Arrival In Johannesburg, After A Sketchy Flight… And Straight On To A Racetrack

KQ 760 is a Kenya Airways sunrise flight shuttling from Nairobi to Johannesburg. On the morning of 31st August – a week ago, to the day – the flight scheduled for 7.35 a.m. departed Jomo Kenyatta Airport half an hour late and powered south towards its Mzansi destination, only for it to hang a U-turn somewhere in the skies over Tanzania and return to home base an hour after it took off. The reason? “Mechanical difficulties”, the media said afterwards. We (the passengers) never noticed any difficulties, mechanical or otherwise, but then again we are not the pilot, so we wouldn’t know, would we? In fact, the pilot did the turnaround so skillfully we didn’t even notice we had changed direction until when she got on the gong and her voice piped into our ears telling us we had to go back because maybe the doors were coming off, or something like that. I didn’t know Peugeot supplied door mechanisms for Boeing. Maybe they don’t.

Yes, readers; I was on that flight that made the news, and I was seated at the back, right next to the toilets. Also, I was furious.

This is not an airline review column, so enough about the plane. The reason I was furious was because I had been invited on the shortest international trip of my career so far, and the invite contained words and expressions like “SVR”, “Jaguar”, “supercharged” and “racetrack”. In fact the trip was so short that the itinerary said I’d be heading from the airport straight to the racetrack to initiate proceedings that involved said terms. When one’s flight goes two hours beyond schedule, by extension that means two fewer hours spent at the racetrack. That made me livid. And what a racetrack it is…

Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit

This is South Africa’s best known racetrack, which played host to a large number of international events up to and including but not limited to Formula One some decades back. It is also where Top Gear Live sometimes takes place. Located at sea level, 3.2km long and having little if any elevation changes, Kyalami is a racing complex that was on the brink of takeover by private developers with capitalist intentions along the lines of housing projects; but Porsche AG stepped up at the last minute and snatched it up as their own and did some renovations. The result is beautiful to behold. So, tired and sleepy from the four-hour Boeing-powered hop from home, it was with some excitement that I was greeted by the roar of scores of cylinders and a few thousand horsepower as the race versions of a Porsche 911 GT2 diced with a BMW M6 Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz AMG GT; with maybe a Mini thrown in the mix. There was also a Lamborghini Huracan and an Audi R8. There were also Ford Mustangs, some Nissan GTRs and various other cars from the German powerhouses of Mercedes-AMG, BMW M Division and Audi’s RennSport. So much power. So much noise. So much speed. So much… I knew I was in the right place. And why was I there? There is this little event called the South Africa Festival Of Motoring…

South Africa Festival Of Motoring

Think of this as the true enthusiast’s replacement to JIMS – the Johannesburg International Motor Show (and no relation to the fictional Jim that people always address in emails written to DN2 under the tagline “Car Clinic”). While JIMS was seen as a stuffy, overly formal motorshow for people obsessed with numbers and product positioning, FoM is more informal and targeted more towards real lovers of motoring; hence its location at a newly refurbished racetrack. This is the first ever FoM. JIMS is dead, so expect to see more of FoM. As is typical with first-time events, teething problems abound and there is the nervous concern over the feasibility of future events, but perhaps the organizers shouldn’t worry so much; because I think they are onto something good here…

The real reason I went to South Africa…

So, you thought that the Range Rover Evoque was polarizing, huh? Some of you may have called it a “girly” car. Well, Jaguar Land Rover proved all you chauvinistic critics out there wrong by unveiling a proper girly Range Rover in the middle of the racing complex: an Evoque with the roof lopped off. The car looks like it was driven off the set of Glee, by one of its acerbic lead actresses all decked out in bejeweled tights, bangs and a pink iPhone. It is hard to stress just how girly that convertible is; and I’ll be honest: I don’t much care for it. Sure it’s pretty, just like a yellow sleeveless summer dress is pretty; it’s just that I don’t want one; and unlike the summer dress, its real purpose is hard to pinpoint. That is probably why the PR blurb steered clear of that topic and focused more on the F Type SVR (550hp supercharged V8 engine) than on the baby Rover with a thatched roof. Less pretty are the gaping holes and panel gaps around the fabric convertible roof mechanism when it has been folded away. They take away what little dignity is left after much of it was lost when a company that basically invented the topless Jeep almost 70 years ago (let’s ignore the Willys for a moment here) then proceeds to lay waste to the meaning of that entire concept by making a convertible Range Rover Evoque! What the hell, Solihull? I still don’t get it. Who, exactly, is this car for; and how many units are you expecting to sell between now and December?

Now that Land Rover Range Rover decided to not only break tradition with the kerbcrawling, mall attack Evoque but shatter it completely with a spyder version of said Evoque, what next should we expect? Are Jaguar going to also break tradition too and build an SUV?

