With each passing year the Jaguar XJ becomes less relevant. Why has the world fallen out of love with Jaguar’s big saloon? Driven To Write investigates.
In 2009, the world’s least influential Jaguar commentator drew comparison between the newly announced (X351-series) XJ and its distant forebear, the 1961 Mark Ten saloon. The nub of my argument was that the new model should not be judged against any prior XJ series, but instead through the prism of its unloved sixties progenitor.
Some five years on, it pains me to conclude the current XJ is cleaving to the Mark Ten template even more faithfully than anticipated, easily as disheartening a commercial failure as Jaguar’s former flagship.
It’s worth pointing out however that as a model line, the XJ has been in consistent global sales decline since the turn of the millennium. In fact, the XJ’s glory days date back to the XJ40 era. Tracking the sales data, there have been temporary uplifts coinciding with new model introductions, but the overall trend has been downwards, culminating last year in combined US and European sales of a paltry 6234* units.
According to Autocar‘s Hilton Holloway, about 20,000 new XJ’s found homes in 2014, the bulk of them in China. How is it that Jaguar’s former best-seller could have suffered such a sales reversal?
Well for a start, it’s too big. Since its inception, the XJ has consistently grown, now measuring 5127 mm in length, (5252 mm in long wheelbase form), an impractical size for European streets. In fact, every time the XJ has expanded, it has sold in smaller numbers, the current model being the slowest-selling series ever. The original model measured a compact 4813 mm, less even than the current XF, a model which has essentially taken over its mantle.
The XJ also suffers from something of an identity crisis. Widely viewed as the drivers car in the segment, it presupposes a plutocratic interest in driving dynamics. Jaguar felt the need to reaffirm their sporting credentials, yet spiritually, the XJ was always as much about quietness, refinement, sublime isolation and ride comfort as it was about dynamism.
Furthermore, what’s left of a shrinking market dominated by the hegemony of the Mercedes S-Class is now hotly contested by Porsche, BMW, Audi and Lexus. All of whom offer highly competitive rivals. If Jaguar is offering something different, it either isn’t different enough or it’s not the kind of different the market wants.
Obviously we cannot ignore the subject of appearance either. The current XJ is a car even it’s most ardent adherents will concede doesn’t entirely hang together from every angle. Overall, it’s an imposing, dramatic and confident shape, conveying an elegance and visual daring its rivals conclusively lack. It also hasn’t aged a jot in five years. Nevertheless, those who dislike its appearance absolutely loathe it. Half way through its career, it’s increasingly difficult to ignore the suggestion that this factor has harmed it in perhaps the most conservative market sector of all.
The XJ will receive a minor facelift later this year, giving it about another three to four years in the marketplace. Its likely replacement is likely to cleave to the current model’s overall dimensions and positioning – the word from Jaguar suggesting it will be another statement design, signalling the next phase of their visual evolution. All very well, but addressing the styling alone ignores other, equally pressing issues.
If the Mark Ten taught Jaguar anything, it’s the market for a Jaguar limousine simply doesn’t exist. A lesson Browns Lane took to heart with early versions of the XJ series, which were nimbler, more compact vehicles. Which does beg the question, is the XJ in its current form a moribund concept?
Because if you’re a VW, a loss-leading flagship can be justified in credibility terms with costs written off. Can a more fiscally straightened JLR justify doing likewise, especially given the Range Rover’s increasing reach and desirability? Jaguar learned a tough lesson in the sixties. It’s clear they need to relearn the lessons of history.
Where now for the XJ? Driven to write examines Jaguar’s options here
*2014 sales figures: Left-lane.com / Goodcarbadcar.net