Jaguar boss Ralph Speth wants the next generation Jaguar XJ to be less individual and more like the Mercedes S Class and BMW 7 Series.
The ‘new’ Jaguar XJ has been with us since 2009. Well, it’s been around since it was revealed in 2009, although it took another year to actually get in to the hands of customers. Which means Jaguar has to be thinking hard about the next XJ, probably due in 2016.
And according to Jaguar boss, Ralph Speth, the thinking, or at least his thinking, is that Jaguar should build a new XJ that’s much more like its German competition – the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S Class. And he might have a point – although he’s wrong.
He’s wrong, because for Jaguars to exist at all they have to be different. They have to have grace and pace and soul. To try and emulate Lexus by taking the S Class and building an XJ that matches its style and engineering is surely the way to ruin the brand?
The strength of the XJ is in its individuality in a sea of Germanic sameness. Yes, Jaguar has struggled with sales of the XJ, in part due to the lack of the right engines and 4WD platform for the vital US market. But, that apart, poor sales of the XJ are not due to the design, but the enduring fragility of the XJ and the perception that it’s fragile not being vanquished.
Unfortunately, the fragility of the XJ is not just a perception, but a reality. Not in a major way, but in niggling ways that can irritate.
There are bits of cabin trim that really have no place in an XJ; a perception of cost cutting in silly ways, such as the flappy paddles that feel like they’ve been made from recycled plastic bottles.
There have been glitches in the software and the infotainment interface that drive owners mad. The whole driver information interface feels more Atari than Apple and really has no place in a car that can cost over £100k. There have been problems with connectivity and flexing roofs and electronic meltdowns and a general feel that the XJ still isn’t robust.
In fact, niggling problems and trim issues apart, the most frustrating aspect of the XJ is its clunky driver interface. When an XJ driver encounters yet another delay or cock-up from the XJ’s screen, he doesn’t blame the Jaguar’s software, he blames the Jaguar. We suggested to Jaguar back in 2010 that they should have a ‘reboot’ button on the driver interface so everything could be reset when it went a bit Pete Tong. That would at least make the driver direct his ire at the ‘computer’ rather than the car. But really, it just needs making ‘now’, and bullet-proof.
But if you’re a driver there is no big saloon car that comes close to the XJ. Its performance is sublime and its diesel engine, in particular, is a peach. True, the 5.0 litre V8 supercharged, impressive though it is, sometimes feels like it overwhelms the car – especially if you’re trying to make a swift exit from a junction – but it too is a great engine.
We also think Jaguar are missing a trick by not chucking the Land Rover 4.4 litre V8 diesel in to the XJ to make a diesel Supersport which, suitably tuned, could show how special a diesel-engined XJ can be. There were rumours back in 2010 but nothing on the horizon, it seems
But ultimately, the problem with the XJ is not in the design – that’s its USP – but in the detail and the quality. Jaguar are charging the same sort of money for their cars as the Germans, but they still don’t feel as well made. That’s where Jaguar need to do work, not on the design and feel of the XJ.
If Ralph Speth wants to make the next XJ more like the Mercedes S Class then he should. But he should do it by keeping everything that’s great and individual about the XJ, but build it like an S Class. Mercedes took the decision a few years ago – after the S class disasters that followed the W140 – to worry more about quality than cost and ocne again make an S Class that feels bullet proof and, more importantly, is perceived as such.
The recent additions of a 4WD platform and new engines will help the XJ, but Jaguar need to work hard to make the XJ just like the 7 Series and S Class – but only in terms of quality and reliability, not style.
Otherwise, the Jaguar XJ will just become a German wannabe. Which would be a disaster.
Note: Ralph Speth made his comments about the next generation Jaguar XJ to Inside Line.