Thursday, 15 October 2015 13:23

Hallo gorgeous kitty

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The new Jaguar XE Sports Sedan is a dream to drive The new Jaguar XE Sports Sedan is a dream to drive Pictures supplied by Jaguar

Smooth and stately has always been my experience of Jaguar - as a passenger. It is a dignified car fit for royalty and I was taken to meet the young princes at the 2010 World Cup in a buttery Jaguar which purred its way through Hyde Park to the British High Commissioner’s residence.

However, I had never been behind the wheel of a Jag and when an invitation to get up close and personal with the latest cat in the Jaguar stable, the new XE Sports Sedan, dropped into my inbox recently, I was absolutely terrified of getting behind the wheel.

What if this wild beast got out of control and ran away from me?

It did not help matters that I was among a bevy of elite motoring journalists who sniggered nastily when they saw me struggling with all the bells and whistles!

However, once the team had teamed up into pairs and were given their maps and directions for their picturesque road trip around the Western Cape I slipped into the low-slung cabin and was completely seduced by the scarlet and white leather interior and the low-throated roar under the sleek-nosed engine.

Even its back lights were aesthetically pleasing, an LED line of white, like smiling cat's eyes.

With the touch of a button and the press of a foot the automatic gearbox rose like Excalibur from the console, music came with powerful form from the sound system, the touch screen showed your co-ordinates and where you were going and the engine literally purred into life.

Hallo gorgeous kitty!

I was hopelessly smitten by this big cat with a difference.

This sexy beastie is a racing car with sculpted supermodel curves that, in true Jaguar fashion, combines a smooth driving experience with enormous growling power.

The drivers and the machines were put to the test as they had to negotiate the knuckle-whitening Franschhoek Pass which was engulfed in mist and more full of hairpin bends than anything from The Italian Job. It was my worst nightmare come true and my speed dropped to 60km/h, infuriating some of the more foolhardy motoring journos behind me who overtook me with a screech of tyres on two solid white lines into the dense mist ahead, disregarding the possibility of oncoming trucks.

"So long sucker!" they seemed to say, but as my hands sweated on the driver’s wheel my Jaguar petrol model coiled itself tightly and neatly around the bends, respecting my need for safety over speed at that juncture.

Only at the bottom of the pass did it unflex its muscles and lithely stretch itself out as it raced to meet the road, with a mighty “mmmrrrroooaaw”.

The two day trip was an exercise in exploring the senses and we had experienced not only the pleasure of staying at one of South Africa's oldest wine farms, Spier, the previous night, but had attended a "blind tasting", in the form of dinner in the dark.

Guests were led in total darkness in groups of four and escorted to our seats by visually impaired waiters. No light was allowed to penetrate the area and we had to literally feel our way around. Something that immediately becomes apparent is the shrinking of your universe to a managable space, the plates and cutlery before you, a sense that there is a barrier before and behind you. Another aspect is the reliance on your neighbours and friends for help. It was impossible not to imagine someone staring at you with X-ray vision in the darkness as you fumbled your way around your plate, discarding cutlery in favour of fingers and trying not to spill the wine. Every now and then someone passed my chair and tickled me between the shoulder blades, obviously aware of my terrible ticklishness.

It was a surprise when the lights snapped on to find the only eyes that had been watching were the headlights of the new XE, which had its grand reveal in a space that was literally four times bigger than imagined.

The teamwork involved in getting 20 or so sometimes unruly journos to follow a route, all stick together and not crash their beautiful vehicles would be enought o give anyone gray hairs, but Sean Renton and his team had it all under control. We picked up the Hawks surveillance team during our initial briefing and found that they had us covered throughout the 48 hour trip.

Sean, in true alpha male fashion, was calm under pressure and looked after the members of his team, including the stragglers like myself. On our first day we managed to drive in the opposite direction to the rest of the team, and instead of landing up at Rust-en-Vrede having hot chocolate, we landed up at The Strand near the beach.

The next day was a lot more disciplined as we all got to try the various models, with various pitstops along the way.

All the orchards were in bloom and the wild flowers out on the mountain sides as we headed out to Montagu for lunch. It was a beautiful day even though the clouds had poured over the Franschhoek mountains as we set off.

Even though my car was automatic I struggled a bit with a jerky acceleration but figured the jerkiness would work itself out with a closer acquaintance. My driving companion, Samantha Wright, was not as reticent as I in the driver's seat and drove like a bat out of hell when it was her turn, Snapchatting all the way and managing to negotiate her cellphone and the steering wheel at the same time.

But I was having the great pleasure of getting acquainted with a thoroughbred, with the instincts of a racehorse. Sleek and streamlined, taut and controlled this car was an exercise in refinement and sheer driving pleasure.

A powerful hybrid with its aluminium body, the new XE is a very lovable cat.

♦ Check out "The Anatomy of a Big Cat" in the latest issue of Cheek2Chic magazine, also on www.issuu.com/cheek2chic

 

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