Our Garage

The long and short of it

ASH WESTERMAN

This pic snapped in my street highlights where JLR customers are spending their money. Combined, the Velar (pictured) and Jaguar F-Pace have sold 1872 units in Australia (YTD), compared with just a few dozen XF Sportbrakes. It also highlights the differences in length: at 4804mm, the Velar is 151mm shorter than the Sportbrake, while an F-Pace is even more compact, at 4731mm. Occasionally the Sportbrake’ dimensions denied me a rock-star parking spot, but the vast load space did compensate.

Pondering claws and effect

End of Jaguar loan sees Westerman wandering the pet cemetery

JAGUAR SPORTBRAKE 25t

Date acquired: July 2018

Price as tested: $120,000

This month: 1402km @ 11.2L/100km

Overall: 5875km @ 11.0L/100km

Stop-start me if you’ heard this before...

The theoretical benefits of a stop-start system are not lost on me: reduced consumption, a cut to tailpipe emissions in congested areas. But am the only one wishing there was a menu option to keep it switched off until you actually wanted it back on? The Jag’ system is not instantaneous on the restart, and does it with a bit of an audible chunter. Other brands, which detect which cylinder is primed for a combustion stroke, provide more seamless operation.

ALLOW me to share a few things that were not said from the driver’s seat of the Jag wagon during my five-month tenure. The first: “Hey honey, there’s a muddy, rocky, rutted trail that surely leads to somewhere magical – what a shame we can’t explore it because we’re not in a SUV.”

Nor was this ever heard: “If only I was in a more elevated driving position, I’d have a much better view of this wretched Sydney traffic.”

You get the gist. I know I’m way out of step with a big percentage of Aussie cars buyers, and JLR’s own sales of the Velar and F-Pace SUVs in the year to date (see sidebar, above) are indicators of just how strong the tide is.

But my time with the big Sportbrake proved to me why large family wagons were such a staple of Aussie motoring life for so long. For me, it’s about fitness for purpose. Put simply, the Sportbrake delivered everything I want and need in a daily driver: a generous load area, room for long-wheelbase teenagers in the back, healthy torque to overcome the inevitable weight, a resolved, comfortable ride, tactile, accurate steering, and a quiet cabin. The fact that the XF laps up a spirited punt so eagerly is almost a bonus, but the core dynamic goodness is something I enjoyed every time I drove it, and underpinned the affection I developed for the car.

Here’s another telling fact: after a week in Victoria testing the 47-strong COTY field, there was a not a single car from that event that I wished was occupying my parking space instead of the Jag. And that includes the brand’s own I-Pace, the mega-dollar Bentley Conti, and beautifully resolved Alpine A110. All have plenty of virtues, of course, but none could slot into my life and deliver the crucial daily usability I need.

And let’s not overlook the fact that in the time I had it, and the near-6000km I travelled, the XF didn’t develop a single rattle or software glitch, let alone anything more serious. Jaguar has consistently ranked highly in JD Power customer satisfaction ratings, and my (albeit brief) time as an ‘owner’ aligned with this.

The judging role during COTY week does make you something of an ‘against-the-criteria’ data-crunching machine, though, and if I put the Sportbrake under the Value spotlight, it does start to expose some shortcomings – especially a close look at the $28K of options fitted to this car. The one I find most objectionable is the $4360 active safety pack, which bundles rear cross-traffic alert with blind-spot monitoring and a few other functions. Crosstraffic alert is, I reckon, an absolute essential on any car, let alone one that measures 4955mm in length. Imagine declining this pack due to the expense, only for you (or your loved one) to be T-boned while reversing out of an unsighted driveway. Doesn’t bear thinking about, so it’s hardly an option.

Then there was a matt carbonfibre interior trim, which didn’t look like $3470 worth no matter how hard I stared at it. The fixed panoramic roof, the other big-ticket item (at $4910 with gesture control) was nice to have, but I really only opened the retractable blind at night or on heavily overcast days, as sunshine brought too many reflections on the screens.

Against the efficiency criteria? Not brilliant at around 11.0L/100km overall, but that’s Sydney traffic for you. Less bumper-to-bummer driving and more 80-100km/h cruising, and it’s a low-9s car.

The bigger challenge facing not just Jaguar, but all of the premium brands, is the gulf between their prices and those of the Japanese and Koreans, when the real-world gap in performance, presentation, safety, and equipment continues to shrink. The Mazda 6 wagon being run by art director Felipe is a prime example of this.

