Under the Knife – Call Me Indecisive

Jaguar never quite settled on the 2005 XK’s styling. 

2005 Jaguar XK (c) autoevolution

For a marque with such a rich stylistic heritage, Jaguar’s relationship with the automotive facelift has been a decidedly patchy one. Even during the creative heyday of Sir William Lyons, the second bite of the visual cherry (so to speak) often left a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Given the timelines, and the circumstances surrounding his appointment, it is perhaps a little unfortunate that the first Jaguar production design Ian Callum would oversee would be a replacement for the long-running and by the turn of Millennium, increasingly dated (X100) XK model. This GT, hastily concocted in the unseemly aftermath of Ford’s hostile takeover married the two-decade old XJS platform with a (then) new, more voluptuous body style.

It looks like an Aston Martin” was the almost-universal refrain when Jaguar debuted the second generation XK in 2005. Hardly a surprise really. Having largely codified Aston’s ongoing styling direction with his design for the 1995 DB7; a car with more Jaguar DNA within it than most Aston aficionados might willingly admit, Ian Callum’s arrival in mainstream stylistic circles came with a distinctly feline demeanour.

When he began work at Jaguar’s Whitley styling studio in 1999, Callum continued to moonlight as Aston Martin’s design leader – during this time, supervising the completed design for the 2003 Aston DB9, alongside principal exterior designer, Wayne Burgess.

With both DB9 and forthcoming XK (dubbed X150 internally) being designed more or less concurrently at Whitley, (albeit in separate studios) Callum told chroniclers that his primary concern with the Jaguar design, was to ensure that the two designs didn’t replicate one another. Jaguar also faced a good deal of resistance from the UK dealers over Sandy Boyes’ chosen exterior styling scheme, which it was felt wasn’t ‘soft’ enough. Interestingly, the normally more conservative US dealers supported the design, which was a good deal more modernist and athletic looking than the slightly overblown X100 which preceded it.

Previewed in early 2005 as the Advanced Lightweight Coupé at Detroit’s NAIAS, it made its production debut in coupé form later that Autumn at Frankfurt and as a convertible the following January, once again in the US. Unlike its predecessor’s begged, borrowed or purloined underpinnings, X150 employed a variant of the X350 XJ’s up-to- the-minute aluminium platform and running gear, including its 4.2 litre AJV8 engine.

Stylistically, it retained the oval grille treatment, intended to evoke E-Types of yore, yet in this application it never quite sat well with the car. The oft-stated similarities with the DB9 however never really stood up to scrutiny – the Aston pulling off a more effortless demeanour – its surfaces more linear, while the Jaguar was more poised, particularly over the rear haunches, where the muscular flanks and shoulders were beautifully realised.

Undoubtedly handsome and well proportioned then, the XK nevertheless appeared a little tentative from some aspects, a matter which was borne out by the Scotsman who later intimated that he was too unsure of his support to really push for anything more daring. But not only was it a design which never fully gelled as an entity, its detail design left a little to be desired, especially the cheap looking head and tail lamp units, raising suspicions that the Premier Automotive Group’s glass ceiling also contained a decidedly creative dimension.

2009 facelifted XK. (c) newcars

In 2009, somewhat early in product evolution terms, the XK received its first facelift. Stylistically, apart from a minor revision to the tail lamp units (better integrated in appearance) the nose received the bulk of the changes. Gone was the somewhat demure early treatment, replaced by a nose section flanked by unsightly vertical intakes, topped by curious looking moulded protuberances. To perhaps labour a plastic surgery analogy they could be best described as fillers. The result was certainly more aggressive, but tasteful?

Someone at senior management level clearly agreed, because a mere two years later, Mr Callum’s stylists once again got their scalpels out; this time however the revisions being not only more comprehensive, but a good deal more decorous. New, more cat-like headlamp units helped to visually slim the frontal aspect, while the ugly vertical vents were excised, replaced by a cleaner, more flowing treatment. Aft of the front wheels, the vertical extractor vent (a previous Callum staple) was replaced with a more compact, more elegant horizontal version.

