RoadTrip: Jaguar XJ prowls the Garden Route

Image: Ferdi De Vos
Image: Ferdi De Vos

Initially, the idea was only to celebrate half a century of XJ luxury in South Africa but it soon became a bigger Jaguar celebration.

Ferdi de Vos prowled the Garden Route with the fastest XJ of ’em all to attend the tenth edition of the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb event.

What started out as a concept to celebrate 50 years of the Jaguar XJ in South Africa soon evolved into an extended visit to the scenic coastal town of Knysna to attend the annual Speed Festival, or Speedweek, as it is also called, starting with the Knysna Motor Show and culminating in the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb event, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

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                                                        Image: Ferdi De Vos

But first: some background, Jaguar in the UK marked 50 years of its flagship XJ luxury sedan – the choice of business leaders, celebrities, politicians and royalty for five decades – with the launch of the special edition XJ50 model last year, commemorating nine generations of innovation in performance, technology and luxury.

However, while production of the XJ Series I started in Coventry in 1968, it was also assembled at the British Leyland (or Leykor, as it was locally known) plant in Blackheath, Cape Town, from 1969. Local assembly of the long-wheelbase XJ Series I and II continued for more than a decade, and interestingly the last XJ Series II was built here in 1981, two years after worldwide production ended…  

So, bearing this in mind the idea was to visit the Knysna Show to commemorate the local half century of the XJ. Sadly, the only XJ50 press unit in the country was not available over that period but a XJR575 – the fastest, meanest and most powerful production version of the XJ – was, and we jumped at the chance to do a road trip with this Prowler from Cape Town to Knysna along the Garden Route.

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                                                       Image: Ferdi De Vos

Fastest XJ

Available only in standard wheelbase body style, the XJR reinforces the XJ’s standing as Jaguar’s fastest production sedan. Some unique exterior features set it apart from the rest of the XJ range, including its special Satin Corris Grey coat, specifically created for this super sedan by the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division of Jaguar Land Rover. 

Further exterior enhancements include a revised rear spoiler, side sills, front bumper, splitter and lower air intakes with black surrounds. It is further singled out by distinctive XJR575 exterior badging and twin bonnet louvres, while 20-inch Farallon gloss-black wheels with red painted brake callipers provide a distinct sporty flavour.

Full-LED headlights accentuate the distinct ‘quad lamp’ design and twin ‘J-Blade signature’ daytime running lights enhances its XJ credentials, while its LED rear lights also feature a J-signature light graphic.

Inside the spacious and sumptuous cabin, the attention to detail is remarkable. The comfortable sports seats with diamond-quilted upholstery and embroidered 575 branding have adjustable bolsters, and the 575 branding also features on a dashboard intaglio and embossed tread plates.


                                                      Image: Ferdi De Vos

Bursting into life with a distinctive Jaguar bark, the sound of the big, supercharged V8 quickly settled down to a menacing growl as I pointed the big Cat’s long nose towards the east. Prodding the throttle ever so slightly made it anbundantly clear that this special XJ was quick, and powerful.

With its supercharged V8 effortlessly churning out 423kW and a bone-crunching 700 Nm of torque, the XJR did not even feel the inclines up Sir Lowry’s Pass, and it flashed through Caledon before I could get completely settled behind the sport steering wheel, its bespoke suspension making short work of the long sweeps leading towards the Overberg town. 

Yes, one could feel its weight in corners but it was only short, sharp bends that sometimes interrupted its confident gait. Cruising steadily, the V8 purred contently while it devoured the road ahead, and after a stop at Heidelberg for a quick leg-stretch the journey quickly came to an end as I steamed into Knysna, having spent just over five hours on the road. 

Classic cars celebrated

The Pezula Resort Hotel and Spa was my abode for the next couple of days, and the owner, himself a car nut, appreciated my set of wheels – giving the XJR575 pride of place in front of the main entrance.

The hotel recently opened a small exhibition of rare cars with South African roots – such as the illustrious GSM Dart, the Rossion Q1 and the AC 378 GT Zagato, conceived as the Perana Z1 by Peter Lindenberg and built by Jimmy Price of HiTech Auto in Port Elizabeth – and special rates apply to car aficionados visiting the hotel with interesting and classic vehicles.


                                                     Image: Ferdi De Vos

Knysna was abuzz with the sound of high-powered engines as participants in the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb finalised their preparations for the annual event. Visitors and spectators were not disappointed, as the professionally run event again delivered heaps of excitement.

However, it was time to get back to Cape Town after a week of speed in Knysna and the return journey in the big Jag sped past very quickly. Yes, the XJR is expensive and can be thirsty when pushed but it also one of the most comfortable and capable long-distance cruisers one could wish for…   

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Our vehicle: Jaguar 5.0 Supercharged Petrol XJR575

Engine: 5,000 cc V8, supercharged, petrol 

Maximum power: 423 kW @ 6,250-6,500 rpm

Maximum torque: 700 Nm @ 3,500-4,500 rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed 8HP45 ZF automatic

0-100 km/h: 4,4 seconds 

Top speed: 300 km/h

Consumption: 10,8 l/100 km

CO2 emissions: 264 g/km

Fuel tank: 80 l  

Maintenance plan: Five-year/100,000 km

Price: R2,731,500

We do like:

Very powerful and quick when provoked, yet just as docile and tame when cruising along. One of the one of the most comfortable and capable long-distance cruisers around.

We do not like:

Aside from price, the only thing that really counts against the XJR575 is its bulk. While it handles well in long sweeps, short, sharp corners tend to unsettle it somewhat.

RoadTrip rating: 81%


                                                        Image: Ferdi De Vos

Pezula Resort Hotel and Spa

Located on the Eastern Head of Knysna, surrounded by a lush paradise of indigenous forests, mountains, lakes and pristine beaches, Pezula Resort, Hotel and Spa offers unsurpassed luxury on South Africa’s iconic Garden Route. With a Championship Golf Course on your doorstep and luxurious suites, an award-winning spa and a restaurant focused on locally sourced dining to enjoy, Pezula should be your Knysna luxury hotel of choice. Click here for more information.

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