The new XF Sportbrake has landed, and it’s a Triumph. Or maybe a Rover. It’s difficult to tell nowadays, but it probably doesn’t matter.
People often accuse me of being horrid about the current range of Jaguars and it’s true that I have on occasion been vocally critical of them. ‘Why?’ they plead, as they pin me by the shirtfront against the most convenient stout object, before regaling me with tales of aluminium intensive body structures, handling-biased chassis dynamics and, well that’s about as much as they can muster generally. I’ve said rather a lot on this subject in the past – (‘yes we know’, they chorus) – but just for the purposes of clarity, and to reiterate, my issues with the current crop of JLR’s Jaguar-branded saloons and crossovers are as follows:
Iterative, conservative, unengaging exterior styling. (F-Type excepted)
Gloomy, charmless (and poorly finished) interior ambience. (XJ excepted)
A repudiation of over 50 years of chassis engineering heritage – (a much-praised handling bias combined with peerless refinement, ride comfort and NVH suppression) – for a harsh-riding, non-compliant, Germanic dynamic package.
The near impossibility of specifying a pleasant petrol-engine apart from some low-volume, fire-breathing multi-cylinder thing that pops and farts on the over-run.
A focus upon the fleet market, with all facets optimised to the all important CO2 and BIK figures.
An over-emphasis on model/spec parity with the German big three.
Once again, (and at the risk of repetition), I make this point. These factors, while lamentable, could perhaps be justified if brand-Jaguar was genuinely making inroads against its German prestige rivals. But the sales figures tell a different story. Now if one never left Warwickshire, it would be quite easy to imagine that the new XE/XF twins were amongst the top sellers in their respective classes, such is the number of them on the roads. Elsewhere however, this is palpably not the case.
All of which leads us to last week’s announcement of the long awaited XF ‘Sportbrake’. Long-awaited in the sense that it arrives almost two years after the launch of the saloon; a car which has so far struggled in the marketplace. According to styling chief and spokesman on all things Jaguar-branded, Ian Callum, the estate body was part of the XF’s product plan from the beginning, so why the delay?
It’s possible it was one of resource. With such a huge model programme in hand, the logistics for JLR surrounding manufacturing and supply chain must be fearsome and in addition there are only so many engineers to go around. The cynical of mind might equally suggest the timelag was deliberate on their part. With the F-Pace crossover quickly following the XE/XF twins to market, the SUV took priority and was allowed time to ‘bed in’ before launching a model line which could have potentially stolen some of its lunch money.
As expected, Jaguar stylists have done a thorough, if once again conservative job. It looks fine I suppose, if you want something quite like a 5-Series, only less baroque. The tail lamps are awful, by the way. Frankly, this tirelessly repeated F-Type motif is wearing thin now. But like its saloon counterpart there’s nothing to see here really, just another ‘nearly-but-not-quite’ Jag.
Speaking of lunch money by the way, across the fence at Land Rover, Gerry (I’m Gerry McGovern, that’s my name and I don’t care who knows it) McGovern and his Range Rover minions have aced it with the (exterior and interior) styling of the forthcoming Velar, adding further fuel to the suggestion that there is a glass ceiling operating within JLR and I’m not referring to the one available as a cost-option on the XF ‘Sportbrake’.
It’s increasingly difficult to shake the notion that JLR is perhaps in something of a holding pattern with brand Jaguar now, going through the motions before making one final stab by reinventing it as a pure-electric product. It’s likely this is where the Coventry cat’s centre of gravity now lies. Some might even be tempted to call it the next leap. Or to put it another way, it’s not how far you fall, it’s where you land.