The Lyon of Beauty: Jaguar XF 2.2 Premium Luxury

This month your correspondent gets himself in a lather over the XF’s styling.

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All Images: Driven to Write

I’ve always considered the XF to be a handsome car, even if I had assumed it was something of a stopgap design; a stepping stone from the failed nostalgia of the S-Type to something more aesthetically robust. But confronted with the knowledge it now embodies the true North of Jaguar saloon style has forced me to re-engage with the car’s appearance in a way I might otherwise have sidestepped.

You can learn a lot about the nuances of a car’s shape from getting the chamois out. I’ve washed the XF a number of times over the past few months and each time I glean a little more. A series 2 model, ‘our’ XF benefits from the remodelled headlamp units which replaced the slightly startled-looking originals in 2011. Based upon the well-regarded C-XF concept which preceded X250, (but was designed after it), the changes wrought to the car’s styling were minor, but sufficient to answer the criticisms levelled at Jaguar for allowing the original production car fall short of the concept’s allure.

One of those criticisms was that the roofline was too tall, losing the slammed, coupé-like appearance of the concept. What you discover however is that Jaguar’s stylists and engineers probably made the XF’s roof line as low as they dared while still allowing humans to reside within. As it is, rear headroom is tight, and even the less vertically endowed feel distinctly snug. In fact, the shallow rake of the rear screen would put several bona fide coupés to shame.

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Since we’ve been talking about shutlines a good deal of late, I can report the XF’s are generally quite correct and well managed. Nevertheless, one which bothered me slightly was the join between the sill cover and rear quarter panel. I couldn’t understand why they placed the junction there, but washing the car the other day, I realised it harmonises with the rear bumper shutline, which does make sense. Odd how I hadn’t noticed that little detail before.

Over the years I’ve seen fit to satirise Ian Callum’s often pompous edicts about Jaguar’s disciplined lines and surfaces but to be fair, close inspection of the XF really does appear to bear him out. In fact there’s really only one visual bum note (albeit a pretty glaring one) and that’s the side vent treatment, for which the great Scot should rightly be ashamed. Worse than the incongruity of its appearance on an otherwise calm and simply adorned body side, the vent actually serves no practical purpose other than to look tacky and added-on. Apart from this, there is some lovely sculpture throughout the XF’s forms, particularly over the bonnet and the rear three quarters as the c-pillar merges into the rear wing.

The surfaces are very much a child of Jaguar’s post-millennial burst of Callum-led creativity, particularly the R-Coupé concept which lent itself to at least three production Jaguars. Callum’s detractors love to point out how the modern-era Jags bear no resemblance to their forebears, a state of affairs they seem to get very worked up about.

Upon closer examination however, this isn’t entirely borne out. In fact, references to older Jags abound. The nose contains shades of the early XJ’s, particularly the inset grille, the curvature over the headlamp units, and the pronounced power bulge. The manner in which the raised section of the bonnet flows into the scuttle and the defined shoulder line are reminiscent of the Mark 2, as is the side window graphic – in truncated form. The lack of adornment and relatively slab-sided appearance of the body is also something of a reference to the Sixties saloon icon.

Only the tail treatment lacks a little of the grace with which Lyons always managed to imbue his designs, especially the tail lamps which are too large. One observation worth making is that team Callum – (F-Type apart) – don’t have a terrific track record with derrières. After all, knowing how to end is equally as important as knowing where to start.

On the subject of endings, I’ll conclude by suggesting the XF has generally aged well and given the number on UK roads, it would appear that increasing numbers of motorists agree. This augurs well for its imminent replacement, a car which will need to remain contemporary and relevant into the next decade, which is asking a lot. One has to assume that Jaguar’s masters believe continuity is less risky than change. Perhaps they’re right, but handsome or no, it’s a hell of a risk.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “The Lyon of Beauty: Jaguar XF 2.2 Premium Luxury”

  1. Thanks for that. I liked the photos. Shutlines is the theme that won’t die: the sill panel gap and door and bumper are very harmonious. And I have warmed to the car a little more as a result. You are right that washing and waxing a car is a great way to get to know the details as well as making the car run better. It seems to be a car that is very subtly respectful of its heritage – and that’s a hard trick to pull off.

  2. A nice analysis, thanks. It’s handsome and aged well. In today’s context, the wheels look a little small of diameter and the tyres rather plump, but I quite like that.

