Americans are a funny bunch; our views of the larger world are crafted by our prejudices which then tend to be peddled back to us out of sheer convenience. For example, we tend to view British luxury as being some stuffy old stone mansion with dark wood panelling and and swirling cigar smoke, a perception that “Cool Britannia” left behind years (if not decades) ago. Ironically though, nothing perpetuated this dated view of Old Blighty like the previous Jaguar XJ. Jag’s flagship had been trapped in a decades-long styling time-warp, with every generation trying to be more and more connected with the past. Not because the British people actually like wallowing in dated stereotypes about themselves, but because they don’t mind making a buck off of the Americans who do. Free from the need to indulge the country-squire delusions of the colonials, however, the Brits are a people that are more likely to turn a 500 year old stone mansion into an ultra-modern chic lounge. Which is why the new XJ may finally be not only a truly modern luxury sedan, but a truly British one as well.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi are all parts of huge organizations with vast resources. When developing a new flagship sedan, they can finesse every last detail. (Whether they actually do so is another matter.) Though previously owned by Ford and now owned by Indian conglomerate Tata, Jaguar has had to make do with so much less that it’s almost a miracle it can field a contemporary large luxury sedan at all. And yet we have the new XJ.
Few aspects of the automobile are as examined, analyzed and obsessed upon as styling. Ask most people about cars and they won’t talk about engine displacement or suspension setup; it’s the physical presence of cars that captures interest and sparks passion. For a niche luxury brand like Jaguar, which survives on the margins of major markets without the backing of a full-line automaker, the art and science of auto styling is of supreme importance. Unable to match its rivals in the technological arms race of the upper-echelon luxury segment, Jaguar’s relevance is perhaps more tied to its ability to create compelling designs than any other modern brand. Were this the only challenge facing Jaguar’s chief designer Ian Callum, his job would be one of the most interesting in the business. Thanks to Jaguar’s nearly 40-year stylistic stasis however, Callum’s tenure is nothing less than one of the most significant in the history of automotive design.