From across the parking lot, it looks like a carnival. There’s a row of flags, whipping in the wind. Tents sent up. An imposing mountain of hydraulics and ramps right in the centre. Ringed by a bunch of state-of-the-art rides that get your heart going just looking at them.
Only this isn’t some fly-by-night big top. It’s Jaguar’s Art of Performance Tour, currently barnstorming across Canada to introduce would-be customers and Jaguar enthusiasts to their new 2017 lineup. And better yet, to give them a chance to get behind the wheel and see what these vehicles can do first-hand.
The Tour’s already made stops in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal before coming to Toronto. (The day I went, the car lover’s midway was set up in a vast stretch of pavement just outside Woodbine Race Track.) The roughly two-and-a-half-hour event’s broken down into four rotating sections: cone courses for the 2017 F-Pace, F-Type and new XE sedan. A massive ramp that hoisted Range Rovers up on an almost 45-degree angle. And Jaguar’s propriety “smart cone” game, where drivers are scored on speed, accuracy and efficiency as you put the XE through its paces on a makeshift track.
It’s all in the service of bringing Jaguar/Land Rover to the masses, and helping them stand out in a crowded luxury car marketplace. The idea being that once they get you behind the wheel of one of these things, you’re not going to want to get out.
Our day started out in the 2017 F-Pace, and despite the fact that you’re probably not picturing an SUV when you think about buying a Jag, it’s impressively nimble around the ring of cones, with all the luxe bells and whistles you’d expect from the brand and a supercharged engine to match. It may not be the car you came to drive, but it might be the one you’re most apt to walk away with.
From there, it was on to test out the XE and F-Type R (AKA the car you came to drive) on the autocross course. It’s hard to get the full measure of the F-Type and its 550-horsepower supercharged V8 in a parking lot; a few laps around the cones, and you feel like you’re only scratching the surface of what this car can do. But it only makes sense to leave you wanting more: this event is meant to stoke the itch, not salve it. And even just hearing the F-Type’s engine leaves an impression. Jaguar likes to talk about its flagship sports car being “built like a jet” — 75% of their aluminum comes from recycled Boeing airplanes — and it certainly sounds like one taking off.
But then they fired up the Range Rover Sport SVR for comparison, and it’s no slouch in the noise department either. There’s some definite power lurking in this throaty engine. And while Land Rover willingly admits that 99% of the people who buy this premium SUV — with its leather-lined cabin and Meridian sound system — will probably only be taking it to the grocery store and back, don’t let that fool you. It’s also got some serious off-road bonafides.
Enter the ramp. The whole experience is something like an anti-rollercoaster: you climb aboard, strap in, and go through that familiar slow, creeping ascent, as the Range Rover climbs up a steep 45-degree incline. After a few seconds, all you can see is sky. Only instead of a stomach-churning drop, the car’s “rock crawl” mode — essentially a cruise control for off-road conditions — helps brings you down nice and slow. (It’s not an unwelcome bait-and-switch.)
But the day’s real highlight is Jaguar’s “smart cone” course — a maze of cones equipped with LEDs on top that turns any parking lot into an improvised race track. Green lights show you which set of cones you’re aiming for, and it’s up to the driver to figure out the best (read: shortest) line through the course, rewarding a steady foot and good vision more than straight speed. Computer-generated and randomized each time, it’s like a Go-Kart track for a generation weaned on Forza and Gran Turismo.
It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. And over all too soon. Jaguar’s Art of Performance Tour still has one more stop in Toronto this week, setting up at Ontario Place from October 20th to the 23rd. And it’s easy to see the point of this cross-Canada roadshow. By the time it was all over, I just wanted to get back in line and go around again.