A VIEW FROM A CAR
The XF DIESEL S Tackles dramatic hairpin climbs and takes in Norway’s most stunning viewpoints.
There’s a moose in the way. We had seen the red-bordered warning signs at the side of the road and slowed the XF’s pace just in case, but it’s still a bit of a shock to see it there, standing side on but looking at the road ahead. We stop a few metres away and slowly the moose turns its head to look at us. And waits. There’s no room to pass, so we have to wait too. Moving forward a little creates no reaction, but a quick blip of the throttle gets a response. The moose glances down at the Jaguar growler at the centre of the grille and slowly walks off into the trees.
It’s an unexpected halt in our drive through Norway to hunt for the country’s best view. We’re following some of the national tourist routes that the Norwegian government has created along Norway’s most beautiful stretches of road. Local architects have been commissioned to create new viewpoint structures that offer a fresh perspective on some of the country’s stunning scenery.
Our journey began in Oslo, where we picked up the new Jaguar XF Diesel S from the city’s Jaguar dealer. The capital’s late-18th century buildings, and museums and galleries – including the Edvard Munch Museum, which was purpose-built to house the artist’s collection of around 1100 paintings, 4500 drawings and 18,000 prints – can easily fill an enjoyable couple of days, but modern Oslo is now represented by the new Norwegian National Opera and Ballet house. Built right on the quay, it instantly became Oslo’s most popular landmark. Various angular levels slope down into the bay and the steps and ramps that make up its roof create a place for walking and gathering, so the structure actually becomes the shore. Although the front of the building is its focus, the rear also offers a surprise. Windows give views of the creative workshops, so visitors can look in and see what’s normally hidden from view – costumes being made, wigs fettled and backdrops created.
A short walk from the waterfront is one of Norway’s most fashionable hotels, the Grims Grenka. Norwegian architect Kristin Jarmund has used materials such as stone, wood and leather to create minimalist areas. But there are splashes of colour, such as the reindeer-horn lamps and a small moss garden in the reception desk. There’s a cocktail bar and small roof terrace and the Madu restaurant’s British chef creates dim sum, seafood and sushi fusion dishes.
INTO THE WOODS
We take the E6 out of Oslo, which hugs the shore of Norway’s largest lake, Lake Mjøsa, and passes Lillehammer, where the 1994 Olympic Winter Games were held. Rocks the size of houses sit by the road and forests of spruce cover the hills, but pockets of ash give colours that rival New England.
The E6 is slow moving, but the XF’s performance gives confidence and power for overtaking. There may be a diesel engine under the bonnet, but Jaguar’s new 3-litre AJ-V6 D Gen III engines will change your perceptions of what a diesel can offer – this XF really does have the heart of a sports car.
Two versions of the light-weight diesel are available: a 240PS unit with 500Nm (369 lb-ft) of torque and an ‘S’ version, which we’re driving, with 275PS and 600Nm (443 lb-ft). Both deliver combined average fuel consumption of 42mpg, which is an 11.7 per cent improvement on the previous 2.7-litre engine, and both have CO2 emissions of just 179g/km – that’s 10 per cent less CO2 than the previous 2.7-litre. The most impressive figure, though, is that even with those miles per gallon and CO2 benefits, the Diesel S version’s power has increased by an amazing 33 per cent. And both new engines already meet the 2011 EU5 emission regulations.
The S has an electronically limited top speed of 155mph (250kph) and is capable of powering from 0-60mph in just 5.9 seconds (0-100kph; 6.4sec). That’s 1.8 seconds quicker than the previous engine and brings the XF Diesel into true sports-car territory. Just as impressive is the 50-70mph time, at 3.2 seconds. It’s that low-down torque that gives such superb pulling power from low revs and that’s helping us power past the slower traffic on the E6.
