Twilight of A Champion Part Three – The Next Leap Forward

Where now for Jaguar’s flagship?

jaguar_xj.above
Image: Diseno-art

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.

2011 Bertone B99 - image via zr.ru
Lighting is everything. 2011 Bertone B99 – image:  zr.ru

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

3 thoughts on “Twilight of A Champion Part Three – The Next Leap Forward”

  1. That top view, looking down on the car, is interesting – it might be the XJ’s best angle. It suggests why the blacked out rear pillars make sense to Ian Callum, if no-one else, though it doesn’t explain why they couldn’t have bonded a single piece of glass, in place of the plastic inserts, However, it does show up one problem with the designer’s craft. Good designers spend time ensuring that objects look good from all angles, but some angles are more important than others. It’s possible that the FD might look down into the car park and think ‘damned handsome that Jag, and to think they tried to palm me off with that lump of a S-Class’. But more likely not.

  2. What a costly piece of trim that C-pillar turned out to be.
    If they simply had to black out the C-pillar then there ought to have been no chrome strip on the leading edge.
    The Bertone B99 again: a lot of people would buy that. It’s very very striking. Alas a peculiar Cromwellian spirit stops some British designers from accepting anything deemed “old fashioned” no matter how bad the alternatives.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head (again) about the XJ’s identity crisis. When Mercedes revealed the CLS, I immediately thought that Jaguar should be owning that niche. The growing market for coupaloons bears that out. Whilst I am not an immediate fan of BMW’s product planning department, marrying the 6 Series (personal) Coupe to the Gran Coupe (saloon) was a master stroke. Crucially in terms of forming perceptions, the Coupe is wheeled out before the saloon version appears.

    In the same vein, a marriage of XK/XJ is obvious. Stop prioritising space and start chasing grace and pace. Production numbers may never be stellar, but the margin per product would be worth getting out of bed for.

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