The 2007 XJ facelift was tasteless as it was expedient. But there are things we can learn from it.
Let us get one thing abundantly clear before we progress. Designing Jaguars is fiendishly difficult and if you doubt this for a moment, try it. Therefore anyone who makes a decent fist of the craft deserves credit rather than opprobrium. Having said that however, there are a few strictures a Jaguar designer ignores at his peril – the primary one being a matter of discernment.
There is a very simple process one can perform: I call it The Sir William Test. It’s quite simple really. When presented with a problem of a stylistic or creative nature, the Jaguar stylist should ask themselves, ‘would Bill Lyons have approved this‘? If the answer is in the negative, you’re really not in the business of creating a Jaguar. Because, as I’m fond of pointing out, Jaguar’s founder and creative éminence grise was a man in possession not only of an unimpeachable eye for line, but exquisite taste. But for something so apparently straightforward, the people tasked with continuing his tradition seem at times to have been oblivious to this apparently straightforward nostrum.
The post-millennium decade ought to have been a fruitful one for Coventry’s leaping cat. A period when Ford’s investment in product came to fruition with Jaguar for the first time in its history fielding a full range of cars. The last of the saloon-trio to be developed and the most significant both in brand-image (not to mention profitability) terms made its debut at the 2002 Paris Motor show. The X350 series XJ saloon was new from the ground up, sharing almost nothing with the outgoing model – one which in essence dated back to 1986, and in overall concept, further still.
The first of a new generation of Jaguars to employ a fully aluminium bodyshell, the X350 programme proved lengthy, costly and fraught with setbacks. The primary source of difficulty lay with the aluminium body, which was problematic from both a production engineering perspective and a stylistic one.
Having initially settled upon an exterior design theme which closely reflected that of the X200 S-Type, it was (prudently) decided to revert to something more iterative in form. But according to former senior Jaguar designer, Fergus Pollock, the approved body proved impossible to productionise. Hence, the resultant car, (the work of amongst others, Sandy Boyes) which had been created around a stringent set of packaging hardpoints, proved to be something of a fudge.
The merits or otherwise of X350’s styling have been debated at length on these pages, but suffice to say, the car’s introduction was greeted with perplexity rather than acclaim. Because while X350 was in essence a fine motor car and a worthy bearer of the XJ nameplate, its visuals left a good many observers, not to mention prospective customers underwhelmed.
In referencing the original XJ6, Jaguar’s designers (or more to the point the senior management who approved it) seemingly couldn’t quite decide whether to create a full-throated homage or something more modernist in approach. The resultant car – in a similar manner to that of the S-Type, albeit, better executed – attempted to balance both imperatives, pleasing neither camp.
Of its styling deficiencies, perhaps the most glaring (assuming we ignore the launch car’s over-fussy detailing), was X350’s rather apologetic stance – a common bugbear of all Geoff Lawson-helmed production designs. Ian Callum inherited Lawson’s position at Whitley under trying circumstances in 1999, but the X350 design had gelled by then and Callum did not feel sufficiently emboldened to challenge senior management over the car’s execution.
But with X350 in the field and its lukewarm reception reflected in lacklustre sales, it was clear that action of a remedial nature would be required. By mid-decade, it was obvious to Ford management that not only was the X350 programme failing to capitalise on its investment, but that the Blue Oval was not prepared to continue to pour money into Browns Lane indefinitely. It would once again be a case of make do and mend. With few mechanical or technical revisions for what was theoretically a mid-life refresh, the primary objective was to beef-up X350’s limp stance and for it to display more assertive ‘down the road graphics’.
The most obvious changes were centred at nose and tail, where redesigned one-piece bumper assemblies were added. These were more angular than the outgoing treatment, and while they were intended to draw the eye inward towards the body-in-white, they gave the appearance more of an aftermarket addition than an OEM fitment.
Particularly hamfisted was the front bumper section, which was not only heavy-handed in appearance, but came with a visual coup de grâce. While the original car’s under-bumper air inlet formed an elongated oval shape, spanning the width of the car, the revised inlet, clearly intended to harmonise with the grille above formed a gaping maw which dominated the car’s visage. The days of XJ as shrinking violet were over.
Another alteration was the revision of the original car’s grille, which had been inspired by the treatment of the very first XJ6. In this application it looked pinched and mean-looking. Here it would appear that the stylists were hamstrung by the XJ’s body construction. In order to mitigate against potential insurance costs arising from the car’s aluminium body, an extruded cross-beam was engineered to provide a literal buffer against 10-mph impacts without incurring structural damage. This is likely to have ensured that any major front-end changes would come with a hefty price-tag. Hence the grille, while maintaining the same size and shape, now featured a simplified mesh treatment with a large central spar, topped with a growler emblem.
On the flanks, just aft of the front wheels a faux air vent, for reasons best known to Mr. Callum, was added. Serving no technical nor visual purpose, it simply underlined its lack of gravitas. And so to the rear, where revised bumper section apart, little of note was altered. One further visual addition was that of (another of Mr. Callum’s obsessions) a brushed metal light bar bearing the Jaguar legend, which spanned the tail-lamp units.
The original interior (overseen by Giles Taylor) was well-considered enough to be largely left alone. Minor changes amounted to revised seats and some trim and equipment changes. Technically, the addition of the 2.7 litre twin-turbo diesel power unit was the biggest news, while the 3.5 litre AJV8 unit was dropped. Wheel sizes went up with either 19” or 20” rims being the order of play, which also lent the car a more assertive mien, but did little for ride quality.
While team Callum was rightfully lauded for the facelift carried out on the S-Type in 2004, the revised XJ (dubbed X358) received nothing but derision – largely because it looked at least as cheap as it undoubtedly cost. Yet in one aspect it did succeed. It lent the somewhat limp X350 a decidedly more predatory appearance and to some eyes at least enhanced a design which can best be described as a colossal missed opportunity.
However, by most accepted measures, the X358 facelift was ill-judged and frankly, rather tacky. Of course we’ll probably never learn under what strictures and privations it was created. Were Jaguar’s designers more fixated upon the next generation of cars while the XJ facelift was being enacted? Only Ian Callum can truly answer those questions – or indeed explain how such changes were steered through senior management.
In retrospect, what we have is perhaps the first genuine marker of the outgoing Jaguar stylistic leader’s taste – a matter which would crystallise over subsequent years. Because despite a number of highly noteworthy concepts with which he is associated, not to mention several excellent production car designs overseen by him, X358 would not be the only Jaguar created under Callum’s supervision which would have conclusively failed the Sir William Test.
As unfair a comparison as it might first seem, everyone who attains stylistic leadership at Jaguar must at some point dash themselves against the towering creative legacy of the marque’s founder. For Ian Callum, it appears he was content to swerve Jaguar’s knight-gaffer’s patrician shadow, but now in the wake of the Scot’s departure, the quality of his contribution comes into sharper focus. How will he be remembered? He must hope it is not by this.
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