Inside, our XF Portfolio has a modern take on the use of quality leather – it comes with subtle contrast stitching on the dashboard and doors – and the handcrafted aluminium and wood that you expect from Jaguar and the XF. There’s an excellent Bowers and Wilkins stereo to which you can link your iPod for extra excitement, and front seats that are both heated and cooled. And the glovebox opens, not with the press of a button, but with a touch of a finger on a roundel-shaped symbol inlaid in the wood trim above it. On the exterior, 20-inch wheels and an ‘S’ badge style the Diesel S.
Press the Start/Stop button and the XF’s engine comes to life, the dashboard air vents rotate into view and the JaguarDrive Selector™ rises smoothly up from the centre console. Twist it to ‘D’ and away you go.
Cruising along, the engine is barely above idle, and gear changes happen almost imperceptibly. The XF glides over the occasional pothole, but there are not many of them to trouble us on Norway’s smooth roads.
We turn onto the 27, into Rondane National Park. It leads us over bare but beautiful moor-like terrain before heading down into more wooded areas to the Sohlbergplassen viewpoint. Here, architect Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk has created a concrete walkway built around trees to create a view across the Atnsjøen Lake to the Rondane mountain range. He got his inspiration from a painting by Harald Sohlberg: pines in the foreground frame the view in both the artwork and the new viewpoint. Hølmebakk used wood to form the walls, and the knots and grain of the natural material are imprinted on the concrete, linking it to the surroundings.
We continue on the 27 and take the 29 back to the E6, before picking up the E136 towards Åndalsnes. Soon the surroundings become more rugged and mountainous, and we turn onto the narrow 63. This road is normally closed between October and April and soon the reason becomes clear. Ahead is the Trollstigen – the Troll’s Ladder. In less than a mile as the crow flies, the road climbs, hairpin after hairpin up the side of a mountain and even crosses a river halfway up, close to a waterfall. In places it’s a narrow, nerve-wracking drive, especially when you meet a local bus coming the other way. You really haven’t experienced the benefit of the XF’s parking aid with rear camera until you’ve come here. This is not a place you want to reverse without it.
The power the XF has between each hairpin is phenomenal. At any incline the Diesel S just leaps forward and some of the credit for this goes to the new diesel’s clever parallel sequential turbo-charger system, the first of its type to be fitted to a V-engine. These twin turbos work in sequence to deliver unrivalled response and best-in-class torque at low engine speeds, while packing a huge power punch at higher engine speeds. For most day-to-day driving, including motorway cruising, the bigger variable-geometry primary turbocharger does all the work whilst a smaller, fixed-geometry secondary turbo waits to be called in. When you accelerate hard and the revs climb above 2800rpm, the secondary turbocharger is brought on line within just 300 milliseconds. Turbo lag is undetectable – the transition is seamless. Having the larger turbo as the primary helps deliver truly exceptional low-speed response – it summons up 600Nm (443 lb-ft) in only 500 milliseconds from idle and it’s that which helps the XF surge forward from the hairpins.
We’re soon at the top of the Trollstigen, where there’s a new viewpoint by the architect Reiulf Ramstad. It juts out from the mountain to give an uninterrupted – if slightly scary – view down the valley. The rusted steel and glass structure blends in with the barren landscape, so it’s almost impossible to see from the valley below.
Over the pass, the road presses on and opens out into wide, sweeping curves. The mountains, although still stunning, become less harsh. In just a few miles is the Juvet Landscape Hotel. One of the local residents, Knut Slinning, has built a hotel that fits into the wooded hillside. Each room is a detached pod that overlooks the river rushing by. As each has one or two walls constructed in glass, there are views of the dramatic landscape, yet the layout makes sure no room looks at another. The seven pods each have a similar size, but their footprints are individually designed so that they fit around the trees and rocks that were there before them. A grass roof hides the spa, which is set right by the river, and the hot tub would surely be in the running for the best hot-tub view award, if such a competition exists.
Jensen & Skodvin Architects designed the pods and also created the nearby Gudbrandsjuvet viewpoint, where we head the next morning. Here, metal walkways hang over a canyon as the river crashes down below. Their inward curve allows viewers to lean out securely over the rushing waters.
