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Has Jaguar Lost its Way?

February 23, 2011

To many in the automotive world the name Jaguar has, for generations, stirred up images of graceful styling, handcrafted interiors, and exhilarating performance.  The brand, which in the 1950’s and 60’s represented some of the most beautiful (and collectible) sports cars of all time, has also survived fiscal crisis, several changes of ownership, and a fluctuating reputation for reliability.  Through it all, the character of these cars has made them modern legends.  As a car junkie myself I have always had a very soft spot in my heart for Jaguars both old and new.  To me it seemed these cars were always a little different from the rest of the pack, whether it is a warm, inviting interior or simply the timeless, work-of-art styling, Jaguar represented something filled with emotion every time I saw one on the road.  Among the cars I have always wanted in my garage, even since I was 15 years old, has been the mid 1980’s Jaguar XJ6 Series III.  This model, which is arguably the most successful in the company’s history, evoked the charm, class, and timeless styling that made the “leaping cat” hood ornament so recognizable to the average citizen. 

During the 1990’s and early 2000’s, when the technological advances of the German and Japanese automakers were starting to leave Jaguar behind, Ford ownership of the company improved the cars to a point where rankings in the highly respected JD Power quality surveys were reaching all-time records.  While BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and the like would still nearly always beat out Jaguar in comparison tests, the British cars for the most part still had their own draw that kept buyers coming back, and now with a newfound reliability.  However, as time wore on and designers kept re-hashing old styling cues from those iconic models from the past, it became apparent a new design focus was needed to take Jaguar into the 21st century.  That focus is now here with the second new model in recent years to hit showrooms, the totally new XJ. 

I have had my chance to see the newest iteration of the Jaguar XJ both at auto shows as well as on the street here in Orange County, and I must say I am disappointed in the result of the company’s new styling direction.  It is no secret that the latest model from this manufacturer, now under the ownership of Tata Motors of India, is a “make or break” for the brand.  Years of declining sales and some “bunts” such as the ill-fated X-Type (a poorly built and executed answer to the C-Class and 3-Series), has put Jaguar in a “must-win” position to regain market share.  The problem I see with the new styling is that the designers have simply worked too hard at developing something daring, fresh and modern, without respect for creating something timeless.  When I see this car on the road I ask myself “if you took the badges off would anyone know it is a Jaguar?”  I also ask myself if anyone really thinks these cars are truly beautiful, in the way a collector looks at a piece of art.  As silly as that may sound to some, this is how many who have loved the cars for years have viewed their styling.  Now, I would be the first to say Jaguar had to move in a new direction, step forward in a way that was groundbreaking for the brand.  However, in the process the designers have, in my opinion, moved too far away from the mark.  Stumbling has certainly happened before, as the updated XJ6 from 1988-1994 was criticized by many for being a bit too slab-sided.  But even those cars had retained much of the low-roof, sleek, graceful packaging that made them look lighter on the road and more romantic in print than any of their competitors. 

What is ironic today is that the German manufacturers, long seen as very cold and technical in their styling, have ”out-Jaguared” Jaguar in many respects in recent years.  Two fine examples of this are the original Mercedes-Benz CLS sedan, which launched here in 2006, and the 2012 Audi A7.  Dubbed a “four-door coupe,” the CLS embodied the emotion, flair, and downright instant-classic styling that should have been coming from the drawing board at Jaguar.  Both it and the A7 possess the sleek, slender lines, athletic stance on the road, and sure to be timeless styling that represents what should be described as Jaguar design virtues.  At the same time, these two models bring groundbreaking elements to the table, and are modern without having to be “retro” in their looks.  Make no mistake; I am not in the camp of keeping Jaguars old-fashioned looking.  However, I’m a firm believer that a brand can move into a new styling direction while still keeping the virtues that made them successful in the first place.  Just look at the designs that have come from Audi over the past several years, and then look at their sales numbers.  The results speak for themselves.    When it comes to world-class car companies these days styling home runs are a must, and with their latest flagship sedan it appears Jaguar is wearing flashy new team colors yet aiming for a base hit.

The new 2011 Jaguar XJ

Unflattering rear view of the 2011 Jaguar XJ

The 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 55 AMG

The 2012 Audi A7

The 1987 Jaguar XJ6 represents timeless classic styling

The Jaguar XK120 is highly sought-after by collectors today

A 1974 ad for the famed E-Type demonstrated the brand's sex appeal

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2011 11:09 pm

    Jaguar has an amazingly prosperous record, one that has created strategies all through the preceding years and maintains to put forth an upbeat power even today.

  2. February 10, 2012 1:26 pm

    i lovee jaguar

  3. Dave Jones permalink
    September 28, 2014 9:35 am

    X-Type was actually pretty good car. I owned a 2009 model for three years and never had one single problem with it. Unlike BMW and Mercedes it always attracted a lot of positive admiration and attention from people.

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