Yet the Jaguar does have a degree of presence and a feelgood factor that made it a lovely thing to slide into each day, despite me pointing out a few areas that could use some additional attention (partly because that’s my job, and partly because I’m a champion whinger). But those criticisms – the lack of a more overtly sporting engine character, or the fact the interior design feels less than cutting edge – well, they weren’t enough to dull the experience.

I’ve revelled in my time with this car, and I’ll miss it hugely. I’ve always been a dog man, but this was proof I can definitely grow to love a cat.

ASH WESTERMAN

VOLVO XC40 TS R-DESIGN

Date acquired: October 2018

Price as tested: $62,710

This month: 778km @ 11.1L/100km

Overall: 1006km @ 11.3L/100km

Avoiding manual labour

Volvo’ minimalist approach to interior decor places a tabletstyle touchscreen front and centre on the XC40’ dashboard to carry out the burden of work that physical buttons once shouldered. Its interface is one of the snappiest and its graphical sharpness is exceptional, but there is a learning curve involved with figuring out where the right menus are hidden. After a week or so there are one or two functions I’ still searching for, but refuse to open the user manual on principle.

Irresistibly drawn

Swede’s style finds a captive audience

DISASTER loomed large this month, and you, faithful reader, were lined up to receive a blank page that very nearly took the place of this XC40 update. See, the stylish Swede has been so popular in the Wheels office that for a good portion of the last four weeks I had no idea where it was.

GOT YOU COVERED

Taut surfacing and short overhangs help give the XC40 real street appeal

Editor Inwood reluctantly renounced possession of the key after welcoming the XC40 into our garage last issue, as a follow-up to its bigger brother, and his last long-termer, the XC60. But somewhere in the transfer to yours truly, the in-demand Scandinavian fell into opportunistic hands and became nigh on impossible to get a steer in, with every other member of staff playing dumb to its whereabouts.

By the time I tracked it down there were seven different phones paired to its Bluetooth system. That was no great surprise, as the owners of those devices had stopped by my desk to spontaneously relay their individual XC40 appraisals. I’ve been exposed to every XC40 opinion except my own.

What came through loud and clear was universal appreciation for the XC40’s youthful design panache. Desire for the Iron Mark brand has come on in leaps and bounds with each new vehicle, and this – its most accessible SUV – is now arguably the most attractive to an enthusiast audience.

Distinctive exterior highlights include its Hammer of Thor headlights (carried over from the XC90 and XC60 SUVs before it) and a rising window line that meets a split C-pillar and fashionable blacked-out roof. There’s undeniable flair in the execution of the XC40, though it remains friendly and approachable. Not to mention perfectly sized for young, urban-dwelling families like mine, though its appeal extends far beyond a single niche.

So the XC40 is kicking goals before turning a wheel, but we will get to that part of the equation in the coming months. One impromptu drive review delivered at my desk was presented by a journo who seemed to have evaluated it like it was Volvo’s latest sports car. Having just finished up in a Peugeot 3008, I think my frame of reference is a little more appropriate, and a quick stint in a nearidentical T5 R-Design on hand for Car of the Year testing gave me enough ammo to brush those comments off. To say I’m looking forward to getting to know the XC40 is an understatement.

Tall tails and true

Velar manages both sport and utility this month

“THAT thing is bloody lovely,” reckoned Peter Elliott, WhichCar TV’s lead presenter. I’d lent him the Velar while I was judging Wheels Car of the Year and it’s fair to say he was fairly taken with it. Fairly taken with the loud pedal too, recording the Velar’s worst average consumption of 11.5L/100km during his tenure. That’s still not too bad for a 1900kg petrol SUV packing 221kW, but the overall figure’s since come back down to Sean Connery’s preferred racquet sport: tennish.

RANGE ROVER VELAR P300

Date acquired: August 2018

Price as tested: $120,020

This month: 1867km @ 9.8L/100km

Overall: 6168km @ 10.1L/100km

Love handles

Do you love your car’ door handles? do. The Velar’ pop-out handles feature tiny buttons that you can press to lock or unlock the car with the key in your pocket. It’ neat piece of theatre that looks both chunkily industrial when unlocked and sleek when locked. Unlike the electric-release latches on a Tesla, these handles are physically connected to the latches. The only downside to them is that it’ fairly obvious to all and sundry should you forget to lock the car.