Road 63 continues down to the Norddalsfjorden and the roll-on/roll-off car ferry between Valldal and Eisdal. A viewing deck lets passengers watch the scenery, and this is a rare time when being behind the wheel is not the highlight.
Over the fjord, the road climbs slowly for a few miles before we reach Ørnevegen – the Eagle’s Highway – which overlooks Geirangerfjord. Its name comes from the large number of eagles that had made their home here. But it could also be because as you drive down the mountain via a number of hairpins it feels as if you’re flying down towards the water. There’s a new viewpoint about halfway down, but wherever you are on the descent it is extraordinarily beautiful. The views are every bit as stunning as the tourist publicity suggests, which has led to the winding Geirangerfjord area becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The calm fjord feels at odds with the steep mountainsides and the huge waterfalls crashing down. Such a short distance between water and mountaintop create a rare beauty, and the clear, crisp air has not a hint of haze. It’s the most beautiful view and fjord we’ll see.
The remains of old, wooden, turf-roofed farm huts can be seen up the mountains, perched on small ledges. They’re abandoned now, but the farmers used to transport hay down to boats on the fjord using aerial cables. One farm was situated so precariously that when the children went out to play they were tethered to large rocks to stop them falling. Boats used to be the only access to the village of Geiranger, apart from paths over the mountain passes, and arrival by boat is still popular today. Cruise ships dock here, but the single main street soon feels invaded when the passengers come ashore, so we head for the Hotel Union.
The hotel was built in 1891, originally of wood. It’s still family owned, and Sindre Mjelva, the managing director, is the fourth generation of Mjelvas to look after the property. The new spa suites have access to the hotel’s spa. Here, there’s a hot tub, sauna, steam bath, hamam, indoor and outdoor swimming pool along with a large treatment menu. The highlights are the different shower experiences, where each shower plays with your senses with light, smell, heat and the feeling of the water. Beware, though, of the Syv Søstre – Seven Sisters – shower that’s inspired by a nearby waterfall. You may need the hot tub to warm up afterwards.
The next day we carry on south via road 63. This section of road was such an achievement when it was built by hand, that back in 1900 it was awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris. One part of the original road is still open. Knutten – the knot – is an ingenious way of overcoming a mountain crag – the road loops around, under and over itself, before it continues on. We pass the Flydalsjuvet – a natural rock viewpoint – and cruise up a toll road to visit the peak of Dalsnibba mountain, but it’s shrouded in cloud, so we head back down.
Another benefit of the new diesel engines is the sound, or, when cruising or driving at a slower pace, the lack of it. They’re astonishingly quiet and there’s none of the vibration associated with diesel engines from the past. And then there’s all that power for when you want it. The road ahead weaves through sweeping curves, following the course of a river and the shore of a small lake. The XF loves these corners as the road dips and dives. Turn the JaguarDrive Selector™ to Sport mode and you can change gear manually. Flick one of the steering wheel paddles with the tip of a finger and the gearbox instantly changes without you having to remove your hands from the wheel. It is easy to cover ground at a rapid pace on roads such as this and the six-speed gearbox makes stick shifts feel old and redundant. This XF reinvents the diesel; all the preconceptions are blown away. It blurs the line between performance and economy as it delivers the best of both worlds – there are all those benefits of lower fuel emissions and more miles per gallon, yet this car still has that legendary performance and DNA of a Jaguar. It captures that grace and pace that Jaguar founder William Lyons made a prerequisite for all his cars. Drive one and you’ll understand.
MOUNTAINS ON THE MOVE
We turn onto the 15, past the Videfossen viewpoint and take the 60 to Loen. At the top of the mountains there are hints of the Jostedalsbreen glacier, mainland Europe’s largest. The 60 loops its way around the waters of the Innvikfjorden – beautiful, but after Geirangerfjord it struggles to compete.
The landscape here is not as calm and solid as it looks. In 1905 a chunk of mountain collapsed into the fjord, creating a tidal wave that swept away almost the entire village. After the villagers had rebuilt their homes and moved back, it happened again in 1936. And the threat’s still very real – a mountain near Geirangerfjord is now being monitored, as experts are worried a section could break away.
