One could say that the British automotive industry is a story of survival and resilience. Throughout the course of history, British marques have come and gone but two brands stand strong despite the troubles. From the dark days of British Leyland, to the rescue and revival courtesy of Tata, Jaguar and Land Rover have stood the test of time and are ready for a resurgence in the Philippine market.
Swooped up by Coventry Motors late last year, the two brands are keen to show the public the best of British autos. How? By hosting The Art of Performance drive for Jaguars and the Above and Beyond tour to highlight the capabilities of Land Rover products. If Jaguar and Land Rover want to make a mark on Philippine customers, these latest models should make a good, lasting first impression.
Admittedly, I didn't know what to expect from British vehicles. If anything, it's the Lucas electronics and British Leyland mismanagement, along with the whole Premier Auto Group fiasco that almost killed the brands, that stuck with me when it comes to the subject of Jaguar and Land Rover. Still, there's no denying these two automakers have made iconic vehicles.
Perhaps ironically, I arrived to the event in a certain German automobile. In fact, it was one of the direct competitors of the cars I was set to try out. With expectations set high, I entered the lobby which housed brand spanking new units from Jaguar and Land Rover.
The cars were arranged from 'entry-level' (I wouldn't call these cars basic at all) to flagship from the respective marques. There were two that caught my attention and, oddly enough, neither sat at the top of the range.
For some reason, I found myself checking out the Jaguar XE and the Land Rover Discovery quite often. The XE's proportions were svelte and cohesive while the Discovery had a no-nonsense appeal to it. Nevermind the fact that the Discovery's asymmetrical license plate holder divided opinions.
Having owned German cars for the past five years, I was pleasantly surprised when I hopped on board each of the cars on display. Needless to say, the Brits define luxury differently. The leather hides, soft touch points, cockpit design and neat little details felt a world apart from the Germans. It's a little difficult to put it into words but sit in one of these cars and you get a sense of (occasion) just being inside it.
Of course, the main point of The Art of Performance drive Above and Beyond Tour was to drive the cars in the first place. So what was in the roster for the drive?
From Jaguar, there was the BMW 3 Series-fighting XE, Mercedes-Benz E-Class-rivaling XF and their first-ever crossover, the F-Pace. Over at Land Rover, it was the Range Rover Velar, Range Rover Sport and Discovery that were set to put their best foot forward to us (the motoring press), and the rest of the public.
And now, the moment of truth: can Jaguars and Land Rovers leave a mark to luxury car buyers? It was time to take these cars out for a spin.
First up was the Jaguar F-Pace. Normally, 'dynamic' isn't exactly the first word that comes to mind when it comes to crossovers. For me, it sounds like an oxymoron as you have a tall, high-riding, and heavy vehicle with the manufacturer claiming it has good reflexes. The skepticism was short-lived, however.
On a soapy, slippery surface, the F-Pace took off with the traction control system barely giving a hint of assistance thanks to its adaptive all-wheel drive system. Granted, it should be easy pickings for anything that has all-wheel drive and traction control but the handling part of the equation was to be put to the test.
In an evasive maneuver, it turns in well and it doesn't get rattled by a sudden change in direction. Yes, there is roll (you can't fight physics) but there is no feeling of instability while carrying out the maneuver. Then there was the slalom and, again, it stayed planted despite being top heavy. Mind you, while it can swing around the cones with ease, you can feel its weight but the chassis is willing to dance if you want it to. Around a 360, you can even feel the back swing out a bit too. In short, the F-Pace was one of the biggest surprises of the drive.
Up next, it was the XF. On first impressions, one expects a car of this size (nearly five meters long) to float and waft over the road and not offer a lot of road feel. Like the F-Pace, the big sedan hustled through the course with ease, with only its width presenting as a challenge. Most impressive were its brakes. During the emergency maneuver test, I braked a bit early as I was expecting the XF to dive and heave its way through the cones.
The brakes felt strong and dialed in with little intervention from the anti-lock system. It worked so well that my instructor, Ruppert, said I could have thrown the anchors a little later. It swings around the cones well too, as if it was a size class smaller and the chassis rotates if you want it to. The XJ aside, it was like Jaguar was going back to its 1950's slogan of Grace, Space, Pace, albeit rearranged to Pace, Grace, Space.
And now, the moment I've been waiting for; driving the XE around the course. In a nutshell, the smaller sedan was like the XF, but it was a whole lot more athletic and balletic. Applying the brakes later than in the XF, the XE executed the maneuver effortlessly, unshaken by the sudden change in direction. On the slalom, it darts through the pylons at speed while putting a smile on my face.
What I liked about the XE most was its stability control system. It actually allows you to have a little more fun when you take turns at speed. Around a loop, you can feel the rear step out a bit, rotating the back end for a swift exit. You can steer with the rear in the XE but it won't scare you when you pin the throttle to the floor. This little cat is fun to drive and, needless to say, the sleek styling is backed up by its abilities. Expectations met, then.
On to the Land Rovers and I was assigned to their newest addition to the range, the Range Rover Velar. Smaller than a Range Rover Sport but bigger than an Evoque, the Velar is claimed to still have Land Rover's signature off-roading abilities while injecting a bit of style in the mix.
From the vertical climb to the steep descent, the Velar didn't break a sweat, as if to say 'is that all you got'? Mind you, as the car costs as much as a house, I didn't dare push it with this one. The 500 mm water wading test also proved to be just a small challenge for the luxury SUV, although Land Rover does claim it can wade up to 650 mm.
The tilt test showed how the car can stay upright in pretty extreme situations while mini axle breakers (high, offset bumps) displayed the car's ability to keep going even with two wheels in the air. It's the electronics that kept me going forward and they did their job well to keep someone ham-fisted in off-roading (ie: me) in constant motion. That said, I did wish I was able to try out the Discovery too, but there's always next time.
On to first impressions, the Jaguars and the Land Rovers did rather well, throwing in a few pleasant surprises along the way. In a closed course, these vehicles will delight both the enthusiast and the luxury car customer, blending comfort and capability in stylish and bold packages. If it were me, my (imaginary) cash would go to the XE. As far as compact executive sedans go, this is perhaps one of the sharpest to drive.
Of course, Jaguar and Land Rover still have a long way to go. The toughest challenge awaits the two British marques; the real world. But with what the cars exhibited throughout the day, Jaguar and Land Rover are off to a good (re)start in the country.