Not that ‘team Callum’ entirely redeemed themselves here. The ultra-high performance XK-RS was also in receipt of a new nose section, one even more hyper-aggressive in form, in this case lending the vehicle the impression that its front end was in the process of melting. It’s unclear whether this perception was intentional.

The XK in its definitive post 2011 form. (c) newcars.com

There matters were left until the model’s demise in 2014, and while the final-era XK then was undoubtedly the best looking, the X150, to the end, remained (to this Jaguariste’s eyes) somewhat inexplicably adrift of ideal, which given its pedigree, its positioning, and the fact that it remains the last indulgent grand turismo to bear the leaping cat badge seems not only a missed opportunity, but a genuine shame.

Jaguar’s (now-former) stylistic chief has since gone on record to say that while he liked the XK design, he was not sorry to see it go. It’s possible to understand his view; certainly, the design bore hallmarks of the indecision and likely meddling which characterised its gestation, but this does not account for the amount of subsequent stylistic fiddling which took place over the model’s production life, especially given that much of it was to such little positive effect.

Sometimes the best approach is to do the least.

More on Jaguar

Editor’s note: ‘Under the Knife’ will become an ongoing regular  micro-theme, where DTW authors examine and attempt to contextualise notable automotive facelifts – good or ill. Suggestions welcome.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Under the Knife – Call Me Indecisive”

  1. Good morning Eóin. The X150 XK’s original nose treatment was ‘fine’ insofar as it wasn’t odd or offensive. I really don’t understand what they were trying to achieve with the first facelift: those vertical slots and, in particular, the weird bulges on the corners look, very odd indeed. The second facelift was, I guess, an attempt to emulate the look of the XJ and facelifted XF and probably was an improvement.

    For those who really didn’t liked the look of their XF, there was an aftermarket nose treatment that copied the F-type:

    This involved a major rework of the front end, with new wings and a clamshell bonnet like the F-Type’s:

    It works, I suppose (if you ignore the bonnet to nose shut-lines!)

    1. Why am I thinking Disney’s ‘Cars’ animated film when I look at these photos of the aftermarket-adapted F-Type?

    2. The rat hole above the headlight’s peak should provide Dr Herriott with a week of sleepless nights.

    3. Dr Herriott can sleep easily: that detail is actually rather better resolved than some production cars I could mention:

    4. Those bonnet to nose shut-lines are what has always spoilt the XK for me. It’s bad on all recent Jags, but somehow it looks even more inept on the XK.

    5. Hi Andy. Yes, those front-end shut lines are the curse of so many modern cars. I guess they result from a combination of pedestrian and crash protection legislation and potential repair costs. I’ve forgotten just how many different pieces of metal went into (hand)making the E-Type’s bonnet*, but even a relatively minor bump could write it off and the replacement cost would be horrendous today. This would, of course, be reflected in insurance premiums, even if you never had a bump.

      * Eóin will, I’m sure, know the answer to that question.

  2. From today’s perspective, X150 seems like an ancient relic – a GT without sporting pretensions (awful boy racer specials excepted), whose raison d’être is getting two people in comfort, elegantly and swiftly from A to B.

    In terms of elegance, it’ll always fall short of the DB9’s benchmark by a considerable stretch. But particularly in isolation, I can’t help but remain rather fond of this Jaguar. First and foremost because it is a Jaguar – not a benchmark specimen of the breed, but most definitely no pretend-BMW or wannabe-Porsche either. It was the last car from Coventry whose grace kept up with its pace.

    Against that backdrop, I’m not surprised, but delighted that owners appear to hold onto their X150s. Living in a very affluent part of Hamburg, I’m aware of a handful of X150s in the neighbourhood that have been around for years and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Not because their respective owners couldn’t afford replacement, but because there’s nothing available right now that would fulfil the Jaguar’s exact brief. Next to an Aston DB11, Bentley Continental or Mercedes SL, the XK would appear exceedingly romantic, restrained or tasteful. Even mediocre, but proper Jaguars having the odd USP to show for themselves.