We turn onto the E39, then the 5, which tunnels under a tongue of the Jostedalsbreen, south to Sogndal. Immediately after another tunnel the road stops and another short ferry trip takes the XF over the Årdalsfjorden, which is a small inland finger of the huge Sognefjord, the deepest and longest of Norway’s fjords.
Instead of going over the next mountain, we drive through it. The E16 heads through the Lærdal-Aurland tunnel. At 14.9 miles (24km), it’s the world’s longest road tunnel. King Harald of Norway opened it in 2000, and it’s split into four sections by three huge caverns dug from the mountain, wide enough for articulated lorries to turn around. Each is bathed in blue light, with yellow, green and orange highlights creating a surreal experience designed to stop drivers falling asleep behind the wheel after so long underground.
Daylight appears at the Aurlandsfjorden, where, up a small hill road, is the spectacular Stegastein viewpoint. Designed by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen, the wooden walkway curves over the fjord and just a thin glass partition stops you from falling. The view down the fjord, with the village of Aurland below, is breathtaking.
As the sun sets we head to the nearby Flåmsbrygga hotel. As well as the hotel itself, the owners have created a Viking-inspired pub, which has its own microbrewery. They serve traditional Norwegian food and offer a beer-tasting menu with five beers carefully matched to the dishes.
The hotel and pub is right by the fjord, and in the evening there’s total peace – nothing makes a noise and the only movement is the village lights twinkling on the water.
XF OPTION PACKS
Jaguar has created three option packs to enhance the XF Diesel S: the Dynamics Pack, the Aerodynamic Pack and the Interior Pack.
The Dynamics Pack features Jaguar’s Adaptive Dynamics system, which was previously only available on the XK, XKR and XFR. The high-tech system analyses chassis movement, and driver and wheel inputs 500 times every second, continuously adjusting the suspension to improve handling without loss of comfort. The result improves on the XF’s already impressive handling and strikes a clever balance between a luxury ride and sports car agility. The Dynamics Pack also includes 20-inch Volans five-spoke alloys finished in either Sparkle Silver or Shadow.
The Aerodynamic Pack is designed to give an even bolder style to the XF. The striking black-mesh inserts for the grille and lower air intakes give a fresh look to the front of the car and, for even greater visual impact, the sculpted lower air intake blades can be supplied with bright-white LED daytime running lights. The side sills in this option feature sculpted appliqués and the rear boot lid boasts a unique lip spoiler. This option pack is available in a number of exterior colours, including Porcelain, Ultimate Black, Lunar Grey and Liquid Silver.
The XF Diesel S Interior Pack provides the car with the ultimate in sporting luxury and is designed to ensure a comfortable, secure, high-performance ride. Included are a fully adjustable 18-way driver’s sports seat and a 14-way passenger seat, both of which were originally created for the XFR. Power-adjusted raised side bolsters keep driver and passenger firmly in place during spirited cornering. The cabin’s sporting style is further enhanced with the high-gloss Piano Black veneer, which is only available on the XF with this Pack.
MOUNTAINS, COASTLINE, WATERFALLS AND FJORDS
The Norwegian government’s National Tourist Routes are an ambitious project to classify 18 stretches of road, varying in length from 17 miles (27km) to 120 miles (94km), through the best of Norwegian nature. They extend from the Arctic Sea in the north to the lush Jæren landscape in the south, as well as the fjord areas we’ve covered here. The project’s roads all meet three main criteria; as well as travelling through the natural beauty of the scenery, each will offer modern architecture at specially designed stops and also the best driving experience, far from busy main roads.
The viewpoints work in harmony with, or in sharp contrast to, the landscape and surroundings, and many have already attracted international acclaim. In 2009, six of the stretches satisfy the strict quality requirements of the Tourist Route effort, and all 18 will be finished by 2016, costing more than NOK2bn (£220m).