COTY aside, where the Velar was on camera car duties, it’s been an eventful few weeks. The Rangie was even pushed into service as an ambulance, rushing a fledgling peregrine falcon to surgery after its first flight resulted in a broken leg. It’s also taken a run up to this year’s Targa High Country event, the route from south east Melbourne up through Healesville, the Black Spur, the Cathedral Range, Bonnie Doon and Mansfield being about as pleasant a touring route as Victoria offers.

I encountered an exceptionally well-driven ND MX-5 on the return over the Black Spur, both of us safely enjoying our cars, although I hope I wasn’t curtailing the Mazda driver’s fun by holding him up. Having an energetic pedal through the twisties in the forest was almost as enjoyable as driving an Alpine A110 at Targa and while the Velar packs on a few more kegs than the French coupe, there’s something to be said for being able to adapt your driving techniques to the limits of your car. The howling Pirelli Scorpion Verdes made the hairpins sound a good deal more dramatic than the modest speedo reading suggested, but the Velar’s body control – even with the suspension set to Comfort – was predictable and progressive. When was the last time you had a goodnatured dice finished with a cheery wave? Good stuff.

Last month we reported on a couple of electronic issues that have since cleared up, replaced by other random quirks. The Velar cleared down all the memory settings for the seats and mirrors and then the touch panel that included the screen demister temporarily failed to function. Like its previous glitches, they’ve been transient, but could knock confidence with owners. We’ll continue to monitor them.

ANDY ENRIGHT

MAZDA 6 ATENZA WAGON

Date acquired: September 2018

Price as tested: $49,128

This month: 1035km @ 9.1L/100km

Overall: 2648km @ 9.4L/100km

Dear hunter

We all know that peak-hour traffic in major cities blows, so the 6’ adaptive cruise control has become especially useful. Like a seasoned hunter it stalks the car ahead, managing to maintain a decent distance, never getting too close or far from the vehicle in its sights. The AEB system got a workout when some moron decided to pull a U-turn in a spot not suited for one. While was on the anchors early on, the car decided to take over anyway, much to my surprise.

Peer-group pressure

COTY testing allows 6 to fraternise with rivals

THIS past month the Mazda 6 Atenza has done a fine job of lobbing the kids around and doing the daily grind to and from work. Anyone that’s jumped in for a ride has been complementary of the car’s interior and premium feel. More than enough to bring a proud smile to my face, even if the car isn’t mine.

In the middle of the month the routine was broken by the week-long organised chaos that is COTY. Throughout the year there’s nowhere better to compare the latest and greatest new metal in one location.

While the Camaro, A110 and I-Pace held my interest, there were a choice couple that needed scrutinising – the Camry and Commodore. From this year’s COTY line-up, these two are the closest rivals to the 6.

This year the first round of action took place at the Ford Proving Ground in Sandy Creek. Taking country roads to the event presented the perfect opportunity to stretch the Atenza’s legs.

Surrounded by green farmlands, the Japanese wagon ate up the scenery, demolishing long straights broken by occasional sweeping curves. Taking the punishment from dips, potholes and dirt roads, the 6 never felt unsettled. Mazda has done a brilliant job there. Its suspension almost feels tailored for local conditions.

In between ferrying cars to wash-bays and photoshoots, I nabbed the keys to the Camry SL V6 and took it for a quick spin. The exterior styling has come a long way, making the 2018 model a visually attractive option. There’s a generously sized interior with great forward vision, although you feel as though you are sitting on the car, not in it. This model had the grandpa-spec beige interior and while quite good, it doesn’t match the 6’s polish and design sophistication.

The engine – a bigger 3.5-litre V6 – really lacks the low-end punch of the Mazda’s 2.5 litre turbo – peak power feels like a lifetime away. If excitement is what you lust for maybe look into the hybrid powertrain with the higher torque figure.

Next was the ZB Commodore. While the RS packs more power and arguably drives better, by its interior quality and design. space, it’s generous and makes for a great option as a family vehicle at a lower price point.

For me, the 6 presents a better balance of the previous two – reasonable grunt when needed and attractive packaging. The list of standard features leaves out little, and puts pricier vehicles in our current Wheels garage to shame.

The keys are due back soon. Dread is beginning to sink in.

FELIPE UBILLA