fins into the bodywork. Cadillac went above and beyond, as was their nature. The Tail fins that Caddys ran with were comparable to tail fins on actual planes at the time. So much so that it be came a signature dish for them for years to come. Even the new models that Cadillac produces references those tall taillights of the era.

Trouble struck in the late 70s. With Gas prices rocketing and the market plummeting it was beginning to look like Cadillac had dug its self into a whole. From the late 70s all the way through the 90s and the early part of the 00s Cadillac was far from the standard of the world. With European manufacturers taking the reigns, Cadillac struggled to produce a truly desirable car in way of styling or luxury (apart from the ’93 STS of course). Around 2004-2005 there was a big overhaul and plan to get back on top selling a world standard car to the upper echelon of society. Up until this point the type of person buying a Cadillac probably got discounts at restaurants and went to bed around 5pm… a loyal Cadillac customer of yesteryear then. Going after the European companies that knocked Caddy of the top of the podium, they are going in the direction of performance luxury. Their new philosophy is ‘Art and Science’. The bold sharp lines used in the new designs are supposed to evoke a feeling that cutting edge technology designed the cars while the inside translates that cutting edge technology is used to work the car. Theses are just small steps in the direction of a contemporary standard of the world.

Following Cadillac: Preface

For the first term of my MA in automotive journalism here at Coventry University, I was given an assignment to pick an automotive brand and follow it. Through out the term I will be researching Cadillac’s history following where it is now and where it is going in the future. But what makes sense for me to do in this first post is to explain why I chose Cadillac. If I put out there the basis for why i chose this brand above many others I feel it will lay good groundwork to build other posts on top of.

My personal history with Cadillac began with a very intimidating matte grey ’76 El Dorado convertible. For a good portion of my childhood it was covered in boxes and other random objects that had collected on top of it in my home garage. Admittedly, I was sometimes afraid of it. With the imagination I had it was kind of like the monster under the bed. When in reality it was my dad’s daily driver once upon a time. I can only assume that with the gas prices creeping up as they were and still are, a ’76 V8 Cadillac coupe convertible larger than most four doors driving around today was getting pricey. So into hibernation it went. After some years of nagging from my mother my dad finally decided to fix it up. Finding a collector to buy the beast helped out a little bit. I was actually quite happy the caddy was getting fixed up. Not because the monster under the bed was getting an eviction notice but because I got to help out my dad fix it up, i.e I got to hold his tools and hand them to him when he asked. This was one of the first verses in my genesis that sparked me wanting to now as much about cars as possible. When ever he worked on the Caddy or any car for that matter I always wanted to help but most likely got in the way more often that not. One of the last memories I have of that monster is when my dad got the radio working. I whole-heartedly expected to turn the radio on and to hear someone announcing news from 1976, kind of like in the movie Frequency. Surprisingly, that didn’t happen. My next personal encounter with Cadillac wouldn’t happen again until I was 17.

I can’t remember the exact month but I do remember how and when i got my first car. A highland green ’93 Cadillac 4.6 V8 STS. I called it Highland green because I was and still am a fan of the movie Bullit…the catalogue color of Steve McQueen’s 390 GT. My brother, the previous owner, brought it to my house as a hand-me-down gift. I immediately wanted to take it for a spin. It ran perfectly and as far as I was concerned it was the standard of my world. In the 8os and early 90s American cars were not the best, to put it lightly. However, Gm usually tested all its new technology on Cadillac before making it standard equipment on the rest of its cars. Although something didn’t always work I can assure you my friends with other cars from 1993 were jealous of my heated seats, CD player and Bose gold series speakers. Though they were not jealous when my catalytic converter rusted off. But from one car person to another, with a 4.6 liter American V8 up front, my right foot hasn’t been heavier since. That car has since been retired. Over 150k miles on the clock and a good old-fashioned road trip down to Daytona beach under her belt, it wasn’t a bad life. It was my first car but it won’t be my last Cadillac. I assure you.