Waking up at 5:30 is never pleasant, but with an 8 am flight to catch I willed myself awake. I was off to Lyon, France; Jaguar wanted to show us what their latest 2019 XF can do when equipped with all-wheel drive.
A short hop later and we were skipping over snow-laden fields coming in to land, with a bump we were down and a road trip to the Alps lay ahead. Firstly though we had to navigate our way through the airport, a mesh of glass and black metal makes you feel like you’re in the lair of Bond’s arch nemesis. Leaving the dimly lit underground parking in convey did little to quell these thoughts.
Our steed for the next three hours was a ‘Firenze Red’ XF Sportbrake powered by the meaty 3.0 litre V6 diesel. 296 BHP means a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds, not bad for a car with such luggage devouring abilities, 565 litres to be precise.
Slipping out of a chilly Lyon we were soon bombing it down the A43 motorway, the further we drove the whiter the scenery became. Trees weighed heavy with thick snow on either side of us, the temperature dropping further with each mile. We were soon into the minus numbers, but the road ahead remained clear, the constant pummel of traffic mixed with salt meant the water molecules beneath our rubber had little time to stand still.
This 3.0-litre diesel is only available in rear-wheel drive; the other cars were the all-wheel-drive variants, it looked as though we’d drawn the short straw for our ascent into La Plagne. Suddenly the route turns into an etch a sketch of short lines wiggling back and forth over the next 20 km, snow fills the roads in places, and I’m suddenly more than aware of the 296 horses powering the rear wheels.
Switching into Snow mode the XF then reduces power and limits wheel spin, we traverse the climb at a steady pace, a glance in the mirror and I see I’m being hustled along by a local post van. I’m no match for the locals and give way.
We pass the threshold in the atmosphere that holds back the snow, suddenly the heavens open and falling flakes surround us. Luckily all the Jag’s have been fitted with full winter tyres, and over the 130 odd miles they didn’t skip a beat, even on the barrier-less flurry ridden twisties 2,100 metres above sea level they still gripped with ease.
Arriving at our final destination the snow continued to fall, but tomorrow we’d see what an XF with all-wheel drive could really do.
Now you probably won’t know this, but in 2017 former Olympic Skier and TV presenter Graham Bell combined forces with Jaguar to set the Guinness World Record for the fastest towed speed on skis. At 7:30 the next morning we were about to mimic the same thing.
It’s -16, the snow has a blueish hue to it as the sun hasn’t risen. Take your gloves off for more than a minute, and you can feel your fingers numbing from the bone outwards. Your eyelashes start to freeze together, and condensation on the inside of your goggles turns to ice.
I’m standing there, snowboard in hand waiting to be towed along by a Jaguar XF up a ski slope. I start to ponder why I signed up to this.
Handle firmly gripped, rope taught, and I brace myself for the pull. Starting off slowly…and I’m on the floor within metres, getting back up and one of the guys from Jag now informs me that only one other person over the course of the week tried it on a snowboard. They also didn’t fare so well.
By the third attempt, I could make it halfway up the course, the XF out in front flinging up powdery snow into my face as it scrabbled around to find grip, its winter tyres giving it cat-like claws through the snow. I stepped back, admitted defeat and watched how even people that had never skied before were able to make it the full length of the run; this was definitely not a challenge for a boarder. Unless maybe you’re Jamie Barrow, Britain’s fastest snowboarder. I’ll ask for some tips next time.
The most impressive take-home from the whole event is just how capable an everyday car can be in even the harshest of conditions. When everything around was freezing instantly the XF’s carved a way through the frigid outback, these weren’t specialist vehicles they were models that sit in showrooms across the land. It proves that you don’t need an SUV and that estates are still hugely practical and far more agile when they need to be. Would I have wanted to thread a Range Rover through that mountain climb? No way.