2007’s X-Type facelift illustrated how one can do more with less.
Few cars are created with an unlimited budget – after all, such a bounteous situation is no guarantee of an inspired result. On the other hand, budgetary restrictions are rarely a recipe for a successful product either. Certainly, when Jaguar’s 2001 X-Type was being scoped during the latter part of the 1990s, the Ford-controlled British luxury carmaker wasn’t exactly awash with cash, even if by then they were at least making money rather than haemorrhaging it as they had been, only a few years earlier.
X400 (as the X-Type was termed at Jaguar) formed the core of the blue oval’s growth strategy for the leaping cat, aimed at catapulting the marque into the big league with annual sales in excess of 200,000 cars. A hugely ambitious programme, which also encompassed the refitting of the otherwise defunct Ford Halewood plant in Merseyside; this latter aspect ladling such costs upon the programme that anything less than total success would be viewed as failure.
With so much riding upon it, X400 had to be absolutely spot on. Styling sells, and when it comes to Jaguar, a marque which has built its legend upon the seductiveness of its designs, Jaguar’s styling team, under the direction of Geoff Lawson were faced with perhaps their toughest brief to date.
Certainly, it appears that innumerable proposals were examined, even once the basic theme had been established. Most of these centred upon the nose, with lead designer, Wayne Burgess trying schemes which alluded to E-Type, XK8, and XJS, before settling upon the more XJ-inflected nose treatment which was ultimately adopted – the former Jaguar designer telling Road and Track, “Senior Management at the time ultimately wanted something much more ‘instantly recognizable as a Jaguar’…“
Initially lauded as a well judged take on a highly difficult ask, the lustre soon came off the X-Type’s style, as customers decided they weren’t swayed by today’s Jag cloaked in yesterday. Hampered by an unflattering dash to axle ratio (a consequence of its transverse FWD-derived engine layout), bulbous roofline, awkward proportions, and fussy detailing, the X-Type, certainly from a styling perspective, failed to seduce, although as a whole, it was far less awkward looking than its larger X200 S-Type sibling, a car so stylistically ill-begotten that its gestational mysteries may never be truly unravelled.
By mid-decade, the programme’s commercial failure was palpable, and Jaguar’s parent had largely turned off the development taps, leaving the car to stagnate with the US importers pulling the model from the American market entirely. By then, senior executives at Dearborn were seriously contemplating offloading the limping cat at the earliest opportunity, but in order to do so, a little money would be required to spruce up Jaguar’s now tired looking offerings.
Carried out in conjunction with that of the X358 XJ revisions, it was very much a lick and a promise by facelift standards. But whereas the revisions to the XJ were of somewhat questionable taste, the changes to X-Type (perhaps a consequence of budget) were actually rather well-judged. The most obvious alterations were to the bumper covers, which were cleaner looking and less ornate, lending the visual impression of being pulled inwards towards the body in white. So while this removed some visual length, it lent the shape a tautness which had been lacking in its previous iteration.
The larger, more upright grille was of a similar design to the revised XJ, and was a notable improvement upon the inward-sloped, and rather tentative-looking original, while the lower air intake illustrated how its larger saloon sibling could have looked had Mr. Callum reined-in his impulses. Along the flanks, the side rubbing strips (sadly retained in this instance) became more flush-fitting than the chunkier originals, while new-design, corporate door mirror shrouds were fitted. At the rear, the chromed lightbar now ran the entire width of the bootlid.
Inside too, the changes, while modest, lent the cabin a more upmarket feel, with improved materials and less scratchy plastic in conspicuous places. Mechanically, a larger 2.2 diesel engine provided more power (but not much refinement), while the only petrol unit still offered was the 3-Litre V6.
The whole is generally equal to the sum of its parts, but in this instance, it proved to be a good deal more than that. For such a modest raft of changes, the transformation was striking, similar in effect to that carried out a far greater expense upon the S-Type three years previously. But it too arrived several years too late to salvage the model. Nevertheless, the revised X-Type did undergo a mild resurgence in 2008/9, buoyed by generous incentives and a post-financial crash environment which saw many customers downsizing to smaller, less ostentatious cars – for a time at least.
While it could never fully assuage the stylistic errors of judgement which marred the original X400 design, the 2007 facelift did make for the most resolved X-Type of all, from a purely visual standpoint at least, and is a testament to Ian Callum’s designers who made very little go rather a long way.
Not all budgetary restrictions are necessarily an impediment.
