The Shining of Things

It’s the end of a long week and you find us today in a somewhat reflective mood.

(c) Driven to Write

It was a daring gambit on the part of Jaguar’s styling hierarchy to overturn what had become a stagnant design aesthetic, but ten years on, the X351 series XJ has not lost its power to polarise opinion. Certainly, the passage of time has failed to leaven its more visually unsettling aspects – most of which, (as recently discussed on these pages) centre around the D-pillar area, where a good many visual strands converge in a not altogether harmonious fashion.

With all due consideration, it’s quite possible to imagine that Jaguar’s Ian Callum frequently finds himself awake at night scouring his memory to recall exactly what it was about the 351’s D-pillar’s treatment he was so enthusiastic about at the time.

Because a decade on from the car’s official introduction and despite the many protestations of the Whitley styling leadership, I have yet to hear a convincing argument for the visual methodology espoused, apart from one of sheer blinding wilfulness. After all, had the design intent been to have created the visual illusion of a floating or cantilever roof, surely the thing to have done would have been to have painted the cantrails and roofpanel the same colour as well?

But while the XJ’s rear three quarters maintains its capacity to shock and awe – at least with regard to its aesthetic merits, it does have one shining attribute to its credit. As we have noted elsewhere here on Driven to Write, the manner in which light plays upon a car’s surfaces can subtly alter our perceptions of them. Similarly, one could argue, the manner in which said vehicle’s surfaces reflect back both natural and artificial light can be quite striking. In X351’s case, (as illustrated) it is, I might be moved to suggest, really rather lovely.

Given that Adam Hatton’s X351 exterior design proved such a radical departure from the cosily (over?)familiar, it’s interesting that no alternative proposals (and there would undoubtedly have been more than a few) have ever seen the light of day. But perhaps along with becoming wedded to a (flawed) styling theme; one which nonetheless proved compelling, it’s possible that Jaguar’s styling leadership might have become captivated by the manner in which both light and reflection played upon the contested surfaces of ‘351’s rear three quarters? We may never truly know.

Given that its ten-year anniversary is imminent, we will return to X351 in greater detail during the course of the year. But in the interim, perhaps this minor meditation can leave us with some matters to reflect upon?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

34 thoughts on “The Shining of Things”

  1. On the D pillar, my understanding from Callum himself was that the idea for the black coloured D pillar was that it was to visually extend the width of the back window. Callum suggested that it worked best with lighter coloured cars.

    I don’t like the X351. But I don’t like any car with poor rear visibility. And the huge aggressive snout is, for me, big, ugly and just screams: “Get the f#ck out of my way, peasants !”

    To me, the XJ thru 2002 was for an elegant lady or sophisticated gentleman. And that has been completely lost, imo. It’s just another big, aggressive, premium luxury car for big, aggressive premium sized egos.

    The XJ was never as large as the S class, or even the BMW 7 series or Audi A8, or competitive efforts from Infiniti or Lexus.

    The Mark X / 420G was a commercial failure as well. It wasn’t the styling. In many ways the 1968 Xj6 was a scaled down 420G. The Mark X was too big, and I think the X350 and X351 were/are too big as well.

    1. Snapshot one-upmanship apart, I agree with most of your sentiments, Angel.

      X351 should’ve really been something along the lines of BMW’s 6 series GranCoupé. Jaguars were never at their best when they were trying to be imposing. Elegance & poise are the marque’s stylistic core values, rather than might.

      Like Eoin, I have a bit of a penchant for X351, despite the valid criticisms levelled at it. Most of that love that dare not speak its name is due to the way in which movement alters the perception of the car’s shape, which is mostly to do with reflections. The only other Jaguar featuring that trait (albeit in different form) is the F-type coupé, whose rear ‘hips’ also play with light in a very appealing way.

    2. Christopher, in some ways, comparing the rear flatters the X351 as it is much wider at the front, and tapers quite a bit.

      But there is no flattering this comparison.

    3. Ah ok I couldn’t resist. I think for losing the frumpy fat sides two-tone is the usual way to go – look at the Audi A2 and A3 of that era; Tried high number plate. and also sedan-ified the glasshouse a little. I’ll go back under my rock now.

    4. Huw: Sterling work here, even if I’m not entirely convinced by some of the conclusions you have reached. (In my view Two-Tone should only refer to a form of contemporary pop music – especially when it comes to matters of the leaping cat).

      The three volume treatment is interesting. It puts me in mind of the current Bentley Mulsanne, even though they are not in reality particularly similar at all. It raises an interesting question I have often pondered – as to whether the 351’s style could have supported a more traditional silhouette. I’m still not sure I know.

