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