Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum on the new Jaguar XJ

The new Jaguar XJ is a lot of things – groundbreaking, fresh, and of course, luxurious. But don’t call it beautiful.

“All you can hope for in the modern world is handsome,” said Jaguar design director Ian Callum, who was showing the new XJ to a small group of journalists today at Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Instead of timeless beauty, which Callum contends is very difficult to achieve in the world of modern regulation, the Jaguar team looked to create something truly new.

“I remember Jaguar in the 50s and 60s, when it was a modern car company, and every car was quite innovative. Then it kind of froze for thirty years…We decided that this car had to a modern motorcar.”

That’s why the new XJ, after three decades of comfortable, if tired familiarity, now looks like nothing else on the road. The bold design looks even more radical in person than in pictures, particularly from the back, where the blacked-out C-pillars appear nearly horizontal. It also looks stunningly large, even though it’s only about an inch longer than a 750Li.

The new look will no doubt turn off a few loyalists, and to these untrained eyes, still doesn’t look completely natural, but Callum maintains Jaguar had more to lose by continuing to stand still.

“We couldn’t sustain the customers we had with traditional design,” he said, adding, “Particularly in the United States, newness has become much more important than it was before. This business relies on newness.”

Controversial as it may appear on the outside, the interior is absolutely beyond reproach. Most exceptional is the strip of real wood – produced by Jaguar, not a supplier – that sweeps across the leading edge of the dashboard. Jaguar continues to rely on a touch screen, rather than a iDrive-like controller, for its navigation interface, but has updated it from the version that's in the Jaguar XF to allow drivers to more quickly switch through various functions. The proximity-sensor glovebox button and lights, which we complained about endlessly on our Four Seasons XF, have regrettably made their way to the XJ, but Callum assures us they’ve been recalibrated such that passengers will no longer find they’ve accidentally opened the glovebox with their knees.

Callum likewise asserts, with certainty typical to car designers, that laymen will learn to appreciate the XJ’s reimagined skin.

“Your eyes will adjust to a new design, as long as it’s fundamentally correct.”

Other tidbits:

--The XJ won’t have all-wheel-drive, as engineers cannot package it in the platform, which carries over with some changes from the last-gen model.

--Jaguar, like most manufacturers, is taking a wait-and-see approach on its diesels. The XJ, like the XF will be available in Europe with a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 making 271 hp. Callum points out that the car weighs about a 1000 pounds less than the Lexus’ hybrid flagship LS600hL, but concedes that the U.S. market – and U.S. emissions laws – make the case for bringing it over here difficult.

-- The XJ’s front fascia is constructed of magnesium and is rather simply bolted onto the unibody. This saves weight and makes for a less expensive repair when someone backs a Chevy Uplander into your brand new Jag.

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