So closely did the X350 look like its XJ40-based predecessor, that many buyers would be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t a new car at all.
However, as Ian Nicholls explains, the aluminium-bodied XJ was really rather revolutionary, even if it didn’t look it.
Jaguar X350: hiding under a bushell
The Jaguar XJ (X350) was probably the most controversial car to emerge from the Coventry concern since the original XJ-S of 1975. Yes, as a car it was probably the best built and most reliable XJ saloon to that point, but sales wise, it was the least successful of a series dating back to 1968. However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t without its fans – and its plus points.
The X350 was the first entirely new XJ saloon since the XJ40 of 1986 which evolved in stages into the X300 of 1994 and the X308 of 1997 – the latter model introducing the brilliant AJ26 V8 engine, a development of the AJV8, available in both 3.2- and 4.0-litre versions.
What distinguished the X350 from the preceding cars was the use of an all-aluminium bodyshell. After paint was added and it was fully assembled, this amounted to what Jaguar claimed was an overall weight-saving of around 12% compared with a steel-bodied car (although, in fact, some models were actually heavier in terms of dry weight – the marketeers were doing their bit by justifying the use of aluminium); and the X350 was claimed to be 200lb lighter than the outgoing X308. Moreover, this was despite being larger than the X308 – with a 6in lengthened wheelbase, an extra 2in width, and 5in additional height.
The lighter body enabled Jaguar to offer the 3.0-litre AJV6 engine previously seen in the S-Type. This 2967cc 240bhp engine was good enough to give the X350 a 0-60mph time of 7.8 seconds and a top speed of 145mph. This compared well with the original XJ12 of 1972.
Trouble in the foreground
But the text above alludes to the fact that things were far from rosy for Jaguar during this period. It saw the closure and sale of the Browns Lane site, and the sale of Jaguar Land Rover by parent company Ford to the Indian TATA concern – the XJ was a cause for concern because its development was running late and over budget.
This was due to the need for a complete redesign of the front-end underframe. This cost the then Director of Engineering his job. The upshot of this fiasco was that Jaguar had no XJ to sell for more than a year, having ceased production of the X308.
Many feel what was wrong with the X350 was its unashamedly retro styling which harked back to Sir William Lyons original XJ6 of 1968. Why did Jaguar opt for this approach in a style-conscious world?
So, why the retro design?
To answer this we have to recap the recent history of the XJ series. The X300-generation (1994-1997) sold an average of 31,600 cars every year it was in production, which was the best for any of the XJ-series Jaguars. That said, it could be argued that the Series 1 of 1968-1973 could have sold more but for the ‘British disease’ affecting the UK motor industry industrial relations at the time.
The X300, which was styled by a team headed by the late Geoff Lawson, adopted a more retro style over the more progressive XJ40, which had had input from Sir William Lyons himself. Although car styling is subjective, it could be argued that the X300 was a modest triumph for Lawson’s team, which seemed to have decided to go for the retro look before the Ford takeover in 1989. The X300 looked like an even sleeker evolution of the Pininfarina/Lyons Series 3 XJ.
However, times were changing even as the X350 was in development. The X300 evolved into the V8-engined X308, which visually retained all the attributes of the outgoing car and internally was a great improvement.
Average annual X308 sales were now down to 24,100, which should have sent warning signals to Ford and Jaguar management that perhaps retro styling had had its day and that something more progressive was needed to compete with the more cutting edge designs from BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and others. It could be argued that the XJ retro look had reached its stylistic zenith with the X300/X308 series and there was little that could be done to improve on that.
Dearborn calls the shots
Unfortunately, Jaguar wasn’t able to define a progressive style for the new car. Geoff Lawson and his team were not to blame for the so-called retro look of the X350 – or, for that matter, the X-Type (X400) or S-Type (X200). This was dictated by Ford – in Dearborn – who had very fixed ideas of what a Jaguar should look like. Lawson’s team simply did as it was told.
