The Shock of the Old

the shock of the old

Jaguar has finally unveiled its revamped flagship. After spending the gross national product of Paraguay to develop a suitable Benz-basher, the new Jaguar XJ looks exactly like… the old Jaguar XJ. Wow! Who would have expected stately Jaguar to push the boundaries of the "retro" design trend to its logical limits? I mean, you can't get more "retro" than total stasis.

Of course, there's at least one important change: adults can occupy the rear seats without risking deep vein thrombosis. Otherwise, the large and small headlights have swapped positions, the bumpers have chrome strips, it's a bit bigger, taller and rounder than the old car and… that's about it. As current XJ buyers tend to view change as only slightly more desirable than HIV infection, the new/old car's reactionary non-design is bound to delight its core clientele. As long the big cat stays off J D Power's shit list, they should sell 'em by the boatload.

Still, you have to wonder why Jaguar didn't go for a less, er, boring design. Let's face it: XJ buyers were old when the car was new. By now, most of them are probably dead. And many of the ones who aren't pushing up the daisies switched to Lexus years ago (which is a kind of living death). Given Lara Croft's popularity, I reckon that well-heeled members of the Playstation generation would have been receptive to a re-designed XJ. The Type-R concept, a cool Britannia car if there ever was one, pointed the way forward. Jaguar never left camp.

So who killed the possibility of genuine design innovation for the big cat? The BMW 7-Series is the prime suspect.

When BMW introduced its re-skinned range topper, it was an instant flop. With a few keystrokes on the old CAD/CAM computer, designer Chris Bangle and The Boys from Bavaria surrendered their company's position in the luxobarge pantheon. Personally, I think the 7 looks purposeful and elegant– aside from the car's ungainly butt. But I couldn't help noticing the ten-foot pole marks on the doors of a local dealer's demonstrator. Anyway, Jaguar must have clocked the new 7's reception and thought, "If it ain't broke, don't Bangle it."

The decision to leave the XJ as is may also spring from corporate politics. When designer Geoff Lawson bought the farm, Jaguar promoted Ian Callum to the top spot. In some ways, Lawson was a tough act to follow; he created the stunning XK. In other ways, he wasn't; Lawson also penned the ungainly, vagina-nosed Jaguar S-Type and the witless, Mini-Me X-Type.

By the time Callum replaced Lawson, the new/old XJ design was well on its way to production. Denied a clean sheet of paper, Mr. Callum probably figured leaving Lawson's legacy alone was the best way to protect what any Ford employee values above all: his job. According to Autocar, Callum "doesn't claim authorship of the car". Which is a fancy way of saying, "If it bombs, don't blame me."

It won't. But neither will the new/old XJ do much to maintain Jaguar's explosive growth. Which has stopped exploding. The man in charge, Bob Dover, blames sagging growth rates on re-invigorated German competition (a.k.a. "We're a victim of our own success") and a pressing need for Jag diesels. Wrong. There is a direct relation between Jaguar's stagnating sales figures and the fact that two out of four of their models are so ugly they'd make a train take a dirt road.

These days, the differences between cars of a similar class are so small even car magazines are hard-pressed to state a clear preference. Everybody's got everything: air bags, four-zone climate control, sat-nav, ABS, traction control, air suspension, ventilated seats, extended warranties, your choice of engines, the lot. Luxury car buyers would be equally at home in a VW, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Lexus or Cadillac. The big difference is style.

When Ford bought Jaguar, they didn't buy the company for it's engineering prowess, labour relations or production capacity. They bought an image. A design heritage. The S-Type pissed on it. The X-Type plundered it. The new XJ, beautiful as it is, does nothing for it. Modern Jag products offer world-class engineering, but sales will, inevitably, reflect customers' preference for cars that delight the eye.

There is but one way for Jaguar to dig itself out of the enormous hole they've dug for themselves. They must give Ian Callum his head. Let him redesign the entire range. And why not? This is the same man who created one of the most beautiful cars of this or any other era: the svelte, marque saving, Aston Martin DB7. Callum's genius will either restore Jaguar's tarnishing lustre with desperately desirable products, or make Bangle's bungle seem like a silly faux pas. Either way, unlike the "new" XJ, the result will not be dull.

Join the conversation
  • Dukeisduke I'd like to see some kind of two-door pickup version (like the original Bronco, not a Gladiator clone). The one on the recent Dirt Every Day episode made a pretty decent crawler. I like the steelies on this one.
  • THX1136 @Matt: Totally agree. Buying a 'used' cat is not the same as buying a used one. I would also suspect that the asking price would not be in the $800 range. Unfortunately there are folks out there that care not for their fellow man and would happily 'make a profit' at the customers expense (both literally and figuratively).
  • Mike Beranek "Fuel Economy, U.S.17 city / 19 highway / 18 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)":What in the world are these people thinking?
  • ToolGuy "We’ll see what happens with Haas." I wonder what happened with Haas?
  • ToolGuy Auction is 2 days away now. I've been setting aside some spare change here and there - have you? (You forgot again, didn't you?)