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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Quick Thoughts: Does my D-Pillar look big in this?

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The embargo has finally lifted on the new Jaguar XJ and although I’ve just woken up and am still a little bleary eyed, the big Coventry cat has already made quite an impression.

Times are tough for luxury car makers and few have had it tougher for longer than Jaguar. As sales of traditional large saloons free-fall and the cost of running them continue to rise, any new entrant to the segment needs to offer distinction and at least a convincing veneer of making good financial and environmental sense. On the face of it, the new XJ seems to achieve all of this.

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_w copyWhile the family resemblance to the XF is clear, the design team’s approach to proportion and surface resolution has imbued a more relaxed feel to the XJ, swapping the XF’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed exuberance for the preening satisfaction of a large, not corpulent, cat enjoying a luxuriant stretch. From the front and side, there is an elongated, fluid elegance to the form that’s really quite beguiling.

2010jaguarxj_abh000The cavernous upright grille in concert with the shoulder line that plunges down to form a more sharply defined corner than on the XF  further bolster the transition of Jaguar from a brand that majored in horizontal down-road graphics (forgettable S-Type notwithstanding) to a new sort of butch, low-set verticality that’s quite distinct from the XF. In a market segment that’s dominated by kidneys, cheese-graters and  gaping maws, Jaguar has clearly been working hard to establish a new and distinctive facial identity. The satisfying head-lamp graphic, first seen on the C-XF concept and sadly missed on the XF, finally sees the light of day here although is seems that the detail resolution of the lamp-cans and LED integration may leave a little bit to be desired.

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Seen in profile, there’s a pleasingly discreet muscularity to the surfaces that, once again, differentiate the car from the XF by way of having a touch more fluidity about them. The overly balanced nature of the fade of the shoulder line does give me some cause for concern however. In profile it’s not so noticeable but in any of the three-quarter views I’ve ssen (and remember, I’m only going off the press shots) the decision to break the shoulder so emphatically and equally on either side of the B-Pillar leaves the car looking a bit too static and heavy set. It would have been nice to see the break occurring a little further rearward with a touch more flounce through the rear haunch. To my mind, doing so would lighten things up a bit and reference both the XK a little more strongly and acknowledge the marque’s past XJ glories.

2010jaguarxj_abh007-1It’s also in profile that the most controversial element of the design comes in to play. To black-out the D-Pillar is an astoundingly bold move and, to be frank, one I’m struggling to see the stylistic benefit of. Lacking any visual relationship to other features seen in profile and butting up against the chromed DLO (therefore denying it the chance to appear as a continuation of the glasshouse from front to rear), it seems controversial for the sake of being so and a little bit cheap as a consequence. Every so often I see Range Rovers of various vintages with body coloured D-Pillars (and indeed pre-production Series 1 cars were so afflicted. In the Range Rover’s case the functional and stylistic benefits of the black-out were clear) and I’m now wondering how many XJ owners will go down the same path of having the pillar painted to match. It’s also interesting to note that in some of the rear 3/4 press shots, the blacked-out section is obfuscated by some none-too-artfully applied lens flare… second thoughts on behalf of the press department?

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Having been a one-time owner of a Citroen CX, I never thought I’d see the day when another manufacturer would so whole-heatedly embrace the large fast-back saloon. Yet the XJ sees Jaguar strengthening it’s affinity for the body-style, having shocked me senseless with the similarly fast-backed XF. Playing up to the current vogue for coupe-esque 4-doors, there’s an elegance to the fall of the XJ’s roof line over the rear-seats into a bone-line that runs through the trunk lid. If only my eye didn’t have to do a double take every time it hit that damned D-Pillar!

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_wallpaper_13The rear of the car, like the front, trades the horizontal, Aston-esque feel of the XF for a more formal vertical arrangement and, to be frank, none of the press shots seem to capture a particularly flattering view of it. The shallow, high-set appearance of the glass leads to a very deep trunk-lid and a deep, pouty bumper that all conspire to make the rear 3/4 heavy and  block-like. It’s an effect not dissimilar to the similarly heavy-handed treatment that blighted the otherwise lovely XK8.

I can’t help thinking that the rear screen shouldn’t have been pulled further down, either through a larger aperture or by masking, as Citroen did with the CX and, more recently, Volkswagen with the Passat CC, to reduce the height of the body section. Indeed, pulling the base of the rear screen lower would also allow it to key with the waist line and enable a somewhat more satisfying resolution of the D-Pillar to boot. The inward flow of the tall rear lamps also make the whole composition feel a little bit narrow from some angles.

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Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_wint copyThe interior is yet another handsome departure from Jaguars past and there are some truly lovely details to be found. Favourite of these would have to be the wood or carbon fibre waist rail that encircles the cockpit, a conscious nod to sports cruiser boats like the Riva says chief designer Ian Callum. Indeed the whole leather-trimmed IP structure is a refreshing repost to the dull, high-hooded monoliths we’ve seen in recent years from BMW and Mercedes with the cowled centre vents and jewel-like clock looking particularly rakish.

