Thursday, 24 May 2007

Gap-filling at the SMMT test day - two corkers

I've averaged about a test car a week from the various manufacturers for a number of years now, but there are still a few important mainstream models I've never driven. SMMT test day is a great opportunity to fill such gaps, though, and this year there were two particular highlights.

The first of these was the 2.7 litre diesel version of the Jaguar XJ, which goes, rides and handles like nothing else. On paper, the engine looks too small to haul an S-class competitor around, but that doesn't allow for the extensive use of aluminium in the Jag's structure, a measure that saves several hundred kg. Pity about the retro styling and interior - personally I quite like it (as I did the Rover 75) but I'd have to accept that I'm in a minority and that something more modern would sell better. We did have this model booked for the Verdict last year, but the test car that was due to come to us got pranged beforehand while it was in other hands and never turned up. One pretty much guaranteed rave review in a national newspaper lost , which was rather unfortunate for Jaguar given the desperate state it's in.

The second was the Mazda RX-8. We've had quite a few Mazdas on the Verdict in recent times - the latest MX-5, the 6 in standard form and most notably the 6 MPS, a very impressive machine indeed, if a little too understated for its own good. But until this week, the RX-8 had passed me by. And as I discovered once I got it out on the winding hill circuit at Millbrook, I've really been missing out. The suspension, which is admittedly uncomfortably hard over uneven surfaces, inspired real confidence on the hill course, while the rotary engine revs far beyond what anything with boring old pistons is capable of, and I didn't really notice the lack of mid-range torque for which this engine (like Wankels in general) is sometimes criticised during my admittedly rather short drive. Afterwards, I forgot to take a photo of the RX-8 in all the excitement, but I think most people know what one of these looks like by now.

Rather busy with the day job today, so the rest of the gap-filling will be covered in a later post.

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