      In my view, the placement of the number plate recess upon the bootlid would necessitate further work to blend both it and the tail lamps, but while it does have merit, I’m not sure it does as much as I might previously have imagined. As you pointed out however, there was obviously an intent to create a statement car, so attempts to ‘normalise’ the style were resisted. For better or worse.

  2. Hello Angel Martin, it’s interesting that you mentioned the big snout.

    Having read the frenzied comments by DTW readers on the recently facelifted 7 Series – and the supposed need for automakers of Europe to grow massive, ostentatious grills and highly aggressive front ends to pander to the tastes of new money in developing economies (where, presumably, tastes are also much less developed!), an X351 drove past me and there it was: an angry get-out-of-my-way front fascia from at least a decade back. I count the time from design inception.

    Re: the precious 7 series article, I don’t agree that such front end treatments are a prerequisite to sales success in the Far East – current crop of PSA Volvos without them do well , Lexuses with Predator grills don’t do well, Land Rovers without massive grilles do well etc. If one were to be on the streets of the Far East, one would well note that aspirational luxury vehicles come in all varieties of aggressiveness, and then some for the usual and mundane everyday cars. Alas, someone also noted that such aesthetics are not without precedent as evidenced by the previous Phantom. There is a sort of rot in the studios across German automakers, massive front end grills and crass aesthetics are only a symptom

    1. I noticed looking for photos that you can get an armoured X351 as a factory option, something that I am sure was not available back in the XJ6 days.

      I guess it reflects the change in ownership demographics.

      There is a current ownership sub-group that has a significant fear of being blown up or shot.

  3. Good morning Angel and Christopher. Wow! Those photos really do tell the story of how cars have grown over the past five decades. Here’s another one I found:

    The x350 looks just enormous, even compared to the LWB X300. I don’t recall the XJ40 being much bigger than the Series III (Was it?) so I suppose the contrast represents almost a half-century of growth.

    Regarding the X351’s C/D-pillar (and, importantly, the boot shut lines), I remain astonished that this ever got through to production. Did nobody stand viewing a prototype from the rear three-quarter position and think “That just looks weird!”? The tragedy is that the underlying profile is really nice and it’s just the visual noise overlaid on it that causes the trouble. I played with a photograph of this area a few days ago, but would love to see a proper rear-three quarter view with both the pillar capping and boot shut line removed. (This would require proper Photoshop skills, not my bodging.)

    As an aside, am I the only person who thinks the X350 is lovely? Classic* looks covering (relatively) modern architecture and a rust-proof body, a classic without the compromises, what’s not to love?

    * I know most regard it as a bit porky, certainly compared with the X300/308

    1. Daniel, XJ40 was closely pegged to the (XJ50) Series III from dimensional perspective. Indeed, I imagine there was only few millimetres between them. The original intention was to employ the LWB XJ4 platform, but a proposed 40- mph US barrier crash test, it seems, put paid to that idea, so an entirely new bodyshell was designed from the ground up. This meant that it, like Christopher’s fine SIII above, remained a comparatively compact car, but the downside was that cabin space wasn’t particularly generous. I recall Rover’s Spen King being rather dismissive about this aspect in a latterday interview, but by the time the definitive ’40 was decided upon, the Series III was casting an large and elegant shadow – one which only grew as time went on.

      Speaking of growth; X350 on the other hand, according to chief body designer, Fergus Pollock, was a packaging car, insofar as the size of the cabin and boot was dictated to the design team by US management from the off. Hence the fact that the car appears ‘bloated’. In doing so, they unfortunately lost the delicacy and proportion of the earlier XJs. Looks aside (and some people really like the way they look) they are a fine car. According to ‘Jaguar World’ magazine however, the 2.7 diesel is best avoided.

    2. Good morning Eóin. Thanks for that. I am one of those who find the X350 very handsome if judged on its own merits and not in comparison with the svelte looking Series III and x300/308. I would buy one in a heartbeat if I had any need for such a car but, unfortunately, I don’t.

    3. I think the funny thing about the rear pillar capping is that with modern glass bonding and black underpainting on the inner surface, the rear glass could have wrapped over the d-pillars in one single piece and achieved the floating look without having the ‘tacked on’ feeling of the factory set-up. As it is – it is interesting but the resolution of the boot (probably for a wider aperture) and the glass-lets is all a bit fussy. The lights could have harked back to older models a bit more, maybe even left the license plate on the boot-lid not the bumper and more could’ve been saved of the legacy appearance – but I suspect they were after revolution not evolution.
      I’ve had a photoshop play and the truth is – if your remove them it looks porkier. I’ve done wider lamps and some attempt at resolving the bootline. It looks like an A6 or A5 Sportback but fat like a Bedford CF looked like a Fat Traniste back in the day.
      Going to try and insert an image. Wish me luck.


