Since their release from Ford ownership, both Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR) are enjoying a renaissance: rediscovering their heritage and reinventing the brands. With bold design and the latest technology, we’re being reminded of what made these British marques world famous, and now being under Indian management the future looks very positive.

We were privileged to spend some time immersed in both brands, and we’ll be exploring Land Rover in the next issue. For now, we want to highlight the sporting resurgence of one of the finest car companies in the world: one that defined elegance with the E-Type and luxury with the XJ.

Today we see a very different model line up from years gone by: the cars recapture the racing history as well as the reputation for quality. Although currently lacking a 3-Series competitor, the XF, XJ and XK are absolutely world class.

Aluminum
We visited where it all begins – the Castle Bromwich factory in the British West Midlands – an experience anybody can share by booking a tour on the “Experience” page at jaguar.com

Originally building Spitfires and Lancasters during WW2, and at one time the largest press shop in Europe, the XJ assembly plant is now one of the most advanced in Europe thanks to the car’s comprehensive aluminum production.

New techniques were developed for the world’s first aluminum monocoque bodyshell. As a result, there are no welding stations in the plant because it would disrupt the metal’s chemical structure. There are no holes drilled for the 3000 rivets in each car either. Instead the self-piercing rivets are fired into the panels for maximum integrity. With adhesive added for extra security (though not strictly needed), the XJ bodyshell is 40% lighter than the equivalent steel. It’s roughly the weight than the Mini’s steel structure yet incredibly stiff, as our racetrack experience would soon highlight. This glue and rivet process was proven to be three times stronger and five times more durable than spot-welding.

Around 440 lb lighter than the BMW 7-Series and similar to the Audi A8, the XJ’s lightweight construction has huge benefits in terms of engine, steering, suspension and brake performance, as well as fuel economy. The cars are almost totally recyclable as well, adding to the list of green credentials.

Taking six days to build, each car is essentially constructed by hand, with robots only employed for the heavier work.

The Ring
In order to prove its new technology and fine-tune such high-performance vehicles, Jaguar has used the Nürburgring for 20 years and was the first carmaker to build an on-site test center in 2003.

A staff of 10-15 personnel occupies the facility from March to October. They compile data that is fed back to the engineers in Gaydon, UK.

One lap of the Ring can simulate hundreds of miles of daily use, subjecting the structure and components to forces that quickly identify weakness. At the start of a typical lap, for example, the brakes quickly reach and maintain 600˚C for almost the entire 12.9-mile Nordschleife lap, giving them an unusually severe test. Structural rigidity, stability control, traction control and ABS systems are all scrutinized and developed here. In fact, the facility manager reported that every test car gets new brakes and tires each day when testing, such are the rigors.

While manufacturers claim scientific reasons for being here, we all know it’s the dream of every petrolhead to tackle the intimidating course. As I climbed into the passenger seat of a matte-black XKR-S Convertible development mule alongside XK development engineer David Pook, his grin gave the game away.

Ducking under the rollcage and pulling on the racing harness, drops of rain on the windshield meant this was going to be unforgettable, one way or another…

Considering the number of laps the car had completed, I was impressed at its integrity. Even on public roads it didn’t creak or groan as expected. Tell-tale markings on the body panels were to indicate panel movement caused by structural flexing, yet the shut lines were perfect.

With its polished tarmac in older sections and slick curbs, the Nordschleife is doubly treacherous in the wet. David’s pace seemed almost pedestrian and yet the speedo said otherwise.

After what seemed like two minutes, the 14km board flashed past and the lap was ending. I’d driven the track previously at slow speed and remembered it being more of a journey, we were definitely moving along…

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