RED HOT IN THE DESERT
The XKR powers through the sand, Heat and wide, open spaces of the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The Abu Dhabi Shangri-La hotel offers a cooling oasis from the heat. Located on a one-kilometre stretch of private beach overlooking the strait that separates Abu Dhabi Island from the mainland, the hotel is within the Qaryat Al Beri complex that also includes 161 fully furnished Shangri-La Residences, six luxurious private villas, a Chi spa and a souk. There are five restaurants and four swimming pools within the grounds. The main infinity pool offers beautiful views of the Grand Mosque and a waterway connects the souk’s shops where abras (Arabian-style gondolas) meander through the gardens.
Take the E11 south of Abu Dhabi, then the turning to Mezaira’a, and you hit a stretch of road that’s dead straight for 100 kilometres. Heat haze ahead and behind makes the small strip of asphalt we’re on look like an island. Time passes at speed in the XKR’s luxurious cabin, which is both cosseting and spacious. Connect an iPod, select a track on the Touch-screen, and the Bowers and Wilkins speakers fill the cabin with award-winning quality sound. Soon, though, the XKR is as eager as us to tackle a corner.
From Mezaira’a a smaller road heads through the Liwa Oasis to the UAE’s largest dune system. The line of asphalt cuts a scar through the huge dunes, which continue to the horizon. The road ends at the highest of the dunes, Tal Mireb, just a few kilometres from the Saudi Arabian border and the Empty Quarter. The heat is immense. 52C! It’s too hot to have the XKR’s roof down and we’re lucky to have the XKR’s heated and cooled seats. These are the type of punishing conditions in which Jaguars are tested.
As well as the challenges of the Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany and the cold of Swedish winters, the Jaguar Vehicle Integrity department subject new cars to summer in Death Valley, where the temperatures also peak above 50C. Prototypes have their engine, transmission and air-conditioning systems assessed after they are ‘soaked’ in these high temperatures.
JUMEIRAH BAB AL SHAMS DESERT RESORT AND SPA
In the desert outside of Dubai is the Jumeirah Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa. The large swimming pool complex is a wonderful place to cool off, and rooftop terraces provide secluded areas to relax. The healthy range of activities on offer includes horse and camel riding, archery and yoga. But perhaps the highlight of the resort is the Hadheerah desert restaurant, a recreated Bedouin camp where live cooking stations offer Middle Eastern cuisine.
Dubai’s Zuma is a modern take on the informal Japanese izakaya, a type of bar that serves food. Dishes are prepared in three areas: the main kitchen, the sushi counter and the robata grill. At the counter and grill diners can sit and watch the chefs prepare their meals. Zuma dishes are designed for sharing – rather than offering a normal starter and main course structure, food is brought to the table throughout the meal. Along with any selection of sushi and sashimi, we recommend the chicken skewers with baby leek and the miso marinated black cod wrapped in hoba leaf.
Just outside the oasis city of Al Ain is the incredible Jebel Hefeet mountain road. Its smooth asphalt snakes up the mountain for 11.1 kilometres to a scenic lookout. Near the top is a palace belonging to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The road was built for him. There are hardly any other cars around and, because two of the three lanes are for climbing, slower traffic can be dealt with in an instant.
The XKR’s direct fuel injection five-litre supercharged V8 makes the road feel flat. The weight gain from using the light-weight aluminium chassis gives the car such agility through the corners, whilst the variable damping technology and active differential control keep the car composed. The more usual approach to aid stability is to use electronically braked differentials – using the brakes to stop the wheels spinning – but the Jaguar active differential control varies the amount of torque across the XKR’s (and the XFR’s) rear axle. It supplies as much power as it can, rather than curtailing performance. And you notice the difference as the XKR powers out of each kink and hairpin.
A network of good roads gives fast access to any part of the United Arab Emirates, and beyond. From Dubai the E11 travels up the west coast, through Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah emirates to the border with Musandam, the northern tip of the Sultanate of Oman. The rugged mountains create a brutal landscape and jut into the sea, giving a fjord-like look – no wonder the region is called the Norway of the Middle East.
This mountainous region, which is separated from the rest of Oman by a wide band of the UAE, is dissected by wadis, all of them dry now, but the flood defences built are a clear indication of how much water can come down during occasional storms. Forts dot the rocky landscape and new smooth roads have been built on what were previously dirt tracks. They’re quiet, but this is a growing region for foreign visitors and it probably won’t be long before the roads become busy with traffic.
The exciting coastal route hugs the shore between the smooth waters of the Gulf and the mountains as it threads its way to the small town of Khasab. It’s a great driving road. The XKR’s five-litre supercharged V8 is deceptively quiet when you want it to be, but devastatingly quick when you fully unleash its power. With 510PS and a mighty 625Nm (561 lb-ft) of torque it can cover the 0-60mph sprint in just 4.6 seconds (0-100kph: 4.8 seconds) and has incredible pace through the gears. When you rotate the JaguarDrive Selector™ to its ‘S’ mode the car becomes so rewarding as you change gear manually via the paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel. The engine sounds fantastic whether the roof is up or down, due to the work Jaguar has done to ensure drivers can enjoy the exhaust note when the engine is pushed hard in all weathers.