2011 Design of the Year: Jaguar XJ

This beautiful sedan is our reward for the billions of dollars that the Ford Motor Company poured into Coventry's moribund Jaguar before off-loading the brand in 2008. Ford made a lot of mistakes with Jaguar, starting with buying it in the first place, although most of them related to applying Detroit's rigid mind-set to a company that was its antithesis. But in one respect Ford's ingrained attitudes brought a major improvement: Jaguar manufacturing quality is better, even if the cars aren't always up to the standard that their superb appearance implies. With increased reliability and an advanced aluminum structure, Jaguar's XJ ought to have been our 2004 Design of the Year --- except that it hewed so closely to revered 1968 shapes that few perceived the difference between the 2003 steel and 2004 aluminum cars.

There's no danger of that now. The 2011 model is gloriously, magnificently different from the forty-two-year-old XJ design template. It looks-and is-powerful, refined, and aerodynamic. It retains the aluminum structure of the previous model, picks up XF styling cues, and has its own characteristics that will likely evolve further in succeeding generations, following the highly successful design program of Jaguar founder/stylist Sir William Lyons.

A 1958 book, L'Automobile et ses Grands Problèmes, has a series of illustrations showing how styling features -- a fender here, a rear roof profile there -- of Jaguar models from the late 1930s onward had been retained and used on later models for a generation or two before being dropped. Lyons used that technique consistently throughout the entire period when he was Jaguar's primary stylist. When he retired, his successors forgot the evolutionary aspect of his modus operandi and persisted with all past design cues, rather than just some of them.

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