9 thoughts on “Under the Knife – A Late Reprieve”
Good morning Eóin. Your piece encouraged me to look again at the original vs facelifted X-Type:
The original was simply overloaded with ‘Jaguar’ design cues and, consequently, was far too fussy. The facelift successfully calmed it down as much as possible without making any metalwork changes.
The comparison with the X350 versus X358 is interesting. The larger XJ could bear all the Jaguar design cues, but the facelift was a retrograde step with the bulbous bumpers and that vertical gill behind the front wheel arch, which were a bit ‘aftermarket’ looking and too ‘sporty’ for a luxury saloon:
In any event, it was all a bit academic: the market had moved on from retro inspired designs, leaving both X-Type and XJ behind.
I’m not sure why the X type facelift is praised while the XJ refresh does not. Both addressed similar issues and both employed a similar approach in my view.
I’ve always quite liked X350 but some of the detailing was very poor – just look at that hideous grille, and the cheap-looking dark grey plastic panel next to the front fog lights. The facelift addressed both issues, and while the fake side vents are a bit much, I appreciate the way the body side was cleaned up, with the deletion of the rubbing strip and body colour door handles.
If I was looking to buy one, I would seek out a facelift version, albeit finding one in a tasteful exterior and interior trim combination is tricky.
Hi Jacomo. I really liked the X350’s front grille because it was designed to mimic the grille fitted to the original 1968 XJ and I like the historical reference:
Sorry, but the X358 just makes me think of a grandad in Nike Hi-Top trainers! The only thing I like about it is the deletion of the side rubbing strip, which is certainly an improvement.
Fair enough, I appreciate the historical reference, I just think the execution is poor. It reminds me of BMW’s current justification for the gopping vertical kidneys, because ‘the original 328 had a vertical grille so it’s ok’.
Give me ‘chicken wire’ anyday… historically authentic or not.
At 21 months, that must have been one of the shortest-lived facelifts of modern times. (I’m disregarding the heady days in the US when such things were an annual occurrence)
However effective the makeover, the “generous incentives” were the real key to the late life bounce in sales. Also the belated availability of a diesel automatic – did it not occur to Jaguar, or their masters, that such a thing might appeal to the typical buyer of such a car?
The X-Type’s greatest failing was being too highly priced to tempt customers from the German rivals, and only offering cars in specifications to compete with the upmarket Cs, 3s, and A4s. OK in the States, but not in Jaguar’s home continent.
To meet the intended production targets and recoup the investment in Halewood, Jaguar’s management would have had to hold their noses and offer the imaginary sub-£18K plastic-hubcapped 2WD 1.8 showroom bait. Loss leaders were not an alien concept at Jaguar – for example the Mk.2 2.4, 240, XJ6 2.8, and the 2.9 litre XJ40.
Somebody locally bought a new X-Type in black, with blacked-out chrome ( a strange option). From a distance, meeting it head-on, it looked as if it had been in an accident.
Surely the X-Type didn’t fail because of the styling ? Everyone knew it was a Mondeo underneath, there wasn’t much of a market for FWD Jaguars, and then the engines….
In the UK a 2.1 litre was no harm, but in other markets 2 litres was a common limit – that’s why 2 litre Ferraris were made.
I do think the X358 was the last good-looking Jaguar BTW, I just love those vertical gills.
Mervyn: Given that today’s piece specifically deals with the subject of X400’s styling (or the last-ditch amendments thereof), there is a perhaps understandable focus upon matters of aesthetics. For a more nuanced assessment of the X-Type’s failings, you might find this piece a little more balanced. https://driventowrite.com/2014/12/30/jaguar-x-type-history-worst-jaguar-analysis/
Did everyone know about its Mondeo-based platform (allegedly about 19% parts commonality in total)? I’m sure there were plenty who neither knew, nor cared. The Mondeo jibe is, in my opinion the biggest red herring in the X-Type story. Because there was nothing at all wrong with how the Mondeo looked or drove. It was pure snobbery in my view. After all, the lauded Alfa Romeo 156 was based on an equally heavily modified Fiat Marea platform, but that hardly ever comes up in conversation.
Had the X-Type’s styling been as well judged as that of the Alfa, nobody would have given it a second thought – and for some, styling wasn’t an issue at all. But had the right powertrain choices been made from the outset, it would have at least had a better start in life – whatever might have transpired later.
I wonder if it conforms to “Ian Callum’s 7 Secret Design Steps to a Successful Car Refresh”.
Next week, 26 steps to writing a snappy headline.
I more and more get the feeling there is a not-so-secret-8th-step: Add more fake air-inlets at the front, more vertical slits at the back and more bling-bling behind the front wheel…