Moreover, according to AROnline Contributor and former Jaguar Development Engineer Kevan Barnhill, Ford directed that Jaguars should platform share with Ford. ‘The X350 platform architecture is entirely that of DEW98,’ Kevin said. ‘The only real divergence was in the front end underframe redesign that was required, to enable the car to pass crash tests (and satisfy insurers). This delayed the launch of X350 by a year.’
Geoff Lawson died at the early age of 54 in 1999 and was succeeded by Ian Callum, but this succession was too late to influence the X350’s overall look. Jaguar historian Paul Skilleter wrote in Jaguar World Monthly magazine: ‘As for its shape, I feel that with the X350, Jaguar was trying to produce an imposing car which would compete in size and presence with the larger Mercedes saloons. So the X350 is really a reversion to the MkIX approach – big, bold and upright.
‘But the styling which dates back to 1968 does not in my view lend itself well to this beefing up, and sat much better on its immediate predecessor, the X308, which has the essential Jaguar look of being classically low, sleek and elegant. Nor in exchange for this additional bulk did the interior appear to offer hugely more space inside than even the X-Type, let alone the XF, while the rather strangely-shaped boot space provided merely adequate luggage room.’
Paul Skilleter’s description of the X350 as a beefed-up X300/308 perhaps hits the nail on the head. By the time the X350 reached the market in 2003, Jaguar found itself partners with Land Rover in Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. The Solihull concern used Ford’s money and often Jaguar’s engines to produce a whole series of stunning new vehicles that appealed to the same luxury car sector as Jaguar and their sales increased year-on-year until the steep fuel price rises of 2008 bit hard.
To launch in 2003
The X350 was announced at the end of 2002 and went on sale in April 2003. When the first cars were handed over to the press in March 2003, they were given a warm welcome from the press. Craig Cheetham reviewed the XJ6 3.0 for Auto Express magazine and concluded: ‘Even the cheapest XJ6, which costs £39,000, gets electrically adjustable leather-clad seats, cruise control, climate control, reach-adjustable pedals and a top class sound system, while Sport trim adds figure-hugging seats, tuned suspension and 18-inch alloys.’
But it wasn’t just a value proposition – it was viewed as a front-running Director’s car. ‘The XJ isn’t as spacious as some rivals,’ Craig said. ‘But it now offers more leg and headroom front and rear, plus a larger boot. Jaguar has kept the car’s classic silhouette, and while some may be put off by this old-style elegance, the newcomer is among the most accomplished executive cars money can buy.’
The original range in the UK was as follows:
- XJ6 3.0 V6 £39,000
- XJ6 3.0 Sport £42,250
- XJ 3.0 SE £42,250
- XJ8 3.5 SE £48,000
- XJ8 4.2 SE £51,500
- XJR £58,500
- Super V8 £68,500
The 3.0-litre AJ-V6 model marked the return of the evocative XJ6 name not seen since the demise of the X300 model in 1997 and was available as the XJ6, XJ6 Sport and XJ6 SE. A new version of the V8 engine appeared in the lowest-powered XJ8 cars, a 3555cc unit which produced 262bhp at 6250 rpm. This 150mph car could reach 60mph in 7.3 seconds. The 3.5-litre car was available as the XJ8, XJ8 Sport and XJ8 SE.
The largest-engined model used the 300bhp 4196cc version of the V8 which had also seen service in the S-Type. The extra capacity further reduced the 0-60 mph time to 6.3 seconds and the top speed was improved to a limited 155mph. The 4.2 litre XJ8 was available as Sport and SE models.
This model also marked a return to the 4.2-litre capacity seen on so many classic XK-engined Jaguars. Whereas the XK six-cylinder 4.2-litre engine produced a mere 205bhp in fuel injected form (if we ignore the somewhat dubious claims for some of the triple carburettor E-type units), the modern V8 was considerably more powerful, putting out a whopping 300bhp.
