The Isle of Man is petrolhead nirvana on England’s doorstep and a Jaguar XKR could just be the perfect car with which to explore it

Words: Joe Miller

Britain is full of motoring destinations, race tracks and museums. But one location seems to have it all – stunning scenery, epic roads, many of them with no speed limits and motorsport heritage the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else. It’s been on my ‘to visit’ list for some time, so when we were invited to join Scenic Car Tours on their Festival of Motoring tour in our newly acquired XKR, I jumped at the chance.

As its name suggests, reaching the Isle of Man requires a ferry, usually from either Liverpool or Heysham and I opted for the latter, the seven-hour drive from my home in Kent giving me a chance to get to know a car I’d never even sat in, let alone driven. I’ve got extensive experience with our X350 XJ8 though and some aspects were familiar.

Its Aston Martin DB7 sister car is an awful example of interior packaging, lacking headroom, legroom, rear seats worth mentioning or much in the way of a boot, but the Jaguar swallowed two large suitcases, a hefty camera case, drone, tripod, breakdown kit and various detritus without issue. Granted, the rear seats are purely theoretical, but the front is roomy – particularly compared to the DB7 – and the X100 still feels special. The Birdseye maple veneer, warm charcoal and cranberry two-tone leather, finished off with the accents of the alloy pack make for a lovely place to be while covering distance.

The supercharged V8 immediately cemented itself as a highlight, gently rumbling at a cruise, then whining furiously and delivering almighty shove when required, not to mention averaging 31mpg. Comfy, refined, fast and luxurious: exactly as a Jaguar should be. We wafted up to Stafford for our overnight stop, already impressed with the XKR.

The next day involved a two-hour cruise up to the port in Heysham where we joined many of the 250 cars visiting the island’s Festival of Motoring tour: a 1970s Porsche 911T, over 40 Morgans, a trio of Jensen-Healeys, F-Type SVRs, a 300bhp turbocharged Mazda MX-5 and a Panther Kallista, to name a few. The ferry crossing was sunny and smooth, but once greeted by the sight of the island, I was only too happy to settle back into the XKR for the two-mile drive to the hotel. Rolling through the pretty seaside town of Douglas, I already had a smile on my face thanks to the Jaguar which had made light work of the 330-mile drive.

The Sloc

The Isle of Man is home to endless epic mountain roads, but it’s easy to default to the iconic TT course. Scenic Car Tours had arranged a different route for day one, however. The A36, nicknamed ‘The Sloc’ is just north of Port Erin and we’d had the road closed purely for participants of our tour. We rendezvoused at the Coffee Cottage in Foxdale, a quaint hut tucked away in the woodland where the car park alone was something special, bustling with classics, modern sports cars and plenty of Jaguar eye candy, including an XJS Celebration. We convoyed to the start of The Sloc and set off at 30-second intervals, driving in a loop to allow us two runs.

Several gentle curves gave way to a sheer climb that challenged MG Midgets, but didn’t faze our 400bhp XKR. The scenery changed with every turn and the hilly landscape stretched for miles, constantly offering something new – one minute we had the Peak District, the next we had Wales, the next the Himalayas, the kind of eclectic views where you run out of ‘wows’. The road itself offered flowing bends complemented by the occasional tighter turn and plenty of straights to unleash the V8. This combination of views and road made for one of the best drives I can remember and the XKR’s torque, composed ride and balanced handling made it the perfect car for the job.

Granted, having it closed for us just sweetened the deal, but the lack of speed limit and good visibility meant you could overtake tourists with ease if you were in the mood. That said, one participant was perfectly happy in his X-Type estate, enjoying the views at a leisurely pace. I couldn’t help but exercise the right foot on this incredible drive, but the pace unfortunately proved too much for the XKR’s brakes, which started juddering under heavy use. I suspected the combination of weight, speed and frequent heavy braking on the downhill sections had cooked the discs or pads, so our second run was more leisurely, soaking up the sheer size of the scenery and enjoying the cossetting Jag ride. The Sloc was epic and a drive I won’t soon forget, but there was little time to reflect, nor let the brakes cool – we had a track day to attend…

On track

With the TT course covering a large portion of the island and a lot of country roads being delimited, you wouldn’t think the Isle of Man needed a track, but it has one. Jurby is a WW2 airfield and remains on standby as a landing strip, but primarily operates as a 1.7-mile circuit for car and bike track days. The backdrop, rather than traditional race control buildings, is distant mountains. Even if you don’t drive on track, Jurby is worth visiting for the view!

Participants of the Festival of Motoring tour were able to book track sessions and I’d opted for the intermediate group. I’m a track day novice, but knew the big V8 Jaguar would still be out of place amongst MG Midgets. After a safety briefing, I grabbed my helmet and headed out for a sighting lap. My session featured a variety of cars, including modern hot hatchbacks, MX-5s driven by track day veterans and a Maserati GT. I opted to put the gearbox in Sport mode, but I’d be driving with brake preservation in mind. We did, after all, have a 330-mile drive home after another two days of the tour.

On track, the XKR’s power was immediately obvious, hauling out of corners with almighty shove and easily nudging 120mph on the short back straight. Longer corners had the car in its element, as it controlled its bulk remarkably and seemed to have limitless grip. The light steering doesn’t provide the most feel, but the composure was superb. The slow chicane section proved to be the XKR’s downfall, as it wasn’t nimble or small enough to get away from the cluster of MX-5s nipping at my heels.

Following track day etiquette, I indicated to let them by and got some space, which allowed me to enjoy the XKR’s fantastic grip and high-speed cornering. A car this comfy simply shouldn’t be able to account for itself on track as well as it does.

