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January 24, 2007

Non-Retro Jaguar Concept

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Late last year I wrote about Retro car styling. I mentioned that it didn't bother me and, besides, it could be difficult for stylists to avoid past themes and details because automobile evolution lost its steam nearly 60 years ago.

But I wasn't being categorical. It's still possible to come up with designs that don't evoke those of decades past, though most "new" designs tend to be similar to those of contemporary cars. That's why it's pretty easy to guess when a car was built (and the same goes for houses, by the way).

Ford's Jaguar subsidiary (for the moment, at least -- Ford might decide to sell it) apparently is trying to break out from a Retro mold, which makes for an interesting test-case.

This was evidenced by the Concept XF (C-XF) sedan unveiled a few weeks ago. It's a four-door sedan ("saloon" in Brit) that is supposedly a slightly exaggerated version of the car coming out later this year as replacement for Jaguar's mainstay S-Type.

Jaguar's problem is that its cars have always been noted more for their style than their engineering and (especially!) reliability and build-quality. This was the strategy of founder Bill (later, Sir William) Lyons. Jaguars and their SS predecessors were known for having the flair of cars costing far more. Readers might be familiar with the especially iconic XK-120 of the early 50s and the XK-E of the early 60s -- both were sports cars.

Aside from the latest XK sports cars, current Jaguars are heavy borrowers of styling cues from Jags of years past. For example, the large XJ sedan's body was totally re-engineered recently, yet it looks very similar to the model it replaced which debuted many years before. A waste of development money, in my opinion -- if Jaguar was going to spend wads of money, more of it should have been visible to potential buyers.

Having been criticized for going to the Retro well too often, management apparently decided that the next sedan would have to look thoroughly modern, yet somehow retain the Jaguar essence. Whatever that might be. A tough assignment for styling chief Ian Callum.

Let's look at some pictures.


Jaguar 2.4.jpg
Jaguar 2.4 (Mark I)
This photo was snatched off the Web, so it might be a 3.4 (Mark II) which looked almost identical to the 2.4: that doesn't concern us here. The 2.4 appeared in 1955 and was applauded by Road & Track magazine as being a marketing milestone -- a semi-luxury car in a compact package.

Jaguar S-Type - 2005.jpg
Jaguar S-Type
The original S-Type of 1964 was a slightly enlarged (and less attractive) version of the 2.4, above. The S-Type shown here appeared in 2000 and shared its body with the Lincoln LS model, though that fact isn't obvious thanks to clever design work. The current S-Type is frankly Retro, evoking the 2.4. It has been criticized for being Retro by some and criticized for styling details by others who didn't mind the Retro-ness. Me? ... I rather like it.

Jaguar Concept XF - front.jpg
More views below.

Jaguar Concept XF - rear.jpg

Jaguar Concept XF - side.jpg

For background on the C-XF, here is an article from AutoWeek by Dutch Mandel (hope the link holds). According to Mandel, the production version will be nearly an inch taller to allow for better headroom. Since even minute changes in dimension can affect a car's appearance, it's likely that some of the rakish look of the C-XF will be lost on a production XF.

Did Callum and his team succeed in preserving "Jaguarness" while avoiding being Retro?

I'm not sure yet. It's the production car that counts, not the show-car. Besides being taller, the production XF will have details not seen on the C-XF and I have no idea what they might be.

That said, the C-XF is nicely done, though one can always quibble -- and I will.

More than one car-buff magazine has noted that it has short front overhang coupled with comparatively long rear overhang. This is a very 1950s touch and was found in several Jaguar designs from that point onward. Although long rear overhangs didn't bother me at first, the trend got so extreme in some cases that cars seemed ill-proportioned. In the case of the C-XF, the overhang is needed to help produce convergent-sweep or semi-tapered look that is a key style element.

Although some comments I've read praise the headlamps, I'm not happy with them. To me, they say "this is what's done in the mid 2000-10 decade" and they don't say "Jaguar." I suspect that Callum's team played around with narrow-set round headlights that many Jaguars sported, and I'd like so see some of the better design sketches featuring them. Round headlights were rejected, but was that decision necessary?

I'm not sure about the grille. Yes, the sunken look is interesting. But the shape of the hole doesn't say "Jaguar" either.

