Blog : Could Jaguar have been braver?

Keith Adams


It’s funny how a mature and well-resolved design can make a car lack ‘surprise and delight’ appeal. Take the Jaguar XE – it’s a great looking car, superbly engineered and, after a quick drive, it was easy to conclude that it’s there or thereabouts at the head of one of the most competitive market sectors. However, seeing it in standard small-wheeled form in silver, it’s a little underwhelming in the looks department, and it leaves me wondering whether the (understandably) safety-first approach to its design, was entirely necessary?

A look back over some of the AROnline’s older pages had me stumble across the old Rover R55 design as penned by Richard Woolley’s Gaydon Design Team, back in the mid- to late-1990s (many of whom are still at Jaguar Land Rover). Here was a car that sported a (then) unconventional set of proportions, with a long-nosed, cab-back stance (thanks to longitudinal front-wheel drive set-up) and effortlessly laid-back detailing from a confident design team that fully understood the direction it wanted to take the company.

Yes, the Rover R55 looked absolutely stunning – unusual and jarring at first glance, but increasingly agreeable the longer you look at it. Now consider this for a moment: the picture above is at least 18 years old, as the R55 was photographed alongside a full-sized, pre-production fibreglass model of the 75.

Now look at the Jaguar: it’s nice looking on big wheels and in the right colours, but is it actually much of an evolution over the original Jaguar XF, launched in 2007? It looks like a car that’s not new or exciting, but an established member of the establishment. Okay, so the same could be said for the current Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series especially, and maybe that’s what’s needed, but I can’t help shes a tear for that wonderful R55, and how a little of its stardust might might well have lifted its grandson just a little.



Keith Adams


  1. You have hit the nail on the head! The more I see the XE I feel a little underwhelmed. I know this segment is uber-conservative, but those Audi A5 rear lights could be slimmer, and those nasty standard wheels are a time-honoured mechanism for customers to upgrade. I can’t help feeling an extra inch in length would benefit, without stepping on the XF’s toes.

  2. The old saying that styling is subjective is an excuse for lack of imagination in some respects I feel, and I don’t wish to be harsh.

    I’m glad I’m not the only man to be thinking Jaguar have ‘played it safe’ with their 3 series rival styling wise. Even Alfa seem to have built a 3 series too, so maybe we can expect great things from both Jaguar and Alfa Romeo’s replacements for the current products…

  3. I think the XE looks good in the “right” colours. The only one I’ve seen was in a dark grey/black, which was no better or worse looking than an Audi or Bimmer 3 in similar colours. But in brighter paintwork,the XE looks much better.

    I have to say that the current BMW / Audi’s dont look that much different from recent predecessors, so in my eye’s are not that visually exciting. I am older however and have witnessed the launch of many new cars since the mid 60s – perhaps the anticipation & excitement is wearing thin?

  4. After all the razzmatazz of the Jaguar F Type (which I though looked stunning, especially in Coupe form) together with the original XF, new XJ and XF Sportbrake, I was hoping some of this magic would have extended to the new XE and second generation XF.

    Part of me wonders whether Jaguar’s designers are struggling to deliver fresh and engaging new ideas beyond (and within) their current design theme when it comes to bringing out new saloon models because of the high level of new product actions over the last six years or so. After all, the original XF looked stunning at its launch, with the facelift making it look even more assertive, especially at the front end. It was hard to improve it stylistically when it came to a new clean sheet of paper for the second generation model. That said, I had hoped the rear end would have received more taut looking haunches and Maserati 3200 GT inspired boomerang tail-lamps, to give it a greater air of individuality and confidence over the opposition. The same sentiments also apply to the smaller XE which I am more disappointed by. I hope the current focus of Jaguar’s design engineers has not become too biased towards the forthcoming F Pace.

    Also colours – most of the colour options offered on the XE and new generation XF leave me underwhelmed. I have the same sentiments for the F Type. Perhaps an Autobiography-style or MG Rover Group-inspired Monogram personalisation programme could be offered to overcome this? A special colour palette along either of these lines would not only create wider appeal for these two models but just as importantly would be a further source of options-based revenue for Jaguar Land Rover. Perhaps bring back the old Insignia moniker as its specialised colour and trim brand?

    Did someone mention nasty standard wheels? That is clever consumer psychology for you, designed to get you to spend more for a more attractive wheel upgrade. Such a strategy used to work particularly well for the Rover 75.

  5. The XE is a good enough looking car and finally lets Jaguar compete against Audi and BMW. With sky high fuel prices and the austerity in the earlier part of the decade, Jaguar had to develop something that was more affordable to own. Who’d have thought ten years ago that Jaguar could produce a 70 mpg car as economical as a city car? Also it appears most of the quality gremlins have been banished and the latest Jaguars are as well made as their rivals.

  6. Well I agree with you…both on the XE and on the R55. The XE certainly is aimed at the A4/3-Series market and therefore, its design is more “german” than anything. Certainly a nice looking car, but one that won’t turn heads around, whether it’s from the exterior or interior design.

    By the way, speaking of R55, I’ve always been a bit confused as to where it would have fit in the Rover range, had it gone all the way to production. Surely it was a bit too big of a package to be the 400 replacement? And how did it compete internally by the way with the R35? Not too easy to distinguish the two in their respective timelines at the BMW-era Rover…

  7. For the two days that I had one of these I moved on from my initial reaction that this was an underwhelming bit of styling, to thinking it was properly good looking and if anything a little too brave for the notoriously low styling standards for this class.

