There are classics in car design, such as Ford's Mustang and Porsche's 911, whose shapes have persisted with subtle variations for forty years. Jaguar's XJ sedan is almost equally long-lived, but sales have dropped as it passed through many iterations that were all much too closely based--even the last all-aluminum model--on Sir William Lyon's original design. Now, finally, the XJ has a completely new shape, impressively handsome and vastly better, in terms of space and comfort, than any of its forebears.
The initial presentation to the American press at Hedsor House, an archetypical English stately home, was the best I've experienced in half a century of seeing new cars before their public showing: we were marshaled onto a second floor balcony overlooking the home's beautiful park and its long driveway. Two of the new cars--one of each wheelbase--approached and moved smoothly around the area so we could see them from every direction while Jaguar design leader Ian Callum talked about their design. Given that it is impossible to properly judge a new design until you have seen it in motion, this was a brilliant way to present a vitally important product.
The XJ has some elements reminiscent of the midrange XF, in particular the nearly rectangular trapezoidal grille, but in all respects the XJ is more refined, elegant, and impressive. Its six-window side profile is elongated and beautifully delineated by a bright metal surround culminating in a thicker section at the pointed aft end.
The C-pillars are a glossy black on every car. Questioned about making it body color, Callum insists that the difference is important, even on cars painted black, where only surface reflectivity, not color, changes. There is no question that the upper looks wider with darkened glass and the blacked-out pillars. Dramatic elongated taillights owe nothing to the past.
The body sides are quite plain, with only a small chrome vent on the front fender behind the wheel opening and a slight indentation through the front doors that disappears a third of the way back on the rear door panels. There are sharp peaks to the front and rear fenders, well outboard, to emphasize the body's width.
The front profile rounds down following the wheel opening, allowing the hood and grille to thrust forward, with the headlamps joining the disparate profiles. A subtle bulge above the center of the headlamp cover recalls, almost subliminally, surfaces behind the headlamps of the original XJ. The interior is pure classic Jaguar, raised to the nth power. The sound system is so good that by contrast it puts the Lexus "concert hall" into the provincial high-school gymnasium category.
Life is going to be difficult for all luxury car makers now (much like the 1930s, when many makes disappeared), but we think Jaguar has an excellent chance, if only based on the fact that everyone who saw the XJ was eager to drive it as soon as possible.