As part of Jaguar’s latest ALIVE campaign, I’ve been invited to take part in a (gulp!) skydive from 27,000 feet. Right now though, I’m in the middle of taking the company’s hardcore XKR-S for a blast across Dubai’s outer roads.
As my right foot hits carpet, the hard-edged warble I was teased with earlier returns, but with considerably more intensity. The reaction is instantaneous, with no noticeable gap in the tie between foot and forward surge. Although the rear tyres are wide, 542bhp is enough to overwhelm the grip and the traction control light blinks hard up until the auto ‘box shifts into third gear at around 120kph. I grin mightily.
More impressively, trying the same with the electronics switched off doesn’t result in a huge amount of smoke and little forward momentum. There’s scrabbling, but the XKR-S is quick to hook up what little grip it can find, so there’s no hanging around. Its prime intention is getting you towards the skyline as quickly as possible. Switching to the (still disappointingly cheap-feeling) paddles, the ZF gearbox is one of the best around, with slick, super-fast changes. They’re not as fast as the current generation of dual-clutch transmissions, but somehow there’s more of a mechanical, less digital feel to the way it shifts.
Through the corners, the XKR-S puts the majority of its grip at the front, meaning that it’s keen to waggle its tail if the inputs are too vigorous. Of course, all that power means that rear-out antics are never more than a poke away anyway. There’s slightly more lateral roll than I expect, a slightly laconic approach to high-speed cornering, but that’s the payoff for the comfortable ride and after a few minutes I barely notice it anymore. It feels its size somewhat, but not in a negative way. The steering has an almost telepathic feel to it. I’m struggling to explain it, as when I concentrate on what makes it so good, I come to the conclusion that it’s too light and lacks feel. Except it doesn’t. There be mysticism at work here.
Progress is almost incomprehensibly rapid. Without the time an owner would have to learn the car, I pitch the XKR-S into corners, feel the fronts grip and get ready to react as the back end strains at the leash. As soon as I know I have it under control, a squeeze of the throttle activates that V8 which fires me toward the next bend, metallic opera bellowing from the exhausts. It’s intoxicating and I want more. But, as with both activities today, the rush will be relatively short. Time is moving on, and I have a plane to catch.
Skydive Dubai sits in a prime location, just off the trunk of the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai’s Marina district. On a man-made island jutting into the sea is a short runway and a large hanger, filled with all manner of plane-leaping paraphernalia, from harnesses and helmets to suits that seem to have superhero capes attached to them. Milling around the crowd of slightly nervous looking journalists is a sea of instructors, most deeply tanned and many with extravagant haircuts. I’m late, having been stuck in traffic coming into town, and slightly stressed as our photographer Tom has to leave for another job. I’m thinking more about the logistics of getting the photos necessary for the feature than I am about what I’m actually about to do.
Reality starts to dawn on me as I’m presented with a very large waiver form, with lots of very small writing on it. It says, in effect, if anything goes wrong, you can’t sue. And before I know it, a very large Russian man comes over, crushes my hand in his grip and demands that I climb into a harness. I meekly comply.
Evgeny will be my tandem partner for the jump – having never done this before, it’s best I stay attached to someone that knows what they’re doing. Evgeny, in my mind at least, is ex-Russian special forces. I daren’t ask him in case he breaks my skull – his arms look the same size as my thighs and he looks like he could clear forests with his forehead. He tells me that he’s done more than 10,000 jumps, which is encouraging.
Soon, I’m led out onto the runway and up a metal ladder into a very small plane. Inside, we sit on the bare metal floor in a row-row-row-your-boat formation with four other jumpers and their respective instructors and camera guys. I’m immediately clipped onto Evgeny and we take off. It takes about 10 minutes to climb to 27,000 feet, during which time I gaze out the window at the incredible view. It’s a beautiful day after a week of sandstorms. The sky and sea are blue and the Palm Jumeirah dominates the pane.
And then, we level off. A camerawoman at the front opens the door. And suddenly, the nine people in front of me are gone. As Evgeny and I shuffle forward, only now does the magnitude of what I’m about to do hit me. As Mel the cameraman hangs onto the underside of the wing and grins inanely, Evgeny pulls my head up and suddenly my world turns upside down. My stomach makes a beeline for the top of my head, and I see alternately sky-Palm-sea. The noise is incredible and as our tumble turns into a steady freefall, I try and remember the brief training lesson we had on the ground. Legs bent, arms out, chin up. I’m wearing goggles, which is just as well as the screaming wind is contorting my face into a variety of rubbery shapes. I look up and see Mel, still grinning, upside down in front of me, cameras strapped to his helmet.
This is all much more visceral than I imagined. I’ve done plenty of adrenaline-filled activities before – two-seater Formula 1 car, three-seater dragster, most supercars, that mental rollercoaster at Ferrari World – but this is in a whole new league of rush – that three seconds of terror at leaving the plane, followed by overwhelming joy brought on by a freight train of endorphins heading at speed through my system.
There’s a sudden pull on my thighs, Mel disappears below and I’m hauled upwards. The canopy opens above us and suddenly it’s incredibly tranquil. Slowly, almost silently, we glide back towards the earth, and I reflect that I’ve been sucked into agreeing with Jag’s corporate message. Yes, I do feel alive (sorry, ALIVE). There’s nothing like leaping into the big blue nothing to let you know that life is all present and correct.
So, which of today’s activities give the biggest rush? Well, the skydive, obviously. But it’s not particularly practical for going down the shops, crossing continents, or enjoying mountain roads. For that, there’s the XKR-S. It’s as practical as every other XK, and as comfortable. But it’s better looking, sharper, and lunatic fast. Perfect for those adrenaline seekers looking for something to tide them over before the next jump.
Shots courtesy of Thomas Richardson and Skydive Dubai