The factory visits are over, due diligence is done and the bids are in. Jaguar, along with sister firm Land Rover, is in play and, according to industry insiders, Ford (the vendor of both) will make its mind up between the bids from two Indian carmakers and a private equity firm within the next two weeks.
Jaguar claims to have a forthright new strategy, a money-spinning new coupé, the XK, and now its new XF saloon, possibly the year’s most over-hyped car.
Yet even the most cursory glance at the books reveals the parlous state in which a tawdry procession of ex-Ford bosses have left Sir William Lyons’s once-proud carmaker. In the past decade, annual sales rose from 50,000 to 130,000 in 2002 – then fell back to about 63,000 this year. Sales for the big XJ saloon say it all. In 1998 Jaguar sold 37,000 of these highly profitable flagships, but this year it will struggle to flog 12,000 and most of those are in America, where the weak dollar means the yields are spectacularly reduced.
“It’s almost as if they’ve forgotten how to sell cars,” one ex-Jaguar executive said to me the other day. Indeed, the whole sorry saga is beginning to look like some ghastly business TV reality show; Dragon’s Den meets I’m a celebrity… perhaps? Let’s call it I’m a chief executive – Get me out of Coventry.
Ever since Ford purchased Jaguar for £1.6billion (Dh11.6bn) in 1989, it has treated the company like a guinea pig in a sinister laboratory of experimental corporate ideas. So Ford’s mighty Michigan mastodons came up with the experiment to upscale Jaguar to build 400,000 cars a year and compete with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – it was a disaster. There was the experiment to revive the E-type sports car as the F-type – another disaster. The experiment to convert a Ford Mondeo into a small, premium Jaguar, the X-type – ditto. The Formula One initiative – don’t ask. The experiment to build the new XK saloon out of aluminium-alloy but not change its appearance one iota – a complete disaster. The experiment of basing a whole new corporate strategy around one gorgeous advertising campaign – disastrous. Yet despite these class-A snafus, worthy of a Pol Pot-style executive cull, the corporate egos merely collected their golden farewells and moved on to their next Learjet.
And Jaguar? Like some poor smoking beagle rescued from the vivisectionists, it is slowly making a wheezy recovery while, in the Detroit fantasy executive world, Ford seems to have forgotten Jaguar even exists as it tries to recover from a tailspin of debt and financial disaster. One month ago, at the Los Angeles Motor Show, blue-oval boss Alan Mullally embraced Lincoln as Ford’s premium worldwide brand. This was as much news in Coventry as it was in Detroit.
So now we have the XF, a new saloon to replace the mid-sized S-type that was launched 10 years ago. May I lever a good, old-fashioned shovel under the manhole cover of the public relations business here and allow you a whiff of what flows beneath? In the past decade Jaguar has done more to muddy the water between fact and fantasy than Walt Disney ever managed. By playing the public, the press and its own advertising against each other, the company has created a new gold standard of duplicity. At one time, for Jaguar, the term “exclusive” meant the colour of the car you were given to drive. While this is in the past, some of the overkill and hubris still remains; thus we have had a steady stream of XF news out of Coventry all year – dodgy exclusives, passenger-seat road tests, apparently record residual values for the XF and a shelf-load of design awards.
Don’t believe what you read. Jaguar’s trophy cabinet might be groaning with the weight of the Golden Lobster of Utrecht and other designer gongs, but these are seldom awarded to truly beautiful cars.
My reaction, seeing the XF at motor shows and press events, has been mixed; I’ve loved and hated it, often both at once. At a glance, the shape is fluent and attractive. Yet stare too long at a detail and you become fixated with its incongruity. The grille, for instance, starts to look like George Bush’s jutting jawline and, if you gaze at it from off-centre, the headlamps appear to wink at you. Certainly the front is the most controversial aspect and the XF is highly affected by its coachwork colour – it looks terrible in silver, quite good in green. The rear and the flanks are more successful, especially the jaunty quarter-relief Jaguar leaping across the boot lid.
I am conscious, however, some people will love the XF. Chris Bangle’s contentious BMW designs were also fiercely criticised yet eventually won over the critics and increased sales. So full marks to design director Ian Callum and his team for daring to risk an all-new direction for Jaguar, and to the management for allowing it. Though you might find this is not an easy shape to love, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, behold the XF.
