It's not that we are offended by it or against it -- it is just not for us." So said Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar's recently recruited global brand director, referring to the Bertone B99 concept shown at Geneva in March. Big mistake, in my opinion. The B99 looks more like an archetypal Jaguar than do current production Jaguar sedans, and it does so without being retro. The XJ sedan, our Design of the Year, still retains vestiges of Sir William Lyons' double-bump headlamp nacelles from the 1960s, a more overtly retro detail than anything on Bertone's concept, and it suffers from those goofy black C-pillars and cribbed Lancia taillights.
The strength of the B99 concept lies in its stance and proportions. It is low, wide, and has a sharply reduced front overhang, perfectly in line with Jaguar's heritage of sportiness. It also enjoys a magnificent interior replete with lavish use of wood in a manner never seen before but absolutely consistent with Jaguar tradition. Obviously, Jaguar should not adopt the B99 in its entirety, but the firm really ought to think hard about how to adopt its excellent proportions in production. I am told that Jaguar engineers do not believe its short front overhang can be achieved, which suggests that perhaps the company's leaders ought to be recruiting some BMW body engineers to readjust their own team's thinking. Engineers always like to play it safe by repeating what they have already proven, and radical improvements -- like the nearly flush side glass first seen decades back on the Audi 5000 -- usually require a firm push from stylists. The latter should never take "no" for an answer.
If you look at the entire history of Jaguar, including Swallow SS models from the 1930s, the value of their styling has always been in their exquisite proportions -- frequently maintained at the cost of cramped accommodations, limited luggage space, and other undesirable characteristics. No matter, they looked great and people were eager to buy them despite any practical drawbacks. It is ironic that this Italian concept, its design team led by an American director (Michael Robinson) and a British chief designer (Adrian Griffiths) should be closer to Sir William Lyons' practices than are the current XF and XJ cars. Good as those are, their packaging was based on Ford-imposed benchmarking and rationalization to suit American sensibilities -- and are the worse for it.