My motoring month

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Range Rover adds spice to the Evoque

The best thing about the Italian Job was not the Mini chase, but the improbability of Noël Coward and Benny Hill appearing on the same bill. And it was the same feeling of incredulity I felt walking around the gardens of Kensington Palace for the reveal of the new small Range Rover, the Evoque.

The event was a party co-hosted by Land Rover and the magazine Vogue (geddit?) which allowed, probably for the last time, the worlds of high fashion and motoring journalism to collide. So there on the lawns stood impossibly sophisticated fashionistas among whom moved a small, defi antly shabby coterie of wide-eyed hacks for whom haute couture is the latest Boden catalogue. As a man who once owned a machine-washable suit, I felt proud to be among their number.

As for the car itself, when it was a concept called the LRX I did a photo shoot on Lexington Avenue and caused in New York a traffic jam to rival anything managed by Charlie Croker on the streets of Turin. That night I suggested to Land Rover’s chief designer, Gerry McGovern, that its success could only be measured when we saw how little changed the production version would be. It has changed scarcely at all. The result is a car that should transform the business of the Range Rover sub-brand.

But the Evoque was not the only unveiling that took place at the palace. Land Rover also revealed Victoria Beckham as its new design consultant and duly wheeled her out to pose by their new baby. I’d have been aghast were this not just a bit of launch razzmatazz. Clearly Land Rover was not actually suggesting that the sharp-suited and self-assured McGovern was really going to take direction from 20 per cent of the Spice Girls? “She’s serious, alright,” said someone from Land Rover who would know. “Victoria wouldn’t have agreed to be here if she wasn’t going to get properly involved.” How involved? Twenty days a year, already signed for.

As my eyes widened and jaw sank I was told in no uncertain terms that I had missed the point. “Victoria is seen in a completely different way in the US – and she is massive in China.” With 80 per cent of Evoques due to be sold abroad and more to these two vast regions than to anywhere else, some method at last shone through the apparent madness.

Until I went to Kensington Palace, I thought I knew very little about fashion. But the thought of Mrs Beckham selling Range Rovers shows how wrong I was. I know nothing at all.

XKR 75 is the latest Jaguar treat

A great morning has been spent rocketing around Welsh mountainsides with Jaguar’s chassis guru Mike Cross and his latest take on the XKR. Called the XKR 75 it is faster, more taut and rewarding than a normal XKR, and were production not limited to 75 units (to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the fi rst use of the Jaguar name), I’d be more excited about it. But Jaguar wouldn’t have modified the XKR so extensively for so few cars, so expect a mainstream production version soon.

Talk turns to life at Jaguar today. It seems the mood is quietly confident. Unsurprisingly 2009 was an awful year but the terrific reception earned first by the XFR and then the XJ has put a smile on everyone’s face. A recent group test placed the XFR ahead of the BMW M5, a fact that’s only surprising when you learn it was published in one of the most important German car magazines. “It’s been one of the highlights of my career,” says Cross. Let’s hope his next project, the small XE roadster and coupé that everyone will call the new E-type, continues the theme.

Citroen lifts the lid on new DS3

I write from a secret test track in France where a certain manufacturer has just revealed a sizeable part of its future to me. But I’m not allowed to say anything about it. I could tell you that the manufacturer was Citroën and that the future of its new DS brand as seen through the DS4 and DS5 looks exceedingly bright, but they’d probably not invite me back.

These covert previews are always interesting and, because few hacks get invited, make you feel privileged to be there. But they are also frustrating if you can’t share what you see. Happily, on this occasion I got to skid around said track in the new DS3 Racing over which no reporting restrictions loom. On sale in December, this 200bhp skateboard is a hoot. But it will cost over £20k, when you can have more fun in a RenaultSport Clio for less than £17k.