Well, actually yes. They did. And unlike the Range Rover that I believe is not one of JLR’s finest moments, the Jaguar utility is a proper honest-to-goodness broadside hit. Jaguar scored; and they scored properly.

It’s called the F Pace, and driving it (however briefly) was the primary reason I flew in that loopy, time-wasting national carrier Boeing. Driving it was as revealing as it was extreme fun; and in a strange twist in the natural order of things, I came out of the experience preferring the turbocharged diesel iteration of the car over one of the other more obvious options: the supercharged petrol car. Yes, you read that right.

To understand it well, let us quickly take it through a quick standardized Motoring Press Agency Test:

  1. What is it?

It is called the Jaguar F Pace. It looks like a longroof version of the XE with a few extra inches in height and bodywork. It can be viewed as Jaguar taking the smart road and harvesting the potential in the highly profitable (and patently useless, I insist, to the disagreement of many) crossover utility segment as invented by the Toyota RAV4 22 years ago. This car is important because a) it should sell, given what it is and b) it really needs to sell, because if it does, then Jaguar will finally have a pot of money to play with and typically when they have this pot, we tend to see very interesting things coming out of Coventry.

It is hewn out of JLR’s modular aluminium framework, a fact that lends further mileage to my suspicion that it may in fact be an XE Longroof. The use of aluminium and steel in the chassis and panels creates perfect 50:50 weight distribution, which is very ideal when driving dynamics come into the equation.

  1. Exterior

I just said it looks like a longroof XE. What more do I need to explain? The car is pretty. Not pretty-dainty like an Evoque convertible, but pretty-beautiful like something you gaze at the first time and can’t stop staring at for a long time afterwards. The size is hard to discern in the photos; I was expecting something Cayenne-sized but it turns out the vehicle is a lot more compact than that. It is just about the size of a Toyota RAV4. And it really is a looker.

  1. Interior

Typical new age Jaguar with circular gear knob, big touchscreen infotainment setup, circular steering boss embossed with a chrome Jaguar logo and thick, easy-to-grip rim bent into a smallish circle that begs for some back-road, open-throttle antics. More on this later.

The interior is just like the one in Jaguar’s saloons, the difference with the XE being this time they paid closer attention to the use of materials. It is extremely difficult to criticize this interior, but this column was not created from limp-wristed indolence; look hard enough and you are bound to find something. And I did.

The window switches are on the inside sill of the door frame, as opposed to having the electrical panel mounted on the door handle itself (or somewhere nearby). While this is not specifically an F Pace quirk (it actually applies across almost the entirety of Land Rover products), it may still become a considerable cross to bear after a while. This is how:

JLR products are bought by adventurous (and well-off) types who may, against their better judgment, probably wind up in a wet environment of one kind or the other. It could be a puddle they are splashing through or driving in heavy rain… or maybe even a car wash. Water does tend to collect in some quantity along the frames/edges of doors, so when you crack open that window, guess what the water will drip onto? Yes, you are right: the electrical panel that houses the mirror and window controls. Water plus electricity equals something not so good; so when you combine that design flaw with the possibility of a wet environment and a probable need to crack open the window, you can see where this is going. Might I add that using those controls is not as intuitive as it may appear at first?

  1. Engines

Now we come to the interesting part. During the pre-drive briefing, we were given iPads to edify ourselves on some details on the F Pace, and I do recall with some certainty there being something about not getting an F Pace diesel in our markets for the moment. So it came as a bit of a surprise that the first car I got into was a diesel-powered F Pace, the 3.0 liter twin turbo.

Let’s just say that a car of that size with an engine of that capacity burning fuel of that type has no business developing more torque than a Landcruiser VX; but somehow it does. 700Nm is what you get when you start spooling up those turbos, a clean 50Nm more than the 4.5 liter diesel twin-turbo V8 engine in the 200 Series Landcruiser. That will have a huge role to play in later developments…

There is also the option of a 2.0 liter diesel turbo, which I drove next, and which may objectively have its own merits but subjectively was a bit of a downer. Blame the fact that I started the day off with the more powerful vehicle before slinging myself into the breadline version.

Then there is the 3.0 liter supercharged petrol engine. Engage the vehicle dynamics control system into Race mode and blip the throttle. Listen to the crackle and pop of the exhaust on the overrun. Watch the dials glow red in response to the Dynamic setting of the car’s computers. Grin stupidly. Snick the rotary selector into D (or S) and stomp the throttle. A lot of things then start happening….

*There is more to come. Tune in same time next week for an account of what the F Pace is like out on the road as well as the interesting things I observed and witnessed at the Festival Of Motoring…

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