At a private event ahead of the 2020 Jaguar XE’s North American unveil at the New York auto show, Jaguar design director Ian Callum shed some light on how his decades of experience penning cars helped finesse the XE’s familiar shape into something fresh, giving it a fighting chance against German juggernauts like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-class.
1) Make It Personal
Like any dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast, Ian Callum views cars as more than just sheetmetal. To get his point across, the Scottish designer draws analogies between man and machine. “I really enjoy facelifts, because when you design a car you’re very close to it and it’s a bit like getting to know a person,” he says. “Once you’ve seen that car on the road for three or four years, you start to understand this character you’ve created. It’s like people, really—you start to see what you can make better. You can’t do it with people, of course, but you can do it with cars.”
2) Use Small Changes to Big Effect
Though the XE’s proportional fundamentals—wheelbase, track, length, etc.—remain unchanged, Callum and his team used optics to differentiate two new trim levels. By sculpting upturned blades on the outer portions of the Dynamic version’s front fascia, he gave the illusion that the wheels were pushed outward. “I like the way the front fender wraps around the wheel and pulls the corner as much as possible.” The Luxury model uses a more horizontal line to accentuate the width of the car.
3) Find the Place Where Tech Meets Beauty
Obvious bits of technology have been incorporated into the XE, like the interior’s 12.0-inch TFT screen inherited from the I-Pace EV. However, subtler elements like LED headlamps and taillamps combined with a slimmer grille helped shapeshift the perceived dimensions of the car. “That helps give the car more stature, more assertiveness,” Callum says.
4) Think Out of the (Three) Box
“We worked very hard to get the sportiness into our cars because we’re a sports-car company,” Callum says, “and if it means the roofline of the car has to be more coupe-like, then that’s the way it has to be.” But sculpting the XE’s roof proved to be a careful balance between grace and space. “We have to work millimeter by millimeter to get that profile to work. That’s why engineers and designers work together to create that very, very special look without sacrificing too much inside space.”
5. Draw on Brand-Appropriate Parallels
Driving home the point of Jaguar’s sportiness, Callum often describes design choices using terminology derived from motorsports. “Instead of the horizontal [line in the taillamps] with the roundel you’ve seen in the last generation of Jaguars, which incidentally was inspired by the E-Type, we’ve gone with the chicane line—chicane being quite an appropriate word, coming from the race track.”
6) Think in 3D
Callum says that the entirety of the XE’s interior has been reworked in one way or another, with a particular element offering an improved experience: the door handle. “We’ve given the doors a lot of sculpture, working hard ergonomically to give it what we call 360 grab handles, which will be our philosophy for the next generation of cars.” The new shape makes the handle easy to reach out and grab, a small win that improves the overall ergonomics of getting into and out of the car.
7) When Life Gives You Slushboxes, Make Lemonade
“I know you guys like stick shifts; I personally prefer the paddles, and I know it’s a very personal thing.” Indeed it is. “We’ve also changed the gear lever. You might have noticed the old car had the rotary control, but some of us felt that perhaps the sport shift [lever] is probably more appropriate for this car.” Many of us still wish there were a manual, but we certainly won’t miss the old rotary dial gear lever.