  3. It is interesting that we were talking about the Peugeot 406 the other day. Both that and the XF offer the kind of lean, pared down forms that make designers nod with approval but disappear when released from the captivity of the studio. The problem with harmony is that it can leave little to draw a lazy eye. The German marques realised this some time ago, hence their move to ritzier design languages adorning relatively conservative shapes.

    A shame really, as the XF has some magnificent facets. The long bonnet down to the inset grill and the view over the roof and flanks from the rear three quarters are just two. I will be interested to view the new XF in the metal to see how Callum has developed these themes, hopefully removing some visual bulk along the way. I also hope that the inset jewellery (lights, vents) will receive more attention this time around, as it is via these “moments” that a pared down shape can win over a sceptical viewer.

    1. That´s a fair point. For me, harmony can exist alongside subtle twists and grace notes. Cars like the Citroen CX did this well. I will try to think of more recent examples. Very plain themes can be carried by sheer bulk which is something Mercedes were able to use for a long time. And decorative brightwork can make all the difference too. Peugeot were very reticent about this, alas. Finally, with reference to David Pye and his ideas of craftsmanship, there are aspects of visual appeal which are beyond verbal expression, but words like “surface richness” and “lustre” can convey the general idea. Jaguars used to have this quality as did certain Rovers and Lancias of yore. The casual viewer might not even consciously know where the appeal lies; a good designer does and use of this is what makes people fork out money for “designed” things rather than commodity things if they have the means to do so.
      Surely you don´t think the XF is a plain as the 406?

    2. I was sitting on my bike in traffic this morning looking at a current E Class, a car I don’t like and can’t understand. But being close up I concentrated on lots of little details. They were all surprisingly pleasing, and suggested high quality. I guess this is the way that many people view a car. Only when you zoom out does the Mercedes become clumsy and incoherent. A town, or even a castle, can be full of pleasing details in a variety of different styles but, for me, a car is too small not to be expected to deliver harmony. But obviously a lot of buyers don’t feel the same.

  4. Eoin. You remind me that I should wash my cars more myself, certainly the Citroen. I visit hand car washes and then, a year later and too late, I notice a bit of spreading rust which I could have nipped in the bud. Also, it’s a satisfying thing to do.

    Does Ian Callum not have a best friend who could have a word with him? I think he’s a fine designer and but, although he’s on record as saying that he thinks that side vents are a really positive styling statement, he is frankly crap at side vents.

    From pictures, it seems to me that the new XF might have better rear headroom. Does anyone know if that is the case? For me, the rear headroom issue really would be a deal breaker, though the XF wouldn’t be alone in that.

  5. Rear headroom conflicts with the longer-lower-wider school of design. Students of my outpourings will recall how giving the Lancia Thesis adequate headroom meant the car looked short, which it wasn´t. Volvos used to design cars with plenty of rear space and look where it got them. What is to be done? You can´t lower the seats a lot as this then affects the h-point and outward sightlines plus complicates ingress and egress. It´s a wicked problem.

    1. There is also the problem of where to place the petrol tank. In most cars it sits under the rear seats. Honda got around that problem by placing it under the front seats, leading journos to bewail their cars for a supposedly high front seating position, as if that matters to anyone other than baseball cap wearing Saxo drivers.

  6. On the subject of interior space, ever since the E-type – which accidentally set the template for every Jaguar that followed – interiors became more cockpit-like. So from the 1968 XJ onward, you wore your Jaguar rather than sat within it. As a low volume specialist car, niceties such as generous bootspace, leg and headroom could be overlooked – after all, owning a Jag was a decadent act. So viewed in this manner, the XF continues a lengthy tradition. But as Jags become more mainstream and sell in greater numbers, tolerance for such deficiencies evaporates. The wider market demands practicality and Jaguar’s designers will increasingly be forced to compromise.

    Early reports of the new X260 XF suggest that the rear compartment is a significantly more commodious, and with addition of the rear quarter light, considerably brighter place to perch one’s posterior. X260’s longer rear deck also appears to suggest Callum wants to evoke Jaguar’s of old with their more flowing tails, although I’m still unconvinced by the treatment of the rear lamp units.

    A problem facing Ian & Co is the wholesale approval of Mercedes’ current design language – especially in America. Noisy and overly expressive is very much the theme of our time and it does appear Gorden and his minions have distilled this to perfection for the instagram age. Is there any room amidst all that noise and clamour for Callum’s ‘Single Malt by the fire’ approach?

    The odd thing is I find the late-era S-Types looking more and more contemporary in this Wegener-ised world. Could we possibly have imagined such a thing back in 1998?

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