    1. It isn’t perfect, I agree, but it is about the only “modern”(ish) car that I actively want to buy (Maserati QP of similar vintage being another, but fear of preposterous bills would probably stay my hand on that one). If one wanted to take a cross-country D road glide through France to the mythical villa, what could be better? Convertible for that gig, obviously.

  3. Less is More. Easy to say – difficult to define.
    The cynic within says you’re employed to design so get designing.
    The realist inside says stop messing around and leave well alone.
    The Romanticist opines with the looks may grow on you.
    The Jaguar enthusiast bites his lip and wonders; The X150 (of whichever guise) still makes me look twice though that second glance is that of puzzlement. A Jag should roar, sat still at fifty yards distant. Not merely purr.

  4. May I confess to like the x150?
    To my eyes it’s good looking in a restrained way, the engineering is interesting (the alloy monocoque is a beautiful piece of engineering), it’s rear wheel drive, the engines are fine, and, last but not the least, it’s practical enough to be a daily driver.
    On to the classifieds …

  5. I don’t care for the production car. Eóin has mostly explained why, however I do like the concept version very much. Yet the two are so close that am left astounded by my own opinion.

    Beauty (or the devil) must lie in the details. Grille opening, tail-lights, mirrors, door handles (!), fender vent, wheel size, paint. Aren’t the body pressings exactly the same, or does hand finishing matter more with aluminum? (door handles again, I cannot un-see this change now, how much money did Ford intend to save here? Or did they just uglify it to protect the DB9?) Death by a thousand tiny cuts? From sublime to mundane, measured in millimeters. Have a closer look, please.


  6. I have to say having worked has a technician on Jaguars for 40 years now I have always thought the xk a better looking and more practical car than both the xjs which it replaced and the f type which replaced it the natural aspirated 4.2 was a fabulous engine really refined and a better drive than the supercharged version. There also wasn’t much went wrong with it during its warranty period to me a great car you could travel hundreds of miles in it and get out refreshed unlike if you tried the same distance in the f type

  7. Having owned a 2006 xk for 4 years now i agree to a certain point with the report. Adding chrome surrounds to front and back lights and mesh grills to front intakes makes a huge difference to looks of car. It is the last of the jaguar grand tourers. Even eith the hood down it can carry enough luggage for a 3 week trip to europe in comfort and style. Turned heads everywhere i went. Possibly due to colour being metallic red. 3400 miles in 3 weeks, france, switzerland,austria,italy , germany and finally hungary for f1 race. Averaged 31 mpg which for v8 isn’t bad. The prices are low at moment but will rise as the xk8 have. Now is the time to buy if you can find one. Return trip budapest to nuranburg 700 miles day one 9 hours. Nurenburg to calais 650 miles 9 hours. Dover to stockton on tees 320 miles 6 hours home by 3 pm. Including stops. .seats comfortable and over the alps adjusted for side support. People need to drive these cars to appreciate them.

    1. Denis and Harry: Thanks for your comments. It’s always instructive to hear from people with first hand experience of the vehicle in question. Given its underpinnings, I am not at all surprised to learn that X150 was not only a very satisfying and capable car to drive, but a relatively easy one to live with.

      The intention of this piece was not to critique the XK from a dynamic, performance, or ownership perspective, but primarily to focus upon the attempts made by Jaguar’s design team to augment the car’s appearance. I perhaps ought to (at this juncture) point out that I admire the XK. Detail design apart, its a well proportioned, elegant motor car, which looks equally well in open or closed form. It had a very good chassis and an appropriate powertrain. It was probably the most rounded, most usable pure GT in production at the time.

      However, it’s difficult to escape the suspicion that either the wrong choices were made initially in terms of detail design, or Jaguar’s design team were perhaps overruled in this matter, leading to misguided attempts at altering this after the fact. Either way, it does seem rather a pity – especially given that it was such an otherwise appealing machine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: