Jag Builds An Aston

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
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jag builds an aston

When Jaguar unveiled its "Advanced Lightweight Coupe" (ALC) at the Detroit Auto Show, the stakes couldn't have been higher. The concept car had to mollify exasperated Ford bean counters, already thinking the unthinkable. It had to burnish the brand's fading reputation for jaw-dropping design and innovative engineering. So, at the precise moment when Jaguar needed a major hit to rescue the brand from oblivion, the company reveals… a copy of an Aston Martin.

Anyone who can't see the resemblance between the Jaguar ALC and the 2003 Aston Martin AMV8 concept vehicle and/or the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage, anyone who couldn't guess that the same man designed all three cars, is either blind or… no, that's it. They're blind. Compare the rear haunches, rectangular rear windows and curvy side glass. Note the identical front and rear overhangs. The Jag's shape, stance and detailing are so obviously Aston that the only thing stopping Aston from suing Jaguar is the fact that Ford owns both companies.

Granted, the number of Americans who'd recognize an Aston Martin is smaller than the number of Aston owners who slap on Aqua Velva. Despite the British marque's recent production ramp-up, Astons are still as rare as those hot dog shaped vehicles Oscar Mayer used to run. And let's face it: many stunning cars "borrow" heavily from previous designs. (Jaguar's XK120 and BMW's 1940 328 are automotive doppelgangers.) So it's possible that the ALC's derivative design would find a receptive audience despite its provenance. Ah, but what KIND of audience?

Elderly. Don't be fooled by all the talk about the ALC's aluminum construction and the plan to stuff higher-powered versions of Jag's feisty V8's under the hood. The prototype's size virtually guarantees that Jag's new two-seater will be another triple-XK: a pricey GT rather than a credible 911-fighter. As such, the ALC will appeal to the XK's current audience: high-maintenance women of a certain age and warm climate males more interested in their car's impact at the country club valet stand than its ability to make short work of an open road.

In case you missed the point, the XK drop-top outsells the coupe in the US by more than two to one. Of course, at this point, Jaguar would be forgiven for taking any customers it can get. The X-type fizzled, the S-Type bombed, the XJ is barely holding the fort and the current XK has been around since, gulp, 1996. Still, by devising an XK replacement that's aimed straight at the [weak] heart of an ageing market, Jag could eventually do an Oldsmobile, and die with its core supporters.

It's sad. Jaguar keeps chasing Mercedes SL's and Lexus sedans with wood, leather and snob appeal. If Jag's management truly understood the marque's heritage, they'd know that Jaguar should be building simple, striking motor cars that can best the AMG, M, S and V's of the world. They'd also direct Callum and Co. to ash-can the whole black-tie luxury limo look in favor of something elegant that looks fast standing still. Think Ford GT, with class.

Meanwhile, Jaguar needs a car on the opposite end of the scale to generate cash and attract a younger clientele. (The mini-me XJ clone, the X-Type, was so not it it's funny.) The ideal solution would be a small, fast sports car with terrific handling, superb ride quality and looks that scream "Faster Pussycat; Kill, Kill, Kill!" If a Jaguar roadster hit the $35 – $40K sweet spot, it would fly off the forecourt fast enough to whisk the salesmen's' toupees right off their heads.

That car was the Jaguar F-Type. The brand saver was deep-sixed because someone at Jaguar figured The Blue Oval's cash would be better spent developing diesel versions of Jaguar sedans for DERV-crazy Europeans. Huh? Modern diesel engines may match or exceed the performance capabilities of their gasoline counterparts, but they literally stink of penny-pinching practicality. If the market calls for a frugal Jag, well, the market's wrong. Take away the Jaguar's animal roar and you're left with a Mercedes. (At best.) A Jag that doesn't deliver pure, unadulterated driving pleasure is about as alluring as a Hummer that can't go off-road.

And that's why Jaguar is in such deep shit. They keep putting grace over pace and getting their ass kicked all over the place. Sure, I might be wrong. Despite its unmistakable Astonness, the ALC might turn out to be a proper Jag. It might have delicious steering feel, fantastic handling poise, huge horsepower, monumental torque and a world-beating interior. If so, the cat will have lost one of its lives, but survived. If not, it's time to euthanize the old tabby.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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