Where now for Jaguar’s flagship?
Over the course of this series we’ve made the assertion that when it comes to full-sized Jaguars, the market is at best apathetic. Throughout Jaguar’s history you’ll find the strongest selling and best-loved models have been compact saloons and sports models. Even the original XJ began life a relatively close coupled machine, coming into being out of the perceived necessity for a larger, four-seater E-Type variant and the commercial failure of the full-sized Mark Ten. Up to the demise of the X308-XJ series in 2002, it remained broadly faithful to this template: low-slung, snug, a little decadent perhaps?
Its 2003 (X350) replacement was a noticeably bigger, taller car; one which struggled to accommodate traditional XJ styling cues onto a larger architecture. The original XJ, like all the best Jaguars carried itself with something of a louche bearing, which didn’t altogether square with this new positioning. Scaled up, it also lacked the sober rectitude of its rival, the S-Class Mercedes. It was perhaps this incongruity that ultimately helped push Jaguar’s abandonment of the old Lyons style, for better or worse.
The Jaguar XF now fulfils the role previously held by the XJ – the latter by necessity a more rarefied, niche model. Niche it may be, but with faltering sales and an unassailable rival in the form of the all-conquering S-Class, it’s a market Jaguar is rapidly losing. In fact, were it not for its respectable performance in the Chinese market, it’s likely that oblivion would already have tapped its shoulder. So, what options are left for the XJ now?
Retrenchment: A vocal minority of owners, current and prospective, would welcome a return to a more traditional three-volume silhouette; preferably one that honoured the Lyons original. Many point to the 2011 Bertone B99 concept as proof that a traditional line can be appealing. There is little doubt that within Jaguar, a similar debate has also been held. The argument for this approach suggests it would unlock customers who would happily buy an XJ if it looked as they believe a Jaguar should. (Low-slung, feline etc…)
Those of a more progressive bent, (including design chief, Ian Callum one assumes), point to Jaguar having wrung this creative execution dry during the Ford era and from a sales and reputational perspective, it didn’t pay dividends. However, as previously stated, styling is only one aspect of the XJ’s woes.
Go Radical: If we agree the current XJ template is going in ever-decreasing circles, there’s an argument for taking a giant leap. Americans have gone nuts for crossovers of all sizes and shapes and it’s a trend that shows little sign of abating, given the American enthusiasm for the iconography of the great outdoors. It’s also a format that plays well in the Far East, Eastern European, and Gulf state markets. By creating a bigger version of the forthcoming F-Pace, Jaguar could produce a more dynamic rival to Bentley and Maserati’s forthcoming SUV’s and join the swelling ranks of the premium crossover tsunami. The downside (apart from the abomination factor of course) is the likely encroachment and potential cannibalisation of Range Rover’s market.
First principles: The original XJ was to all intents and purposes a four-door coupé. With the XK now pushing up the daisies, there’s an opening within the range for a large, four-seater coupé within Jaguar’s line-up. By combining both model lines, Jaguar could offer a range of coupés in alternative wheelbases, with two or four doors to rival the likes of the S-Class coupé, more upmarket versions of BMW’s Gran Coupé, and Porsche’s Panamera. It would also put some clear water between XJ and the A8 or 7-Series, allowing Jaguar to sell at a higher, more profitable price point. However, for this to work its looks would have to be absolutely spot on. Perhaps the most romantic of available options, it has the advantage of combining development costs for XJ and XK models, also potentially freeing up the XK nameplate for alternative models. Certainly, such a model could barely fare worse than the XJ is doing now.
JLR could of course elect to maintain the course they inherited from Ford in 2007 to ever-diminishing returns, but with each passing year this makes less sense. Whichever strategy Jaguar eventually adopts, one thing is clear. For the XJ, we’re into uncharted waters. And as we know, big cats are notoriously averse to getting wet.