A killer worthy of the badge
Somehow I expected the wild horses to be more afraid. But as my big black cat screeched to a stop in the depths of Bodmin Moor, they simple meandered over for a closer look. They have fine taste those scraggy, wind beaten animals, with the XKR Jaguar has finally produced a killer worthy of the badge. This is the home of the famous Beast of Bodmin, the mythical black cat. A few savaged sheep and grainy photos and a video of what looks like a housecat are the only real evidence of its existence. And seeing as they've theoretically roamed the hills since 1976, when the Dangeous Wild Animals Act was introduced, someone got nervous and let their oversized pets loose, and could be anything from a Puma to a Jaguar, that's not too impressive. If they're surviving then they're certainly not thriving, there would be more proof if they were. Jaguar has eked out a similarly slender existence in the less fashionable districts since the XJ6 dominated the fast lane in the hands of company directors and gangsters alike. But the motoring press, underneath a healthy veneer of cynicism, has donned the rose-tinted spectacles with every new model. Every time the brand's salvation was just around the corner, but they just didn't work and only the elderly that remember the glory days of colonial Britain bought them. And they're dying, or selling their cars to invest in beige trousers. The last generation XK looked long in the tooth a years ago, but when the new car arrived it took the world by storm. Just retro enough to suit the legend but forward looking in a way that all great Jaguars used to be, this is a revelation. Parked outside the rural hotel it was accused of being a Maserati and an Aston before they checked the badge and finally accepted its lineage. This car is so much sexier than its immediate rivals they'd feel like a Weightwatchers troop at London Fashion Week. It's a bundled mass of muscle striding towards the horizon even at a standstill thanks to those squat, huge haunches. The squared off front lip spoiler looked odd in the first pictures, but it all works in the flesh and those contrasting side vents work a storm. Even the squared front lip spoiler makes perfect sense in the flesh and the giant wheels, sloping rear and gigantic haunches create a vision of pure power. Then there are those bonnet vents with that all-important word on them: 'Supercharged'. The standard XK was a great car, but it needed that extra oomph. With 420bhp on tap from the 4.2-litre V8 it will stomp to 60mph in 4.9s and will burn right up to 155mph with the gruff roar of a V8 and the reassured hiss of the Supercharger blasting in the background. There's no let-up, it just climbs through the automatic gears in one pure, tidal motion. It's linear, it's easy and so powerful. Without the electronic limiter you get the feeling it would have stayed with the almighty M5 right through that 200mph barrier, or it would certainly have been close, but Jaguar hasn't made the same nonsensical claims as the Germans. Well it just wouldn't be cricket now would it? The roads of Bodmin Moor provided more than a tenuous feline hook for the story, too, they are also some of the finest roads for pure driving in this nation. With good visibility, sweeping bends and no people, I could really throw the car at the bends. And despite weighing more than 1730kg, it hangs on like a much smaller car when you push it. The aluminium chassis is backboard rigid and this gives the car an inherent handling advantage, as well as saving weight, which can be used elsewhere. Flicking the downshift engages the manual mode on the gearbox and, while it may be artificial, it holds the gear right up to the redline and does an admiral job of aping a real 'box without any of the savagery that goes on in the BMW M cars. And with the car refusing to unsettle itself until you really stamp on the brakes, it will corner flat and hard. You can even drift it if you're so inclined, but even on the worst surface it won't bounce you off the road. Suspension engineers might be the most boring men on the planet, but they have done a stunning job here producing a car that feels up for a fight in the bends yet soaks up the road surface when you're cruising along. And despite all the monumental power and its traffic light Grand Prix potential, that's what 90 per cent of us have to do 90 per cent of the time. And that makes this a more complete car than its more expensive stablemate - the Aston Martin AMV8 - and the BMW M6. That's not to say it's better, I could never make that recommendation, but it's a more suitable tool for everyday life. If you have an Aston you'll need a long distance tourer alongside it in the garage, and if you have an M6 you'll need a petrol station. This car could go all night, all day and all night again, and deliver the driver fresh to the door andd it won't slurp juice like a thirsty tramp while it's happening. My journey back from Bodmin took me down dark, horrible roads in a monsoon-style storm that I learnt the following day had killed people. The car even hit puddles so deep that water drenched the windscreen and removed all pretence of vision for seconds at a time. Yet safe inside the toasty Jag I felt cocooned from the outside world, safe and warm in the fine, supportive seats - the ferocity outside felt as distant as a natural disaster reported on the evening news. That's thanks to acres of sound insulation that keeps the noise to a minimum until you really stand on the gas and the noise that probably follows the AMV8 path and pipes into the cabin. And it comes with all the creature comforts in the world, although the Sat Nav is the worst in the known world. Time and again I tested the system, ignoring the way I knew to be right in the vain hope it would throw up a surprise. But it didn't, it was painfully wrong every single time, you may as well trust your other half with the map - at least you can row with them afterwards. The only other downside is the rear seats are only comfy if you were born without legs and they're really just a glorified parcel shelf, but that's true of more or less every car in the class and won't be a deal breaker for most buyers. No, the major factor when it comes to cars like this is image, does it make you look a successful, thrusting businessman? That depends on who you listen to, as Jaguar has failed to sell in big numbers for so long that the badge has lost its sheen. Ford has been forced to bail it out more often than a cross-drilled boat and this new generation of cars, the XK and the S-Type replacing C-XF, probably will make or break the brand. But with BMW smacking its cars with the ugly stick before they leave the production line, Mercedes having lost its own halo based on rock solid build quality and Audi bypassing the styling department altogether, Jaguar has a real chance to storm ahead with the new XKR. It is, just like the advert says, 'Beautiful', and like the Beast of Bodmin it can rip the throat from the sheep. I just hope we see more evidence of this one.