What does say "Jaguar" are the medallion on the grille and a leaping Jaguar on the back of the trunk lid. That's it. And those two pathetic details are not enough. The rest of the car, while nicely shaped, doesn't strike me as being distinctive enough to become the Jaguar "design language" for the next decade or two. Moreover, I'm not sure that any shape could pull that off.

Visual brand continuity has been accomplished in two ways, historically, if frozen or semi-frozen designs (I'm thinking of the Morgan four-wheeled sports car) are excluded. I'll call these the Packard approach and the Cadillac approach.

The Packard approach was to make use of a collection of details that were always used following their introduction, though there would be some variation over time. These details included the "ox-yoke" grille-surround sculpting, red hexagons on the hubcaps, a pen-nib tipped side-spear and a cormorant hood ornament. Even though the shapes of Packard bodies evolved from boxes to "streamlined," Packards were always identifiable.

The Cadillac approach, which began with the classic 1941 model, was to have a set of visual clues such as Packard used, but add new ones and delete others over time. The Cadillac crest has been around for decades, though details change slightly from year to year. The egg-crate grille theme has persisted since 1941, though the thickness and number of grille bars have changed over time. A "V" enclosing the crest was used for many years only to be replaced by a laurel wreath. The famous tail fins appeared on 1948 models, grew to grotesque shapes ten years later and finally disappeared. Even so, change was slow enough that Cadillacs were easy to spot while body shapes changed dramatically.

To preserve its brand identity, Jaguar will need more than the two do-dads on the C-XF. Rethink the grille and headlamps, keep the rest of the C-XF aside from a little productionizing, and then the next Jaguar sedan will be a real Jaguar to beholders.



posted by Donald at January 24, 2007


Uh-no. I have built-in Jaguar radar, and I'm afraid I'd have to see the cat himself to recognize this as a Jag.

Posted by: susan on January 25, 2007 6:43 AM

Well, to be honest, I always found Jaguars to be the ugliest cars on the road. I'd even prefer a Citroen before a Jag. That said, this new concept is a pretty car. Change happens, and is a good thing.

Posted by: Upstate Guy on January 25, 2007 9:10 AM

To me this seems more like a big sports model like the XJ-S than like the sedans. The shape of the headlight looks to be an attempt to mix the headlight shapes of the traditional sedans and the sports models. I agree that it does not seem quite right.

Posted by: bill on January 25, 2007 10:16 AM

Fascinatin', tks. I knew nothing about how car designers preserve car-line identities. I'll agree with most/all of you here - I can't see anything about the new design that says "Jaguar," which, since I grew up thinking Jags were the sexiest cars in the world, is too bad. It looks cyber-generic to my eyes, like any ol' thing out of a modern car ad, or maybe like a Mustang from one of the uninspired years. Interesting: given Jaguar's rep for unreliability, I wonder whether they'll be able to preserve anyone's interest in the brand if they break all connections to its traditional look. If the new Jag doesn't look like a Jag, why on earth would anyone buy it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 25, 2007 11:26 AM

No mention of Ford in the AutoWeek piece at all, though that company appears numerous times in the ads and links ringing the article. But it does invite the question, how does overseas ownership affect brand tradition? It looks like the Brits are doing the watering down themselves here. (Have Manchester United and Chelsea gotten any less English since bought by a Floridian and Russian respectively?)

Ford also owns Volvo and part of Mazda. The former remains its boring old self, while I've heard tell the savior of the latter, the Miata, was dreamed up by a low-level Ford man who shopped it to the Japanese partner when the poobahs in Detroit rejected it.

Lots of us were horrified a quarter century ago when our personal favorite, the über-weird Saab, was bought up by ultra-dull GM. But the latter wisely noted the potential clash and kept its hands off for the longest time. (Is that how Miller sees Leinenkugel, too?) That entente has clearly broken down with those annoying "born from jets" ads and their noisy, lawnmower-rock soundtrack. Please, GM, sell Saab to anybody else, and bring back its weird little soul!

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on January 25, 2007 7:16 PM

I'd forgotten that Ford also owns Volvo. The first thing I thought looking at the new Jag (at least from the front) that a Volvo?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 25, 2007 7:57 PM

mmm.. nice design, I must say..

Posted by: giovani on February 17, 2007 9:02 AM

have a look at for more info

Posted by: Claire on February 22, 2007 1:14 PM

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