Christopher Little

Jaguar ALIVE Driving Experience

Christopher Little

Gillette Stadium is the perfect place to enjoy a sunny Autumn afternoon, but on this particular afternoon the Patriots were over 400 miles away in Baltimore.  The entertainment would instead be provided by a fleet of Jaguar’s 2013 model lineup.  The two-hour Jaguar ALIVE Driving Experience is the latest trend in automotive marketing: convert an empty parking lot into a demonstration space and invite potential customers.  It’s the right way to go about enjoying your afternoon car shopping if you ask us, not to mention more comfortable – we’ll take Jaguar’s 20-way power adjustable seats over a stadium seat any day.

Refinement

After a thorough introduction to the entire Jaguar product line, we were brought outside to a collection of assorted Jaguar XJ Supersports.  This portion of the event was the only time we’d be on public roads.  The group was broken into teams of two for a follow-the-leader test drive session.  While one participant drives, the passenger gets to experience the car and controls.  When we reached the halfway point, the driver and passenger switched.

Queuing up behind a Jaguar event leader in an XFR, we took off.  From behind the wheel, the massive 4,191 lb. curb weight melts away as the supercharger pushes out 510 hp to the rear wheels.  Sixty miles an hour arrives in less than 5 seconds, making this big cat very fast on its feet.  Turning the transmission selector to “S” and activating the Dynamic setting turns the digital gauge cluster red.  Shift points are now later, suspension and steering are firmer and more precise, and the exhaust baffles open up to produce a thrilling V8 rumble.  The XJ feels nimble and composed.  Even the brakes belie the car’s weight.  However, there are still a few problems.  Rear visibility is very limited by the small rear window and high beltline.  This problem is mitigated by a blindspot monitoring system, but it still leaves the driver feeling unsettled.  In addition, the odd double-layer of buttons on the steering wheel detract from the otherwise well-laid out information center.

From the passenger seat, I could explore the car’s systems.  The first thing to note is that, if 20-way adjustment can’t get you perfectly comfortable, the heating, air conditioning, or massaging options should suffice.  Essentially every surface is either wood or leather, even the headrests.  This is to be expected from a $112,000 super-sedan.  The cabin is quiet, unless you turn on the Meridian 14-speaker sound system.  It’s plenty of sound, unless you absolutely must have the 825-Watt surround sound system with 6 extra speakers.  Jaguar’s iTech touch screen infotainment system is intuitive to navigate, if only the screen was a bit more responsive to input.  Having returned to the parking lot at this point, we were pulled from our pillowy, powerful vehicles and sent off to try a different flavor of XJ.

Refinement: check.

Technology

New for 2013, Jaguar has introduced an AWD system to be paired with its new 340hp supercharged V6 in the XJ and XF models.  A handful of pre-production XJ 3.0 AWD models were available to experience.  The lack of traction was provided by a track copiously covered in gravel, sand, water, and even a snow-covered hill.  First we were sent around with the traction control system disabled entirely.  The car responded as expected, spinning all four of its wheels with reckless abandon as the tail stepped out on every corner.  A second lap was completed in “Winter” mode.  This optimizes the car for slick conditions by heightening the traction control interference and starting in 2nd gear to minimize power delivery.  All systems worked well, keeping the Jaguar confidently going where it was supposed to.  It might have been the least exciting lap of the day, but least exciting is exactly how you’d want your winter drive to be in a $76,000 Jaguar.  We were somewhat rewarded with the sight of our XJ after the two laps.  Perhaps the complimentary dealer car-wash can help.

Technology: check.

Performance

Our favorite session of the experience was up next: the autocross course.  Each participant is paired with a professional racecar driver and an XKR.  After a brief rundown of basic car control, each participant gets two training laps to learn the course and get some valuable insight from the instructor.  The 3rd lap is timed and counts for afternoon bragging rights and some special Jaguar goodies. The XKR is no lightweight, tipping the scales at 3,968 lbs.  However, being powered by the same supercharged V8 as the XJ Supersport means that the car is still plenty quick.  The only problem we had was the XKR’s unbolstered steering wheel, leaving us without any extra padding or contours for added grip.  It would give the car an added sporty feeling.  The Dynamic setting came in handy however, minimizing body roll and increasing the steering rack’s ratio for quicker turn-in.  It wasn’t enough for Scott V. however when, on the second lap, his XKR consumed a cone.  Everyone but the cone made it out unscathed, but it highlighted the biggest problem for the Jaguar: its weight.  It’s the price for all of the refinement and technology.  The XKR is a perfect GT car, offering a comfortable ride with very respectable speed and agility, just don’t confuse it for a track car.  We’re fairly certain the Jaguar buyer of today isn’t going to make that mistake.  And if he does, there’s a XKR out there on a diet, the XKR-S.

Limited Slip Blog delivered, posting the two fastest times in the 1:00PM session.  If you’re keeping score in head-to-head challenges, Scott V. edged out Christopher L. by a slight margin, bringing us both to 1-1. (Our last head-to-head challenge happened at the SRT Track Experience)  Scott’s victory prize was some Jaguar F-Type concept art, so he can admire the sheer beauty of the car any time he’s in his office.

Performance: check

Style

The last segment of the was essentially a rolling showroom.  The XJ, XJL, XFR, and XKR coupe and convertible were all available for patrons to examine without the interference of a salesman.  A special portion of parking lot was roped off for participants to drive around on as well.  It included faux potholes and expansion joints to simulate imperfect road conditions.  This total freedom to explore a car is rare for most consumers, making this the most informative and insightful part of the day.  Did you know there isn’t a lock/unlock switch in the XKR?  The toggle is part of the door handles inside the car.  Pushing the handle in locks the doors, pulling it out simultaneously unlocks and opens the door.  Odd and slightly over-engineered, yet effective.  What more is to be said about this segment?  Jaguar makes some stunningly beautiful cars, both inside and out.

Style: check.

Of course, Jaguar saved the best for last.  The ALIVE Driving Experience culminated in a special opportunity to bring refinement, technology, performance, and style all together.  Each participant got the opportunity to launch the limited-production XKR-S from 0-60mph down a simulated drag strip.  The video pretty much speaks for itself; climb behind the wheel of 1 of the 300 XKR-S coupes, point it at the finish line, and floor it.  The 550hp V8 roars at wide-open throttle as the traction control system finds the rear grip.  Even a rather large bump in the middle of the drag strip can’t upset the car as it flies past 60 miles per hour.  Braking is phenomenal, stopping the car well before the safety zone to turn around and come back.  Can we wish for more track?

If you’re in the market for a new Jaguar, the ALIVE Driving Experience is the perfect opportunity for you to get up-close-and-personal with the car before you even step in the showroom.  Even if you aren’t in the market, its a great way to spend an Autumn afternoon.  There are four more planned sessions in the next few months:

Rye, NY October 25-28
Flushing, NY November 2-4
Philadelphia, PA November 16-18
Atlanta, GA November 30 – December 2

Update: Jaguar has added three more event locations:

Charlotte, NC March 1 – March 3, 2013
Washington, D.C. March 22 – March 24, 2013
Miami, FL April 5 – April 7, 2013

As an added bonus, Jaguar will have a newly unveiled F-Type on display.  That’s something we missed by just a few days.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.

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