For adrenaline-charged action, paragliding and kite buggy racing are right up there as some of the most thrilling sports. Both require a lot of kit, so what better way to sample the space afforded by the new Jaguar XF Sportbrake than with a drive along Northern Ireland’s stunning coastline.
Our chosen destination is the Benone Strand at the North Atlantic Ocean, where we’re meeting up with two outgoing locals — ‘Cloud surfer’ Phil Barron who is probably Ireland’s most experienced paraglider and Robert Finlay, a multiple Irish national kite buggy champion.
With a billowing parachute and bulky buggy between them, the thrill seekers are the perfect participants to put the load bay of XF Sportbrake to the test — a generous capacity from 565 litres (or up to 1,700 litres with the seats down).
Benone beach on the Ulster shore is a destination world renowned for its outstanding beauty and for the superb, often empty roads which run through its diverse landscapes. But there’s another, more subtle quality to this place, and it’s as much a reason for us coming here as the quality of the scenery or the driving.
It’s the wind.
Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the prevailing breeze gently breathes on this wild coastline most days, throwing breakers on the shore and making any walk feel like a fresh adventure.
Renowned landsailer Pat Letters tells us more about XF Sportbrake’s capabilities
Phil and Robert, who have been friends for a decade, often make the trip here to harness this free resource for extreme thrills, alerting each other when the wind is right to converge on the vast beach, Robert racing in at 60mph over the sand and Phil dropping in from the sky.
At first sight, it’s hard to reconcile XF Sportbrake’s typically Jaguar coupé-like sleek profile with the generous capacity of the loadspace.
But driving on the roads towards Benone, it’s quickly apparent Jaguar’s dynamics team have done what they set out to do: to retain, uncompromised, the distinguished ride and handling of the XF saloon. XF Sportbrake holds that Jaguar duality: agile and strong for a responsive drive, yet smooth and assured for a defined performance.
XF Sportbrake retains the award-winning exterior of the XF saloon, from the assertive upright nose to the trailing edge of the front doors. From the rear doors back, XF Sportbrake keeps the saloon’s hallmark haunches and its ‘spear of light’ wraparound rear lamps. Clever design like the subtle, integrated roof-rails and spoiler let the new roofline taper elegantly to the rear.
The car’s low drag figure of just 0.29 seems particularly relevant as we drive into the breeze from Belfast. The area’s roads are varied, but always good: you’ve a combination of fast, open stretches over the tops of the Glens of Antrim, and tighter sections with hairpins and hair-raising inclines which lead down to the shore.
Conditions aren’t right for flying on the Benone beach when we first meet Phil, so we head inland a little to nearby Dungiven.
Phil lets the wind catch and fill the wing of his parachute then takes just a few steps into the breeze before it picks him up and carries him improbably upwards. “If you’re frightened the first time your feet leave the ground, then this probably isn’t the sport for you,” he says with a wry smile.
“I get the same thrill now as I did twenty years ago. It’s addictive, and it never wears off.”
Staying up requires a sixth sense for that wind. “You use thermals to gain altitude, they’re like bubbles of warm air, you can see them if you know what you’re looking for.”
And then there’s riding that wind itself.
“We call it ‘dynamic air’,” said Phil.
“It’s what happens when the wind hits an obstacle like the cliffs behind Benone beach. They deflect the wind upwards, and you can ride that to gain altitude. You can stay up all day like that. It’s a privilege to be up above that landscape with natural power and no noise.”
We watch him for a while from the shelter of the Sportbrake; following him when he flies directly overhead through the extraordinary, full-length fixed panoramic roof*, which floods the car’s cabin with light.
Kite-buggy champion Robert has been ‘parakarting’ on this beach for 21 years now, and is entirely self-taught. “I’ve been out here in rain, hail and snow, doing everything wrong but loving it and desperate to learn,” he says with infectious enthusiasm.
It’s easy to see why the sport is so addictive.
Robert skims the sand just two inches from the surface, and can easily hit 60mph with nothing but wind and skill. There are no brakes: he slows by throwing the buggy into a sideways drift, or by raising his kite so it remains taut but directly overhead and no longer pulling him forward.
His load-lugging needs are different to Phil’s. Robert says he could get three buggies in the back of XF Sportbrake once disassembled, and the 40:20:40 split fold rear seats, flipped forward. But the particular buggy he’s brought today is a one-piece racer and needs a trailer.
This is no problem as our Sportbrake has an electric deployable tow-bar option, which folds away when it’s not needed. It will haul up to two tonnes, and pulling a big trailer on a loose or slippery surface like wet sand is made much less stressful by All-Surface Progress Control.
You simply dial in the speed you’d like to maintain, place your feet on the floor and the car does the rest, tailoring the throttle, transmission and ABS response to help ensure a seamless, slip-free getaway.
If only the wind were as predictable.
Phil says: “It’s not easy to fly here,” he adds. “The wind is variable and too strong sometimes, but if you can fly here, you can fly anywhere.”
After grabbing a coffee from the shack on the beach, it feels there could be worse ways to pass the time when the wind won’t co-operate than sitting in the comfort of the XF Sportbrake’s cabin and shooting the breeze with the locals.
The wind may vary, but the stunning views of Northern Ireland are always here.*Optional feature
Model shown is XF Sportbrake 2.0 i4D 240PS AWD AUTO Portfolio in Ammonite Grey with optional features. Contact your local Jaguar retailer for more information.
Read the full feature in Jaguar Magazine here.