    4. Thanks for this Huw, but you are quite correct – it isn’t an improvement.

      X351 has as much in common with the XJ-S as it does the Mark Ten/420G, insofar as the XJ’s shape is such that it is, to paraphrase Jaguar’s former styling chief, Doug Thorpe, “an entity in itself”. Ergo, to change one aspect of the car necessitates changing the entire car.

      However, I do wonder if everything above the beltline of the production car was finished in black whether it would have lightened the rather heavy looking flanks, or merely accentuated them?

    5. Huw´s version is an improvement, in my view. Thanks for that. And that said, it could go a bit further by squaring the lamps. All in all, it is a problematic design that it invites this tinkerig. The XJ-S is the same.

    6. I have to agree with Richard in this instance: Huw’s version is a definite improvement, certainly as far as the DLO is concerned. White is a difficult colour on a car of this type as it exaggerates the perceived size and slabbiness of the flanks. I’d like to see it in a metallic mid-grey or blue instead. Are those tail lights from the X350 XJ? I wonder how it would look with split horizontal tail lights from the current XF and the number plate relocated to the boot lid? This should help to reduce the visual height of the tail. I’d also like to delete the “leaper” badge, which just looks wrong on the tail (it should only appear on the front wings, facing forward) and replace it instead with widely spaced J A G U A R lettering, perhaps on the chrome strip connecting the lights. Finally, I would lower the bumper to wing seam about 50-70mm, as it looks awkward in relation to the wheelarch.

      Over to you, Huw! (Sorry for making work for you…)

    7. The rear lamps aren’t off any specific model – I just massaged them with the liquify tool to make something a bit wider and with a graphic that’s a bit nearer an old XJ design. I’m not really able to spend time doing more today but agree wholly on the leaper – correct direction on sides or central on bonnet only. On rear it looks silly and I almost nearly removed it earlier.

      I think the problem were I to move the bumper line down about 50 mm would be the fat bum would look even fatter. There’s just no way you can have your cake and eat it with a wedge design like this – the old XJs most notable features were the way the rear wings tapered inward in quite a pronounced, boaty way as your eye progresses from the rear passenger doors to the rear lamps, and the way it also sloped downward across the rear lid to the road. This shape can’t do that and still have the modern ‘tensile, muscular endoskeleton’ that all cars now have as well. Can’t be done.

      I think the winning form factor with the old XJS was the tapering rear, along with the super low profile shoulder line (some might say like a prowling cat) paired with the generous greenhouse. It’s a shape that’s just not done any more.
      And that’s a shame. I’m sure there must be some fuel in the fires of some design thinking for a return to more elegant days. Hope so. Sick to death of ‘dynamicism’ and the way everyone is trying to make 2.5 tonne SUVs look like sport coupes.

  4. Good afternoon everyone.
    Eóin ‘s header picture is a diamond; those lines give the bodywork more contours as on a map, or perhaps even gossamer wrought over a statue. The pictures with building reflections are nicely composed too. But we do appear to have been transported to the Land of the Giants with all these comparison pics. To a casual viewer, one might miss completely that the two cars are from the same manufacturer. Fortunately, the DTW Massif are far better informed and able to give clear and ultimately understandable answers.
    Ta for that.
    And Autotrader has many an example of the XJ at some tempting prices. But as my wife says, “He’s just showing off in his huge Jag.” She night we’ll have a point.

  5. There are some cars that I disliked at the beginning but grew to quite like after a few years – Bangle’s first 7er is a good example – but even after ten years, I can’t deal with the X351. That D-pillar is the main culprit, but I’d go further and say the whole tail is a disaster. Those lights! Different? Yes. Appealing? No.

    Christopher Butt has hit the nail on the head, I think – Jags should never be imposing. I love idea of Jaguar making the XJ a CLS-style affair, without a bigger, more upright version needed or offered.

  6. Underlying this business of the XJ´s appearance is the unresolved question of what it really is suppose to be. Is it a limousine? Is it a sports saloon? Is it suppose to be modern or traditional? Which car is definitive? If we look at the Series III we find a pretty dainty vehicle. But was it dainty in comparison with the middle of the market of the 1970s? Without measuring anything, my impression was that the Jaguar was about as spacious as a Granada or Rekord. Was it less spacious than a 7 series? Maybe less roomy than an S. The point I sense I am trying to think of making is that the drive to make the car like a limousine distracted from the essence of XJ. It doesn´t really belong in any conventional class of car. The category mistake was to think of the car in terms of other cars. Like the 911, all they really needed to do was update the technical aspects and refresh the style every 8-9 years, with a much more gradual size increase to accomodate slightly bigger people. Trying to make the XJ into car big enough for N American customers looking for S-class space was a hiding to nothing.

