Jaguar XF: Just what would Arthur say?
It's about to be sold to the Indians and the new XF is more Mondeo than Jaguar. What's happened to the marque that made drivers feel special and evoked the best of Britain?
Sunday 10 February 2008
I haven't so much as sat in the new Jaguar XF yet, let alone driven it (and when the company reads this, I doubt I ever will), but I can't help feeling that it is a colossal mistake.
The "most important car in Jaguar's history" (this week at least) looks a bit of a mess. No, it's worse than that: it looks a bit of a Mondeo. They have modernised too far.
Us car journos are never satisfied, are we? One minute we're complaining that Jaguars are too mock Tudor, the next we are saying they are too Jetsons. But it's not that the XF is modern – more that there is nothing remotely Jaguar-ish about it. I know the company is desperate to reduce the average age of buyers from Methuselah to middle aged, but is that the strangled gurgles of the baby disappearing down the plug hole I hear?
This is doubly worrisome at a time when Ford is trying to flog the company for a rumoured £1bn or so, together with Land Rover.
Jaguar is widely believed to have been running at a considerable loss – we are talking hundreds of millions here – since the XJS was still going strong. In fact, many would say Simon Templar's slinky coupé was the last true Jaguar, before the lazy pastiche of the S-Type and current XJ ranges turned things all costume drama. Until then, driving a Jaguar made you feel special; there was a sense of occasion to climbing aboard. Jaguars evoked two oddly polarised but quintessentially English worlds of either gravel drives and sock garters, or crow bars and camel coats. But the XF is all Hugo Boss three-buttons, and Gatwick long-stay parking.
But I have a solution. Last night, troubled by the company's plight, I woke in the early hours with its old slogan, "Grace, Space, Pace", swirling feverishly round my head. It occurred to me that one way to rekindle a bit of passion would be to add "Race" to that. Yes, I thought to myself, with mounting excitement, Jaguar should find inspiration from the days of Moss and Hawthorn, Le Mans glory and all that. As with all my ideas, it seemed brilliant at 3am and I diligently scrawled the world "Race" on my wife's forehead in the dark. But then I woke up and remembered that Jaguar had actually tried that recently, blowing countless millions on a doomed foray into F1.
But then I had another, even better idea, inspired by another British motoring legend that has emerged from the doldrums to conquer the world: Rolls-Royce. Faced with a tarnished marque, bullish BMW built a Rolls that was bigger and more expensive, and that is exactly what Jaguar should do. Forget about battling with Euro execs with diesel and estate versions, and build a bigger, more ostentatious XJ to take on Bentley, and next year's Aston Rapide and Porsche Panamera four-doors, while it still has some residual brand kudos left.
Except Jaguar is about to be sold to India, in the shape of Tata, which is best known in the UK for a crayon-drawn off-roader and whose latest model is a motorised wheelie bin soon to go on sale for the price of a widescreen TV.
American dealers have already expressed their horror at the buyout, fearing it will taint the brand. But never mind them: Arthur Daley will be spinning in his grave.
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