COLUMNS: Bertone Jaguar B99

May 17, 2011
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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.
Bertone Jaguar B99 Left Side View
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.
Great designers can do only so much if they are compelled to follow a template that does not truly fit the marque they're working on. Jaguar's range desperately needs a solid replacement for the defunct entry-level X-type, the company's biggest contemporary seller despite the car's lack of grace, which was the result of its being a Ford Mondeo in a Jaguar suit. There's no question that Jaguar has the design team it needs, but it must also have management that will let its cars be Jaguars, not a compendium of "best-in-class" measurements.
Bertone Jaguar B99 Front Side View
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. Blanked-out grille has to do with Bertone's notion that this should be a hybrid with lower-than-usual cooling requirements. Bits of sparkly material -- glass? -- around the rim do not read from normal driving distances.
2. Bladelike lamps at the corners of the body have nothing whatsoever to do with past Jaguar practice yet look perfectly appropriate.
3. This subtle, indented line emphasizes the dropping front profile. It starts just behind the headlamps, runs through the door handles, and disappears in the rear door skin.
4. A rearview camera resides in this slim blade, leaving the entire upper body a single clean sculptural form.
5. Classic Jaguar haunches are preserved, with the upper nestling down between the peaks of the fenders. Elegant, graceful, and traditional, but not retro.
6. Simple constant-section sill-trim strip slopes upward toward the rear, almost unnoticeably so. Understated elegance.
7. Bertone used production Jaguar wheels, putting total design emphasis on the stance and proportions rather than on details that might distract from the whole presentation.
8. Angled elements enhance the impression of width and provide a subtle bit of decoration.
SIDE VIEW
Bertone Jaguar B99 Side View
9. The retro look has been avoided, but this rear quarter panel is, alas, rather banal, with a backlight resembling the last pre-Mulally Ford Taurus.
10. The front overhang is radically shorter than normal Jaguar practice. But the BMW 3-series shows that this is not just desirable but possible.
11. And the rear overhang is considerably shorter than on 1968-2009 Jaguar XJ sedans.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
12. Side-marker lamp is integrated below the undercut crease.
13. Antagonistic door openings allow grouping of the door handles, as on the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Again, set just below the indented crease line.
14. Rear door cut is unusually far back, but the rear hinging allows easy entry despite a quite-short back door. The line emphasizes the rounded transverse section.
15. There's nothing left of the very round Jaguar rear quarter, which is just as well since it was taken up by Chrysler's LH models long ago.
16. Wraparound taillights are simple, elegant, and effective in increasing apparent width. They would also be economical to produce, important for an entry-level model.
17. This shieldlike panel isn't easy to justify, although its top chrome strip is a definite Jaguar style mark.

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