Only slightly less contentious is what we were doing in a rainy and chilly Arizona desert driving a quintessentially British car – Lord alone knows. It confused the hell out of the immigration official who stamped my passport: “Scuse my suggestion, sir, but if y’all had driven this British Jaguar in Britain, it might have saved a few bucks and some air fuel.” The new Jag goes on sale on March 1 and in the UK we will eventually get a model line-up comprising two 4.2-litre V8 models, with and without a supercharger, which will occupy between them less than five per cent of British sales.
There will be a 3.0-litre V6 and a 2.7-litre V6 turbodiesel. The chassis is derived from that of the S-type, which in turn was derived from the Lincoln LS –the Lincoln’s blow-moulded plastic fuel tank is one of the few bits of that car that remains in the XF. It uses the double wishbone suspension and brakes from the XK coupé.
Inside, Jaguar has really gone to town on the design. Forget the crummy S-type with its Christmas-cracker cabin – this is innovative. From its simple rotary gear selector, which rises like a Bond-villain’s doomsday button from the centre console when you start the engine, to the heavily striated wood panels and the maculated aluminium-alloy trim, there’s a boldness about Alistair Whelan’s design.
Accommodation is generous in front, with plush, supportive seats and electronic adjustment for these and the steering wheel. There are long shallow door bins, centre cup holders that double as sweet and iPod stores and a large glovebox, which is opened by pressing a roundel symbol on the wood panel – a sign, Ian Callum claims, of the legendary British sense of humour.
In the rear, space is at a premium, although I managed to sit behind myself with half an inch to spare before my head hit the sloping roofline and my knees touched the scalloped seat back. The boot is big enough for at least two big Samsonites and the rear seat-backs fold down to allow for the carriage of skis, or for banister thieves.
That some of the cabin’s novelty is gimmicky (like the glovebox button) is almost inevitable. The “handshake” on start-up, when the starter button glows and pulses “like a tiny heart” and the facia vents swivel around, might be intriguing now, but not, perhaps, after 50,000 miles (80,467km). But much of this can be programmed and one shouldn’t overlook the degree of thought that has gone in here. The dashboard top has been lowered and the front-seat head restraints minimised to allow passengers a better view out of the windscreen.
There’s a class and style about sitting in this Jaguar that is wholly lacking in its rivals and, frankly, the XF makes the interior of BMW’s 5-series look like an austere museum piece. A special word to the Brighton-based company of Bower and Wilkins, which supplies the optional and outstandingly good 440 watt stereo system: gentlemen, my ears are still ringing.
It’s also something of a flying machine. With 410bhp to move almost 1.9 tonnes, the blown XF leaves the line smartly.
With 19in wheels and tyres and 200lb less kerb weight, this model rolls slightly more than its 20in-shod supercharged sister and feels slightly less clamped to the road surface, but it is a better everyday driver and a lot more economical. It also seems slightly quieter at speed, with less wind buffeting round the door mirrors. With either power plant, however, the XF is an object lesson in the art of swift, unruffled travel. We’re looking forward to driving the diesel engine that most people will buy. (The Daily Telegraph)
Price/availability: From Dh190,000,
Engine/transmission: 4,196cc, all-aluminium, 90-degree V8 petrol with chain-driven double overhead camshafts per bank and four valves per cylinder; naturally aspirated model 294bhp at 6,000rpm and 303lb ft of torque at 4,100rpm, supercharged model 410bhp at 6,250rpm, 413lb ft at 3,500rpm. Six-speed ZF automatic transmission with sequential shifting via steering wheel paddles, rear-wheel drive.
Performance: Naturally aspirated model; top speed limited to 155mph, 0-60mph in 6.2sec, EU Urban fuel consumption 16.3mpg, CO2 emissions 264g/km; supercharged model 155mph, 5.1sec, 15.1mpg, 299g/km.
We like: The style (well, some of it), the luxurious interior, the superb handling of the supercharged car and the composed ride and fine balance of the naturally aspirated version.
We don’t like: The grille, metallic silver coachwork, overwhelming maculated aluminium trim on facia. Anything silver, in other words. And Arizona in winter.