Blown away by beauty and beasts.
THE long heritage of one of Britain's most successful motoring companies, Jaguar Land Rover, was celebrated last week.
From the brand new Jaguar XKR-S convertible and Range Rover Evoque, to the SS100, one of the first cars to bear the Jaguar name, JLR's gleaming automotive history was proudly displayed and waiting to be test driven at Heritage Motor Museum in Gaydon.
After a fierce scramble for keys, I was the first to test drive the Range Rover Evoque around the country roads of Gaydon.
Having always been dismissive of mini 4x4s, being neither small enough for town runarounds or having the same ground clearance as its big brothers for off-roading, I came to the Evoque with low expectations.
But rolling it off the courtyard, after finally figuring out the keyless start, I was instantly impressed with the nippiness of this magically fun car as it zipped along.
It's manoeuvrability, high driving position, luxury interior and parking sensors made it clear why it's rivalling city cars.
Rachel Murray of Land Rover said the Evoque had been a "global success".
"With the Evoque, we noticed a huge gap in the SUV market. Around 90 per cent of Evoque customers are new. Although the car market is struggling, the SUV market is expanding."
A convertible Evoque is now due to be unveiled next week at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
After the mini version, it was into a classic Defender for a bit of offroading at the centre's off-road track.
I'd always assumed that driving off-road was the same as driving on, but the patient instructor soon showed me the error of my ways.
Fighting years of driving instinct to prise my foot off the gas pedal and trust the Defender's anti-stall system was the hardest challenge but soon enough, I had the car ploughing through mud and puddles, through tunnels and over steep climbs where all that can be seen through the windscreen is a cloudless sky.
Now feeling like a bit of an offroading pro, I jumped straight into the Land Rover Discovery which feels like the missing link between the Evoque and Defender, with the space of a family car.
Sated, by the afternoon I was onto the Jags with heritage rides in the 1938 SS100 and the iconic E-type, the epitome of Jaguar's ethos of speed and desirability.
A thrilling little drive and it's clear to see that although Jaguar are constantly developing their cars for better speed, efficentcy and looks, that original concept is alive and well today in the XF, XK and XJ models.
I took the latter for a spin, and it duly proved a highly civilised way to get from A to B. Finally, after waiting all day, I managed to get my hands on the keys to the XKR-S. The most powerful production car Jaguar has built, the feeling of speed as you put your foot to the floor is phenomenal and was enough to plaster a silly grin to my face for the rest of the day.
It is also, quite simply beautiful, with a sleek yet powerful looking body and all the elegance and discrete luxury a Jaguar driver can expect inside.
With so much to offer, it's not surprising it was crowned 2011 Sports Car of the Year and that the new convertible version was the day's favourite.
DREAM MACHINE: JLR's Jaguar XKR-S