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August 08, 2008

Whither Jaguar Styling

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A year and a half ago I wrote about Jaguar's "Concept XF" show car that was said to be a preview of a new line of sedans whose styling was to be forward-looking and not rooted in past Jaguar designs.

The sedan -- officially named the XF -- is in production and I noticed one on a local street a couple of months ago.

No, that's not quite right. I almost didn't notice that the car was the new Jag because at first glance (I viewed it from the side), I thought it was a new Lexus! Now some observers might think looking somewhat Lexus-like would be a nice thing for a lesser car brand; what could be wrong with getting a little enhancement by association?

A sprinkling of Lexus pixie-dust might be perfect for a brand such as Kia, but does nothing for Jaguar. The whole point of the XF is to create a new visual image that will define Jaguar for, at a minimum, the next few product cycles.

Let's pause to compare the XF with the Lexus LS 460. No, the cars are not identical. But they aren't grossly different either.

Gallery 1: Jaguar XF and Lexus LS 460


LS 460


LS 460


LS 460

Generally speaking, the Jaguar has a racier, more-curved roof profile and those large engine compartment exhaust gills back of the front wheel wells. The grilles differ as well as the shapes of details such as headlamp and tail light clusters. But major features such as the side panels, passenger compartment glass and door shapes are pretty similar.

XF view showing grille

The only styling features besides the name on the trunk chrome strip that tell me the XF is a Jaguar are the jaguar head on the medallion attached to the grille (see photo above) and maybe the fairings behind the headlights.

So what else is usable as a styling theme that can be carried over to future Jaguars, identifying the brand to casual viewers? Hmm. That's a toughie. Perhaps those cooling gills -- though other makes such as Land Rover already use them, so that's not an exclusive feature. Okay, then it'll have to be the headlight cluster arrangement. It certainly can't be the overall shape of the car, because that's already 2008-vintage generic. The grille hole's shape might be a faint possibility if used in combination with the lights cluster. Other current Jaguar models have different grille shapes, so some facelifting would be in order if the theme I just proposed is used to bring the entire product line in synch with what Jaguar stylists and product planners have in mind for the future.

Although the XF is a nice looking car, too much of its styling is like other cars; it is thematically weak, a bad thing for a brand built on distinctive styling. My opinion is that the break-with-the-past idea was a bad one. Jaguar has a strong styling past that can be profitably mined in this era where Retro is reasonable (and somewhat unavoidable). Here are some previous Jaguars for consideration:

Gallery 2: Previous Jaguars

XK-120 Coupe
The XK120, introduced in 1948, set a strong, new theme for sporty Jags that lasted off and on for 60 years. The distinctive body shape is not well suited for current cars, but the grille and narrowly-set headlights make for a strong theme that says "Jaguar" to many potential buyers.

2.4 Sedan
The 2.4 sedan launched in the mid-50s transferred styling cues from the XK120 to a sedan package. The grille and headlight arrangement is similar as is the tapered hood. The feeling of the XK coupe's top is carried over by the rounded window treatment. The S-Type is a recently-discontinued model that borrowed heavily from the 2.4 and later 3.4 sedans. A number of critics didn't care for the S-Type, considering it too derivative. I rather liked it.

The C-Type was a 1950s racing Jaguar that left in its wake both fond memories and some Jaguar styling cues. The grille derives from the XK120 and was borrowed by the 2.4. The headlamps are well separated, opening the possibility of a C-Type theme for future use. And the flowing fender line has thematic possibilities for modern cars lacking in the XK120.

XKE (E-Type)
The E-Type was introduced for the 1961 model year. It's the red car in the foreground. The wine-colored car behind it is a XK, currently in production, that makes use of E-Type styling cues. The E-Type had many fans of its styling, but I always thought the car was too narrow for its length or too long for its width, reminding me of a flattened sub sandwich. Nevertheless, its front-end details and those of the XK say "Jaguar" and could have future styling use.

The XJ is the current large Jaguar sedan and carried a styling theme that has changed little for many years. It isn't very exciting and I would be inclined to let whatever styling cues it has disappear when Mr. Tata forks over the pounds (or rupees) necessary to replace it. (The split grille is a much modified holdover from vertical grilles on postwar Jaguar "Mark" sedans. Modified so much that I didn't "get" the connection until I was writing this caption. Perhaps a return to something more obviously like the Mark theme might be better.)

Another recently discontinued model. It was based on the Ford Mondeo and tarted up to seem Jaguar-like. The grille looks like a flattened version of that on the new XF, so maybe the XF borrowed something after all. Given that the X-Type was a major sales disappointment, I doubt that much of its styling will be recycled.

To summarize, although I sympathize with the creative urges of the Jaguar styling staff to break new ground and create new themes, I conclude that the XF offers little in the way of grist for future models. It simply isn't all that distinctive. My advice is to go back to that deep well of Jaguar styling cues and do some creative borrowing. After all, Cadillac has successfully used cues such as a crest and an egg-crate grille theme for nearly 70 years (see below).

1941 Cadillac 61 -- first year of current styling theme.

2008 Cadillac CTS



posted by Donald at August 8, 2008


One thing about a Jag, no matter what model you knew instantly it was a JAG! No longer true it seems.

Posted by: susan on August 10, 2008 9:47 AM

Jaguar styling has always been a hallmark for excitement. The mechanicals however leave much to be desired. I own a 2002 s-type, the mechanic has it more than me. I told him that we should just be grateful Jaguar doesn't build airplanes, they'd be falling out of the sky on a regular basis.

Posted by: Gene Chapo on August 10, 2008 3:42 PM

The Lexus is a far better value.

The 2.4 Sedan was one of the most beautiful sedans ever designed. It still is. The interior is great, too.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 10, 2008 3:49 PM

Love those vintage Jags. Sexy and gentlemanly both, a combo unknown today. But the newer ones ... You're right, why not buy a Kia instead? Thanks for the visual roundup, a real education.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 11, 2008 12:21 AM

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