Pity Jaguar. More specifically, pity Jaguar’s design team. Working for one of the most evocative, well-loved car brands in the world, with a rich history of producing sporting, luxury – but most of all beautiful – cars, might seem like a dream job. Yet when every man and his dog has an opinion on what a Jaguar is, and should be, it’s a tricky task. But after the years of retro style mis-adventures (the X-Type and S-Type), Jaguar is returning to form. But while most commentators seem settled on the view that modern Jags are the equal of the German triumvirate for ride, handling, performance and quality; styling and design are somewhat thornier issues.
The last XJ - the best car in its class in many areas - was still more Bexhill Pavilion than White Cube in the style stakes. It was a shame, because this mis-matched terribly with the car underneath – one that was constructed largely out of aluminium, and out-rode, out-handled, and out-MPG’d most of the German opposition. Come the XF, Jag went modern, but then whispers about it being Lexus-like and even not Jaguar enough reared their ugly heads. The company can’t seem to win.
The XJ is the final chapter in repositioning the company in terms of design, completing a job that started with the XK, and continued with the XF. It’s also the most daring, and the most shocking piece of design of the three. No one’s been criticising Jaguar for overt-retro style references this time around. Mark came away from the Saatchi gallery launch in the summer highly impressed. And last week, I got an exclusive two hours with the car and its lead exterior and interior designers, Adam Hatton and Mark Phillips - see the two videos below the photo.
Watch Adam Hatton talk through the exterior design of the Jag XJ in the video below
Watch Mark Phillips talk through the interior deisgn of the Jag XJ in the video below
The car they – and the rest of Jaguar’s team – have conceived, is now altogether more befitting of the car’s high-tech, light-weight aluminium structure than its predecessor. It looks and feels modern – yet slightly quirky - in a way that sits well with Jaguar’s aspirations to be a dynamic, modern, but still quintessentially British sporting luxury brand.
The video interviews reveal a more in-depth, detailed overview of the design, as told by the designers. Watch and see whether you think they've succeeded - we'd be interested to hear your comments. I'm not going to pass judgement on the design until I've seen the cars on the road and driven one. Only then will I be able to make up my mind on this car’s two most contentious elements – that blacked-out pillar, and the fully virtual TFT instrument display. Many will have already made up their minds on these aspects based on the pictures – in which there’s a heaviness around the rear three quarters, and over the wheel arches, that feels a tad un-Jaguar-like. Equally, many will dismiss the virtual screen, saying it’ll never match the classiness of a well detailed set of ‘real’ dials. Those doubters may be proved right.
Yet in the flesh, there’s a presence to the XJ that sucks you in. No, that rear-pillar doesn’t truly work when the car's static, but this car grows on you, and keeps you attention by asking you questions. For all the Citroen C6 / Maserati Quattroporte references made post its summer launch, the cars that the XJ reminded me of most, after a few hours in its presence, were the Audi A5 and A7 Sportbacks. Maybe that sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s meant more in relation to a sense of modernity - than style or surfacing - and as a compliment.
It’s a different, modern piece of work the XJ, and undoubtedly brave in a class that is probably the most conservative of all automotive segments. Yet in many ways it makes sense. It’s less clear than ever who the luxury car customer actually is. The sector has been shrinking faster than most, and is under great pressure for image and environmental reasons.
Rather than simply aping the S-class/A8 model, Jaguar’s done something different – and positioned this car slightly apart from that market, doing something that fits both with the brand, and the high-tech, green construction method. Whether this will prove to be a smart move, only time will tell. But that Jaguar has the confidence to do this at all, tells you all you need to know about the spring-in-the-step of this grand old marque as it prepares to celebrate its 75 birthday.
Published by Joseph Simpson on 2nd February 2010