Jaguar plays it safe

 

The XE was escorted through London by two classic Jaguar police cars.

Time-shifts took him through the story of Jaguar from the SS 100 (though not, surprisingly, the original SS Jaguar saloon, which is the direct parallel with the XE), through the XK 120 to the E-type and onwards. Jaguar people from history were characterised, including Sir William Lyons himself, although chief engineer Bill Heynes (represented by an actor wearing a trilby hat and speaking with a Brummie accent) was much more Fred Gardner than the public schooleducated Mr Heynes! This all went on for rather a long time and I have to confess I continued working on another part of my screen; someone who was there told me that the couple in front of him started watching a film on their iPad…

IT WILL NOT STAND OUT DRAMATICALLY FROM ITS RIVALS, BUT THAT’S WHAT THIS MARKET SECTOR WANTS

Nevertheless, it was all superbly professional and made a good introduction to Ian Callum, who dreamed of designing Jaguars as a youngster, corresponding to the boy in the story. It was also a great introduction to the car, which arrived at Earls Court in a variety of ways, the most memorable part to me being when the red XE was escorted at a good pace through the darkened streets of London by two white Jaguar 240 (Mark 2) police cars.

But what about the Jaguar XE itself, then? Had Ian Callum been successful in producing an equivalent of what he himself has described as the most perfect Jaguar saloon design ever, the Mark 2? My immediate impression was that Jaguar had avoided risk. XE is clearly derivative of XF in terms of its overall appearance, and, perhaps even more so than XF, is a shape the contours of which will be familiar to owners of the smaller BMWs and Mercedes saloons. Radical or retro would both have been too risky. Jaguar has to sell into new markets where its heritage is not necessarily well known, so retro might be incomprehensible, while radical is innately risky. Don’t forget that, as Ian has said himself on a number of occasions, Jaguar has rarely departed from prevailing fashions over the years. The first Jaguar saloon of 1935 was a dead ringer for a Park Ward-bodied Bentley, the XK 120 of 1948 used shapes first developed by Italian coachbuilding houses some years before, and even the original 1968 XJ was, essentially, a conventional three-box saloon of its time. Perhaps only (you’ve guessed it) the E-type was truly radical, but, even then, most of its features had been seen on sportsracing cars as far back as the early Fifties.

What the XE does seem to have is the fine proportions of a true Jaguar, with no unnecessary embellishments. Overall, it will not stand out dramatically from its rivals, but that’s what this market sector wants: a car that can be understood for what it is, a modern sports saloon, and not be viewed as an oddity, a designer’s indulgence. What will sell this car as much as its looks will be its technical advantages over its rivals – its aluminium architecture, its frugal new range of engines, and its competitive pricing. It was never going to fail (as, essentially, did the X-TYPE), but exactly how great its commercial success will be can be determined, as ever, only by the marketplace. We will just have to wait and see what the longer-term verdict is. 

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