Loves Labour Lost

97869864 Loves Labour LostJaguar’s embargo on pictures of their new XF midrange model expired over the weekend. After seeing the snaps, it’s clear the brand is set to follow suit. Whereas the Jaguar C-XF concept car was a stunning shape with brilliant details, the production version is… meh. Of course, the concept-to-production castration has afflicted many a dream car. But the transformation is particularly regrettable for Jag. While Porsche had 14 years to move production Boxsters back toward the spirit of the original concept, Jaguar is out of time. 

The past fifteen years have been excruciating for fans of the once-legendary British brand. Although Jag’s reliability and quality were removed from the laughing stocks, the company’s management made a stunning and seemingly endless series of catastrophic miscalculations: retro-styling, anemic engines, diesel engines, station wagons, anemic diesel station wagons and a model so execrable it threatened to banish “X” to the bottom of the cool letter list. And the rest, including misbegotten marketing and Ye Olde Ford lack of continual development.

355552502 Loves Labour LostFast forward to today and the time has come for Lyon’s legacy to face the final curtain– or at least a transfer of ownership from Ford to someone else. But even as FoMoCo prepares to cut bait and fish, Jaguar needs something, anything, to keep itself alive until someone, somewhere can get into resurrection mode. The XF is so not it. In fact, the sedan may reduce the marque’s selling price and hinder any efforts to apply the paddles to the brand’s sunken chest. 

The C-XF made the auto show circuit to demonstrate that the old cat had at least one life left. Even before it headed back to the Galactica for federalization, Jag supporters fretted that its claws would be removed. Designer Ian Callum felt compelled to assure onlookers that the concept vehicle would be locked away in the Jaguar “vault” after it made the rounds.

And the concept might still be in that vault, for all we know. Meanwhile the production version of the C-XF is exactly what its admirers feared: yet another bland brand betrayal. 

1303966498 Loves Labour LostFor example, the door handles, hidden in the B and C pillars on the concept, are now sticking out on the sides of the car just like everything else on the road.  The concept’s glamorous headlamps have become globular and saggy headlights. The C-XF’s low roofline was lifted to allow taller folks to enter comfortably; a sure sign that God hates proper sports cars. 

Jag’s interior defecators took the C-XF’s break-from-tradition cabin– remarkable not just for its shape but for the absence of traditional stuffy Jaguar club-room finishing– and threw it in the rubbish bin. In its stead, the production XF will be adorned with the usual almost BMW-quality leather and wood polished until it looks just like plastic. Oh, a few novel elements from the concept’s interior made it to market.

1634043507 Loves Labour LostA gimmicky gear selector knob called JaguarDrive SelectorTM rises from the XF’s center tunnel. Trick yes, but also a bold declaration that Jag’s “true sports saloon” will have neither a manual gearbox nor a dual clutch S-tronic DSG type deal. And although the XF’s six-speed automatic is a welcome advance, it keeps Jaguar in its now traditional spot: one step behind the competition. Lest we forget, Mercedes is packing seven-speed boxes into its cars thee days, and the rest of the luxury pack are paddling pistonheads to performance-related profit.

The XF also features covered air vents that “roll back” when the driver presses  the push-button ignition– that pulses like a “beating heart” (or annoying idiot light). It’s a direct steal from the Volkswagen Phaeton, with one critical telling difference: when the Vee Dub reaches the appropriate cabin temperature, the fascia rolls back and continues heating or cooling with indirect ventilation. Not so the XF. So, what’s the point?

684747480 Loves Labour LostThe XF’s engine lineup is the real bright spot in this tarted-up Teutonic wannabe– if only because it isn’t a 3.0-liter Duratec V6. Well not for the Yanks anyway. While the Eurozone gets the old six-pot and a diesel option, American XF’s come one way: with a 300-horse V8. Hang on; Jaguar’s latest example of cutting-edge engineering needs two extra cylinders to put out what Infiniti, Cadillac, Acura, Lexus, and BMW are doing with six pipes? And while the eventual 420-horse supercharged V8 will be a screamer, it’s far from enough to pull this buggy out of the mud.

On the face of it, before a test drive, the XF looks like it’s too little too late. Again. If The Blue Oval Boyz hadn’t lost $12.6b last year, the XF might be acceptable. If Jaguar’s U.S. sales were more like 2002’s 60k cars and not 2006’s 20k, the XF might be a “solid effort.” But Coventry doesn’t have that luxury. The XF needed to be a grand-slam home run. It isn’t. Here’s hoping the new management has better luck. 

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