Once again, however, the brakes let me down – pulling up from 115mph after outrunning the Maserati resulted in almighty squeal and severe juddering through the wheel. Mercifully the big Brembos still had stopping power in them, but the squeal only got worse and my girlfriend later reported she knew when to get in position to take photos because she could hear me coming – not the exhaust, but the brakes. Nevertheless, the XKR proved fantastic on track and as a novice, I relished the chance to fully exploit the car. I was loving the Isle of Man and loving the XKR even more, but it had taken a pummelling that day, so we cruised back to the hotel on yet more gorgeous mountain roads and enjoyed a delicious locally caught fish supper. It was time for something more sedate.

Car show

The next morning’s early start was worth it since Scenic Car Tours had arranged for Douglas promenade to be closed for tour participants to display their cars. Getting 250 cars parked was surprisingly easy and once we’d taken position with an XK8 convertible, we took in the sights. Jaguar was amongst the most popular brands, with plenty of X100 and X150 XKs, a generous sprinkling of XJS and a couple of E-Types, not to mention a V8 S-Type and stunning XK140.

Other highlights included a fantastically orange Fiat 131 Mirafiori, MG Metro and brown Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, as well as Porsches and Morgans as far as the eye could see, but our filthy 19-year-old XKR didn’t look out of place, proving how well the X100 design has aged. One child getting particularly excited to see the ‘Supercharged’ badge assured me that the next generation still has an appetite for V8s in an increasingly EV-dominated world.

That evening, we drove up into the mountains once again, to the Victory Café. Operating in an ex-Cold War radar station, the Victory Café is a rustic eatery located on the TT course and specialises in freshly-made pies. The whole place is decorated with TT memorabilia – including a Suzuki GSX-R1000 – and sitting amongst stunning scenery was the icing on the cake… or gravy on the pie, if you’d rather.

The TT course

Even if motorcycles don’t interest you, you’ll have heard of the Isle Of Man TT, the fastest road race in the world. I was ecstatic when I found out the famous course would be closed for us to drive it, so was only too happy to be up early for the drive to the meeting point at Jurby. After a convoy to Ramsey, we organised the cars by our chosen pace (slow, intermediate, or fast) and once again hosted a seafront car show, the public poring over the collection of classics, exotica and oddities.

Eventually we were called up to the start line and what followed was possibly the best drive of my life. The weather got mistier as we climbed into the mountains, but the views were epic and getting to drive the legendary TT course at pace, accompanied by hundreds of other enthusiasts and incredible cars was a genuinely emotional experience.

I took it easy on the brakes, but the XKR made light work of the climb and continued to impress with its handling. Driving famous sections like Halewood’s Height and The Gooseneck was bucket list stuff, not to mention doing so in the refined and rapid Jaguar. The drizzle did little to detract from the moment, particularly as we were sat in heated Jaguar leather, unlike the couple who’d simply draped a tarpaulin over their Frogeye Sprite…

Driving the TT course was bucket list stuff for bike racing fan Joe, the XKR once again in its element.

Driving the TT course was bucket list stuff for bike racing fan Joe, the XKR once again in its element.

After a superb afternoon tea at the Creg-Ny-Baa pub, we headed back down the hill for one final stop. The organisers had arranged photo sessions on the TT pit lane, an appropriate spot for our final pictures of the XKR after driving the course itself.

It’s easy to forget that the Isle of Man is just where locals live, work and commute day-to-day, so I couldn’t help but smile seeing recycling bins at the end of the pit lane, but that’s quite a good way to sum up the island overall. We’ll travel all over Europe for stunning scenery and driving roads, but the Isle of Man is everything you could want in a motoring holiday right in our own back garden, whether you’re attacking mountain roads at full chat, staring open-mouthed at gorgeous landscapes or taking in history. The local food is fantastic, the photo opportunities limitless and the four-hour ferry trip absolutely worth it. The Isle of Man might be my favourite place in the world; in fact I’ve already signed up with Scenic Car Tours to go again next year!

As for the XKR, I came away from this adventure utterly besotted – the combination of comfort, performance and handling is phenomenal and considering the four-figure sum you can get into one for, it could be the bargain of the moment. What’s more, the XKR took the punishment of fast mountain drives and a track day in my ham fists in its stride, without a single failure. Every time we parked up, I couldn’t help but look back at it. I’ve never owned a Jaguar, but after this incredible trip in this phenomenal car, I might be about to.

Isle of Man Classic & Sports Car Weekend 2023

Our sister title Prestige and Performance Car has joined forces with Scenic Car Tours to present the Isle of Man Classic & Sports Car Weekend on 18–22 May, 2023. The tour takes in all of the best roads on the island, while also offering attendees some fantastic once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Prices start from £399 per person for five days and four nights.

The trip includes:

  • IOM Steam Packet Ferry Crossing from Liverpool or Heysham
  • 4 nights accommodation at a choice of three hotels
  • Full Manx Breakfast each morning
  • Exclusive closed road runs on the Sloc Mountain Road including Course Marshals
  • Exclusive access to the TT Pitlanes for a photoshoot opportunity with Marshals
  • Admission to the IOM Motor Museum
  • Afternoon Tea at the famous Creg-Ny-Baa
  • Services of event team throughout
  • Kelsey Publishing Goody Bag
  • Detailed road book featuring maps, great island drives & local attractions
  • Commemorative Tour Rally Plate
  • Complimentary Car Parking at the Hotels

For full information and to book your place on the Isle of Man Classic & Sports Car Weekend, simply follow the link below!