Jaguar ALIVE Driving Experience

I arrived at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA to the sound of screeching tires and throaty, snarling V8 exhausts. Jaguar’s ALIVE Driving Experience had been touring around the country, and Los Angeles was its last stop.

Last November, I had attended the F-Type’s launch and came away thoroughly impressed with the car and Jaguar’s fantastic hospitality. As such, I was ecstatic to have been invited to Jaguar’s Alive Driving Experience. The new cats have always impressed me from a distance, but I have not had the chance to drive any of these post-Ford Jags.

After checking in, we had to sit through a 20 minute presentation about the vehicles and what we were going to be doing. It was pretty boring, but it was for the people who didn’t know much about the Jaguar lineup, as most of the attendees were non-Jaguar owners (judging by the cars in the parking lot, more on that later). I did notice however, that this was a much older crowd, and most people brought their spouses. My father, owner of a previous-gen XJ8L, was my plus-one.

After the talk, we were split into three groups to tackle the three courses Jaguar had set up.

I was sent first to the “Technology” course, which featured the new AWD XF and XJ. They put special acrylic pads (like those fake ice skating surfaces) on certain parts of the course to simulate winter conditions. We did two laps in a XF, first without traction and stability control on, and then with all the nannies. There were two main exercises:

First, we started on an acrylic pad with the steering turned and the throttle pinned, in order to simulate losing control mid-corner. You could definitely feel the AWD system transferring power to stay on course, but even with the nannies off, I was able to stay on course and not lose it. I would have liked to try a RWD Jag on this course though, to see just how much of a difference the AWD makes.

Following the first exercise, we then started on a wet, inclined surface covered with the same acrylic material. Again, the vehicle was able to get up the hill with not much drama, but there was some wheelspin, and the car wiggled left and right while clawing its way up.

With the traction and stability control systems on, both of these exercises were completely drama-free. Even when I floored it, the car would automatically limit power output and maintain composure. This exercise wasn’t terribly useful for Southern California, though I can understand the appeal of AWD for the rest of America.

Next came the “Performance” course with the F-Type S and V8 S Convertible. This was the part I had been waiting for;  having driven the new Corvette Stingray, Porsche Boxster S, and 911 Carrera S on track, I wanted to see how the F-Type matched up. The course was pretty tight, with only one straight at the end, so it was a good test of the car’s handling, though I could never really open up the engine.

First lap was with the F-Type S and its 380hp Supercharged 3.0L V6. The steering wheel felt pretty big, but visibility out the car and the seating position was good. The instructor put the car into Track mode, and I left the shift paddles alone. First thing I noticed was that the steering ratio was slower than I expected, and the steering (electric) lacked a bit of feel. Turning into the first corner, the car felt very rigid for a convertible, but also very heavy. Balance was good, but overall the car felt hesitant to turn in compared to its competitors. Power was good. Oh, the power was very good. Then came the V8 S.

I could feel the V8 itching to explode and vaporize the rear tires at the slightest provocation. The character of the V8 S is completely different than of the V6; the latter is a sporty GT, but the V8 is a straight up muscle car. The added weight up front makes the front even more resistant to changing direction, and the rear threatens to break loose at any hint of throttle application. It was made clear by the end of this course: the V8 felt out of its element in the tight autocross circuit. I had gunned it at the back straight to about 70 or 80 mph and slapped on the brakes at the finish line, but the brakes faded and I missed the entry back to the lineup. I expected to feel ALIVE at this event, but not like this… Normally at these events they give you more than ample room to stop at the end, but the car had been running hard all day and the brakes were not holding well.

The autocross course was a poor venue for the F-type; this car begs for a track, where it has room to be let loose. At 3,558 pounds for the S and 3,671 pounds for the V8 S, this car is simply too heavy for a tight autocross course.

Last was the “Dynamics” course, which boasted a long straight at the beginning followed by some tight corners. My father and I drove the new XJR and the XKR here.

The XJR features the same engine as the XKR-S, with 550hp at the will of my right foot. We drove the exceptionally luxurious long-wheelbase version. The engine still sounded glorious, but acceleration felt limited by the electronic nannies. My butt dyno definitely did not register as high as in the F-type V8 S – but perhaps that was intended by the engineers. Handling was about what you would expect from a large long wheelbase sedan: fairly neutral transitioning towards understeer when pushed hard.

The XKR was actually the surprise of the day. Acceleration felt similar to the F-Type V8 S, but steering feel, brake feel and throttle mapping felt much more natural to me. Despite being a bigger car, it felt much more maneuverable to me than the F-type, which was a little bit too on-edge.

Jaguar sent us off with bags of “Jag Swag”, full of high quality brochures, a Jaguar hat and a Jaguar USB stick. They had an F-Type R Coupe on display, as well as displays of components and a large timeline history of Jaguar. My father and I spent some time ogling the Coupe while eating snacks, and we had a conversation about what vehicle we would get in this class. Conclusion: Porsche.

He and I both agreed that the F-type didn’t feel nimble enough, and it wasn’t as telepathic as its competitors. However, we both also agreed that the optional 770W Meridian Sound System was excellent, which kind of illustrates the mission of the F-Type. It’s not for the track driving enthusiast, it’s for those who want style, power, creature comforts, and a bit of individuality.

Bonus: A Noble M12 in the parking lot.

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