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_wdial copyOn the technology front it’s noteworthy that Jaguar has joined with Land Rover in being the first to market with a completely TFT-based instrument display allowing for customisation and on-the-fly re-configurability. Given the inherent flexibility of the system, it would be nice to see Jaguar offering customers a choice of dial face as the one depicted in the press shots seems just a little heavy-handed and overly analogue in style for the underlying technology.

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_w copybleurghGiven that so much of the story of a car’s interior is told through the details, I’m reluctant to go further until I actually sit in the car and can have a good feel, but I will say this: i thought the neon blue ambient lighting in the XF was a little below a Jaguar’s station in life. Here it seems inappropriately cheap and overly cold, especially against the warmer trim choices available. Neon blue against tobacco tan? No thanks.

On an environmental note, I was astonished to learn that the aluminium (50% of which is post-recycled) XJ weighs slightly less than the XF and anywhere up to an amazing 220 Kg less that the German competition. Combined with Jag’s phenomenal diesels, never mind the green-washing hybrid, we should expect a combination of performance and parsimoniousness never before seen in this segment of the market. The green argument is also helped by the car being 85% recyclable come the end of it’s (hopefully) long life.

The proof of a new car is always in the metal and it may be some time before I can get my hands -and eyes- on the real thing, but on the whole my first impression is a positive one. The XJ can’t fail to cut a distinctive swathe through the throngs of 3-box luxury saloons -more awkward design elements aside- and the interior marks a refreshing change both from the cloyingly retro feel of the previous car and the considered averageness of it’s competitors. As with Jags past, it may well be the detailing that lets it down but on first impressions the new XJ is well placed to steal the thunder of the luxury saloon market as the first green shoots of financial recovery begin to appear.

Category: Car, Design, Design Strategy, Eco, Premium, Sustainability, Things I like

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4 Responses

  1. Brian DR1665 says:

    What a great read! I read plenty of sites where people interested in cars and design talk about them, but I thoroughly enjoyed your point of view on this Jag.

    Those D-pillars do force a double take when one follows the lines, and the tail lights are reminiscent of late-70s Cutlass, but over all, I really like how this car looks. It’s classy from just about every angle (such is the duty of press shots like these).

    I particularly like the interior. I get what you’re saying about the blue LED lighting, but just about any other color of LED is going to look artificial. Perhaps that’s the underlying dislike of the lighting? Not necessarily that it’s blue, but cool and artificial in an otherwise warm and natural interior?

    In any case, thanks for the quality read. Enjoyed it.

  2. Massimo says:

    Fantastic article.

    3 point to consider:

    1)why the shoulder line merge on the body side, I see two reason in it,
    the first is is a technical reason, by merging into the body side the engineers maximized interior space just where the front seat are, giving more space to the passenger shoulders feeling.
    the second is a style point in a long car like this is possible that the designer wants to break the highlight running on the body side to not make it to boring. In this way they created a double highlights the your eyes have to read separately. It gives more eyes wondering. I agree with you the car would have look more muscular, but it is a long car and so this must be taken into consideration.

    2)rear/back light and trunk lid, masking like Passat CC it is not possible here if you mask the trunk became too short and again in a saloon car has to be considered. Instead I agree that they should have shape differently the trunk lid, lowering down maybe just less than 1 inch the all
    structure. This take us to the all design of the back it feels very vertical and heavy. Jaguar design knows it that why they have integrated an horizontal shadow in the rear mask of the trunk lid. It helps but does not solve the solution because the two rear lamps have a very strong presence.

    3)the D pillar, what a mistake, only hope is that in production they will correct this pointless element. Just notice why you mask the pillar when you have a strong chrome feature in the DLO.

    Ultimately rather than some correctable issue at the back a very well done executed design. You are right, if the quality is right could be a killer of the Germans.

  3. Alexander says:

    I concur with the other comments, this post’s a great read, and it’s nice to see some prose focussing on details instead of inconsequential ramblings by motor journalists on aesthetics and quality.

    My opinion on the Jag in question may sound too simplistic, especially after reading such well-spun statements, but here goes. I’m not too keen on the rear end as it seems too large, but the interior is, as you say, a refreshing contrast to the what the Germans do.

    Surprised to read you used to own a CX. For what it’s worth, it’s one of my favourite cars of all time.

  4. DTI says:

    I’m not bothered by the rear pillar, in fact, I think I understand why they did it that way. When looking at the car from the side view, you read the chrome strip, and not the cantrail, top of the pillar or the Y-0. This creates the effect of a sleeker, more coupe-ish profile — a popular trend in 4-door luxury saloons these days. It also gives it a unique graphic look from the rear 3/4. You may like it or you may dislike it, but it’s at least a bold statement, and it will stand out in a crowd.

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