    Taking that reasoning further, there was no space “below” the XJ for two smaller, cheaper cars, was there? Or maybe something like a 3-series was all they needed: saloon, coupe, cabriolet and estate. Add the XK into the mix and there is a plausible Jaguar range (I am thinking of the late 90s, not now): an X-type range, an XJ (plus estate) and and an XK
    Add a CUV, of course, these days.

    1. Richard, I generally agree, except with the implicit idea that if the XJ is the most expensive Jaguar sedan, it has to be the biggest.

      Because then you have to use the XJ for long wheelbase efforts for China, and if you start with something the size of an updated X308, the stretch is awkward, and it’s really too small for the limousine market anyway. So then the marketing types want something bigger and you end up back with the X350/X351.

      Maybe they could have done like the 1975 Seville, and put the smaller car at a higher price point, with the XJ as an aluminum, updated X308 and the F as the largest car (steel, as it was) with the X-type 3 Series sized car in steel as well.

  7. Gosh, this thread seems to have become a ‘Most Unflattering Photo of a X351’ Competition.

    There are a number of elements which clearly annoy people here (everywhere?) about this car. Personally I am more perturbed by the shape and position of the headlamps in relation to the grille than the rear aspect, but those blacked-out rear pillars are odd (in concept and doubly so in execution).

    However, I have always admired this car. I find the overall profile beguiling and it is imposing in what I see as being an effortless manner, unlike the very deliberate, forced nature of the new 7-series, A8, etc. I even like the rear lamps, maybe because I also like the similar items on the C6. In fact, don’t laugh, but I feel there is a fair bit in common between the C6 and X351 to the extent that I considered the latter to replace my own C6 around 4 years ago. They both share an imperious sense of doing things to their own drumbeat which appeals to me, but, alas, clearly not enough others. In the end, I balked at the cost of switching (my C6 is worth a few Mars Bars and a Beano) and the slightly ‘Golf-Club’ image of the specific Jaguar in question (to be precise, it was a friends car and coloured in a hue which I can only describe as ‘Champagne’).

    1. Let’s say it’s a car that is greater than the sum of its parts.

    2. SV: ” a car that is greater than the sum of its parts.” I absolutely agree.

      However, even more so than the classically shaped XJs that preceded it, X351 is incredibly colour-sensitive. But the default black finish on most examples one sees is (in my view) something of a cop-out.

    3. To be more clear, ‘Champagne’ as a colour can be fine – the C6 itself was available in such a colour and it looked OK in my book – but it did/ does not suit the XJ. There’s a very nice, deep red metallic, facelift-XJ which one of our IT Architects drives at work and I really like it (I have just accepted that the rear pillars come with the package), even if it’s, perhaps, anachronistically ‘sporting’ for an XJ.

  8. My workday has been as mundane as possible. And no access to DTW.
    On getting home, it’s fabulous to see just how these posts evolve.
    I’ve seen an XJ in silver parked up today and also rather like Huw’s version. I can appreciate SVR’s description too. An X351 in amethyst would do nicely for me.

  9. Thanks for your good work, Huw. I don’t think the two-tone colour scheme works without a horizontal bodyside feature to provide a natural break. The raised number plate does help though.

    May I please ask what software or app you are using? The results are impressive.

  10. This discussion thread has helped me to understand why Jaguar has now twice failed in its quest for reinvention, first through the Ford and now JLR stewardship: with Ford they simply focused too much on the past without truly understanding the essence of Jaguar’s uniqueness, resulting in too many bad design and packaging decisions, and under JLR they’ve simply focused too much on the competition. The JLR range today is simply a carbon copy of A4/A6/A8/TT/Q7, 3/5/7/Z4/X5, C/E/S/SLC/GLE, with some i-dabbling on the fringes.

    What originally made Jaguar great was how fundamentally different the cars were from anything else, and that is not the case today – indeed, every model is essentially inferior to a German competitor. Perhaps less competitive benchmarking and more inspired development of the brand’s true DNA would have yielded more fascinating cars. The 911 is a great case in point – disappointing that in spite of the best will, many brilliant minds and many billion dollars, JLR have missed this, and we have a Jaguar today that looks perilously close to irrelevance, especially with Land Rover in a much stronger position to capitalise on the almost all-encompassing CUV tidal wave.

    One last thing – no-one has mentioned the X351’s interior – undoubtedly the finest work of the JLR generation cars, and the only one that somehow stays true to Jaguar values and yet feels contemporary. If it’s let down by anything its the general sense of being slightly under-engineered vs the Germans, but it’s a world away from the Jaguar personality-free zones of the XF, XE and Paces.

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