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Jaguar XE and Whispbar

11th January 2016

Take one stylish new car from a strong supporter of cycling, and roof racks and four bikes, throw in a few good mates and you’ve got all the ingredients for a very good weekend. We took the recently-released- Jaguar XE for a drive…with a selection of bikes of course!

Step in. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Push the button. Turn the dial to ‘D’. Look to the front. Step on the pedal. And go! So began the Weekend.

A quick instruction at the dealership and the Jaguar XE was mine to do with what I pleased for a few days.

What can please a person more than a few days of holidays with good friends, four bikes, and a lovely place to stay? That’s what lay ahead. And we were happy. It was more pleasing, however, being able to do this in the comfort of a fine new automobile from a company that’s building its fleet. The XE landed in Australia earlier this year and, as the first part of a new series of reviews, we are taking a look at the products of sponsors and supporters of cycling.

Jaguar loaned us the XE and simply said, “Let us know what you think.” And with that the Arnold Boys set off to the NSW mid-north coast for a few days.

It came equipped with roof racks but only one Jaguar branded Thule bike carrier. With three cycling enthusiasts and a selection of bikes also at our disposal, something had to be done to ensure all the requisite equipment could come with us on a trip. This is when Whispbar offered assistance – within minutes four bicycle carriers were atop the XE.

It’s easy to like the car. Priced from $60,400 this Jaguar is bound to lure in a clientele who may otherwise believe the prestigious marque is beyond their budget. Of course it’s possible to up-spec (the high-end XE S V6 is $104,200) but our test drive vehicle was the XE R-Sport 25t ($68,900).

There’s a dial instead of a gear stick. There’s a heads-up display for a range of data, including the usual information as well as very clear GPS directions when required. There’s keyless entry – where just a touch of the handles unlocks the car – and a push-button start. There’s a sunroof and many of the same features of the F-Type sports car we were lucky enough to have for a month earlier this year, but the XE has one important extra: back seats! That helps when you’ve got two kids, four bikes and the usual inclusions of a cycling adventure a few hundred kilometres from home.

After five years driving a range of Skoda cars (as part of a commercial arrangement in Australia1 and because of the Tour de France sponsorship2) and using Thule roof racks it was an opportunity to road test something different.

Before setting off for the weekend, a staff/family ride day at the Dunc Gray Velodrome had been arranged. With one bike clamped on top with the Thule system we drove in city traffic to Bass Hill. A whistle accompanied us most of the way; at speeds over 50km/h, the sunroof was best kept shut as the extra sound from the racks (or bike) was excessive.

The crossbar struts that were installed on the Jaguar did not have any rubber in the centre groove and a roof rack rep explained that this was the likely cause of the noise. “That is common and there’s little you can do to avoid it,” he told me. Then we installed four Whispbar bike holders – two in the middle for full bikes (wheels attached), two positioned on the outside which required a wheel to be removed. This was the arrangement for the weekend away… and even at 110km/h, the whistle had gone.

Whisper. Whispbar. Get it? It makes sense to me now. I can be stubborn. If I find a product that works, I’m not prone to changing it. For me the Thule system is fabulous! It’s not exactly pretty but it’s extremely functional: want a bike on the roof? It’s done. Most cycling drivers would be familiar with the set-up; it can be seen on the highways and byways all over the country. A central lever lifts, you place the wheels in the appropriate place, slide the down tube into place and twist the dial to tighten. Ratchet the straps over the rims and off you go. Simple. Effective.

The Thule system boasts a key lock arrangement and you have peace of mind knowing that the bikes won’t fall into the clutches of some thieving bastard simply because of a stop to answer nature’s call.

When I turned up at Jaguar to collect the XE, it suited me to see the Thule system on top… but just one? Oh man, how could I explain that to the kids?

Thankfully, Whispbr had been encouraging us to try its system for some time. The full bike system is genius, and features a clutched system that also fastens to the down tube of your bike but it grabs it from both sides (rather than top and bottom, like the Thule clamp). Pull down on a lever in the middle of the rack and the Whispbar mechanism clamps the frame. What’s so clever about this is that there is no risk of over-tightening and hearing that dreaded crack of carbon-fibre. We’ve reviewed these racks before, explaining how the instinct is to feel how the clamp is by using a finger, followed by a forearm… yep, we did it a few issues ago and my kids did it again when I was explaining how it all works. “It’s weird, Dad. How does it know?”

“I’m not sure,” was my answer, “but it’s cool.” Once the lever is down, twist a key and there’s security. Form, function, aerodynamics… Whispbar ticks all the boxes but the process of putting the bike on is somewhat daunting – unless, of course, you’ve been told how to do it properly. One demonstration was all it took: I was hooked! The trick is so obvious, all you’ve got to do is fully remove the rim ratchets, put the bike on top and then fasten it all up and you’re set to twist the dial – why not lash out, go past ‘D’ for Drive and select ‘S’… for Sport! The Jaguar knows what to do next. Sit back and enjoy the journey.

Isn’t that what a road trip is all about? Minimum fuss, maximum fun (and a great soundtrack, of course).

There’s inevitably a bike that gets left behind; that’s how it is for a family with a very full shed. With the Skoda Superb wagon there was the option of putting a bike in the back; there have been weekends away with three boys (myself included), one car and five bikes… but the XE is a sedan. There’s plenty of room but fitting a bike in would be a squeeze. Still, it’s spacious when compared with the F-Type.

When you’re used to writing bike reviews, explaining what makes a car special isn’t natural – particularly when it is a car like the XE. There are many highlights, as you’d expect from a $68,900 vehicle. The dial shifting is strange for about 30 seconds and after that it, like the rest of the ‘operating system’ (GPS, audio, Bluetooth phone, cruise control, etc), is completely intuitive. The adjustment options for the seats ensure comfort is found and set (for car owners with multiple drivers). There are 11 speakers and probably a healthy subwoofer, as the sound system was solid enough to drown out “are we there yet” queries.

While other cars I’ve driven recently boast many of the features the XE has, it’s still impressive to see innovation keep on making cars better. I had been told about the ‘lane departure warning’ but it does come as a surprise to feel a little vibration on the steering wheel to alert you – then, with a quick correction, its back to normal. A rear camera provided the kids with a chance to see “idiot tailgaters” without turning their head; it does make parking easier – but when the sensors also provide ‘park assist’ (for both parallel and 90 degree parking), it all seems too easy.

I may be stubborn but this one weekend converted me to Whispbar and opened my eyes to the innovation by Jaguar. It was fun to drive, but I still prefer to ride.


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