XJR returns with a bang
For performance fans, there was the supercharged 4.2-litre XJR, which had its top speed limited to 155mph, and used its 400bhp to accelerate from rest to 60mph in 6 seconds. Finally, topping the range was the Jaguar Super V8 which used the XJR powertrain combined with the furnishings and fittings of a luxury car.
This was designed to go head-to-head with super-saloons such as the Audi S8, BMW 750 and Mercedes-Benz S500, but with a particular British twist. The US magazine Road & Track loved it, with the legendary John Lamm concluding after his 2004 drive: ‘The supercharged XJR remains the hero model with its taut-yet-reasonably supple suspension to help lay down the power of its huffed-up V8. With a claimed 0-60-mph time of 5.0 seconds, there’s ample power, with its light blower whine as background music.’
In the X308 range the Super V8 had been previously badged as a Daimler, but for now there was no room for this marque in the new order of things. A new ZF 6HP26 six-speed automatic transmission was now standard across the range. Like the X308 there was no manual transmission on offer.
The X350 came with all-new designs of alloy wheels, which because of a different PCD, could not be interchanged with those on the XJ40/X300/X308 models. The SE V6 and V8 models used a grille design reminiscent of the Series 2 XJ saloons, a feature attributed to Jaguar’s founder Sir William Lyons.
In 2004, the range was joined by a long-wheelbase version, but things were not going well for Jaguar and, at the end of the year, all car manufacture ceased at Browns Lane, Coventry – from now on, XJ production centred on the Castle Bromwich plant in Birmingham.
The following year, Jaguar bowed to market forces and introduced a twin-turbo 24-valve diesel V6 of 2.7-litres, known as the AJ-V6D, in the X350. To Jaguar enthusiasts brought up on tales of V12 smoothness and refinement, most of whom couldn’t afford a new one, this was sacrilege. But consumers wanted the fuel economy the diesel engine offered, and soon the oil burning 206bhp TDVi XJ6 became the best-selling X350.
The new diesel XJ was still good for 141mph and a 0-60mph time of 7.8 seconds, which made it a close match for the Series 1 Daimler Double-Six tested by Motor magazine back in 1973, such was the pace of progress. Also in 2005 the Jaguar Super V8 was replaced by the Daimler Super Eight in all markets outside the USA.
Facelifted X358 in 2007
Then, in February 2007, a mildly-facelifted model, known as the X358, was shown to the press before being introduced at the Geneva Motor Show. It was a light-touch re-design that was intended to ease out some of the retro in its styling, with a revised front grille and smoother-looking front bumper. Other changes included revised headlights and door mirrors incorporated side repeaters, as well as newly-added side vents in the front wings. It looked more modern, although like most facelifts, it was far from an improvement.
Slowing sales meant that the range would be slowly rationalised – in December 2008, more diesel models were added at the same time as the normally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 was deleted from the range.
It remained in production in this form until the last Jaguar X350 was produced on 27 March 2009 and donated to Coventry Transport Museum. It was the final example of 83,556 cars.
What’s the X350’s legacy?
The X350 hid its talents under a bushel. It was highly advanced, brilliant to drive and was a world-leader in terms of aluminium construction, but its retro styling was outwardly so similar to what came before that many potential customers incorrectly assumed it was a facelift of the outgoing model. Events conspired against it, too – not only was retro styling on the way out by the mid-2000s, but buyers were increasingly moving towards a different kind of luxury car.
Not only was it up against some seriously impressive saloon car rivals from Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, SUVs were coming into focus in this market sector. Porsche entered the fray with the Cayenne, an SUV for the man who wanted both a family car and a prestigious badge on the driveway, and the Range Rover (L322) was emerging as JLR’s de facto luxury car.
That might explain why X350 sales only averaged 13,500 a year, suggesting that Jaguar misjudged its market. For all the talk about heritage and brand values that appeal to car enthusiasts, most of whom can’t afford a new car, luxury car buyers tend to be a rational lot – and, sadly, the X350 although advanced beneath the skin, failed to appeal to a customer base that saw it as yet another rehash of an old idea from Coventry.