    It summed it up for me when I parked it Ivybridge early on the Saturday morning. A lad of about 11 walked past with his family and (oblivious to me being there) said “Nice Jag!”.

  8. It must be difficult for a brand that has traded on the looks of one model for almost 50 years (XJ6) to find a new image without ruining the brand. I think Jaguar are pulling it off since the XF and the new XF and XE are going to do well for them. The first XF has undeniably created a whole new image for Jaguar and one that people find familiar which is what it’s all about but it did it without any retro influence whatsoever – I think that’s a feat worth applauding. For me the new models further the brand in the right direction. I gave the new XF the once over in a dealer the other day and I’m going to take one for a drive – seriously interested (XE just too small in the back to justify the money IMO especially as the XF isn’t that much more.

  9. Yes perhaps Jaguar could have been a bit braver with the XE. But to adopt a R55 type design they would have had to be completely mad! A totally hideous car sized, in typically Rover style to straddle recognised market segments. These days JLR would never make such a fundamental mistake. The XE may be a bit derivative, but it hits its target market absolutely bang on.

  10. As a package, the XE is spot on. This is the same company that brought us the S-Type then X-type, except it isn’t, as the depth in design and engineering shows, it’s a company that now has its mojo in a way its not had since the late 1960s (in both Jaguar and LR/Rover flavours).

    The XE, XF and XJ all look like they come from the same manufacturer with the same design language.No doubt the next step is being thought about…maybe it will see light of day on the next generation XJ?

  11. @ Ian, Jaguar had to move on from reliving the supposed glories of the sixties. Actually in the run up to the XJ, their cars were suffering from falling sales and were notorious for overheating and heavy oil consumption. I’d have sooner bought a Rover, which was a well engineered and durable car and once the V8 came out, would have challenged an S Type quite easily.

  12. I didn’t like the R55 when I first saw photos of it, but it seems to improve with age, and I could almost see it hitting the road right now. Hats off to Richard Woolley.

    The Jaguar XE is necessarily conservative, I think. The market it is aimed at dictates that, but were I to be in the market and have a hypothetical choice between the XE and the R55, all else being equal the Rover would be calling to me.

  13. Simple answer – Yes. I doubt most of the general public will be able to distinguish an XE from an XF unless there are examples parked next to each other. In the same way that I struggle to tell a BMW 5er from a 3er given how much the 3er has grown in recent years.

    But – in Jaguar’s defence – the “Audi photocopier” school of design seems to have enhanced Audi/BMW/Merc sales rather then detracted

  14. Could Jaguar have been braver? Undoubtably.

    However, in such a competitive segment, everyone tends to play it safe.
    The “design language” tends to be introduced mid range, eg. the XF, E60 “Bangle” 5 series etc., while the compact execs tend to look like shrunken versions of the larger car.

  15. Are BMW, Mercedes and Audi brave in this market ? No ! Do they sell lots and lots of cars ? Yes

    The number of people who go for style as the main criteria is small. The XE presses all the right buttons when it comes to cost of ownership. Lets hope the reliability is there from Day 1 and the forums don’t fill up with posts on “issues”.

  16. I think that car stylists are working under more and more constraints anyway. Once you have crash structures, pedestrian safety etc. some designs from 10-20 years ago just wouldn’t be practical in a new car. I also think that the aluminium construction of the XE makes a difference in terms of pillar thickness and other load-bearing shapes.

    The XE’s most distinctive feature is the long bonnet, which makes it look distinctly sporty. There are immediate consequences of that, which are most noticeable when you open a rear door. Several cm of the glazing is false. Much of the rear quarterlight actually closes over sheet metal rather than the door opening.

    I think the issue is this: If a Jaguar saloon doesn’t look like yet another rehash of the ’68 XJ, a lot of commentators say it doesn’t look like a Jaguar. In fact I think that the clean look of the current range has to define what a Jaguar now looks like.

    Let’s look at the competition:

    Mercedes are adding more and more folds and extraneous lines and shapes. A similar school to Vauxhall/Opel actually, but I think Opel do it better.

    BMW are still rowing their way back from the extreme folded paper look of 10-15 years ago.

    Lexus are, as ever, ploughing a furrow somewhere between Mercedes and BMW.

    The new Alfa Romeo looks nice, but it’s fundamentally a pretty similar shape to an XE or 3 series, with a different “face”, because it has to be.

    Audi are, in fact, closest to Jaguar, because both styling houses believe purity of line is the route to a beautiful design. I’m firmly in their camp.

  17. It’s not an original design, but it does look like a Jaguar, by which I mean it looks like the XF and current XJ, and not the original XJ or Mk 2. The only slight criticism of the Jaguar saloon range, is that it’s the XJ which is the most distinctive looking, when if anything you’d expect the big saloon to be the most conservative.

    The (terribly named!) X-Pace looks more interesting, I think it will be a real sales success, especially in overseas markets, and will give the whole range a lift.

  18. The XE and XF are completely boring. I’ve had endless, second hand, Jags over the years but the current crop (XJ and F type excepted) leave me totally cold. Surely it coats the same to make a pretty piece of metal? And that appalling plastic leaping cat on the boot! Years ago you could tell a Jag from a hundred yards away – they didn’t need cheap badges.

    • Always, always loved the way the XJ-S looked – and it’s interesting that it’s proportions are amazing and it was, for the time, generously shod.

      • The XJ-S aged well, but it was never a good looking car. From the hideous flying buttresses to the big black plastic bumpers, it didn’t have a good start in life. It got better with age, especially with the factory soft top, but please don’t hold it up as an example of good Jaguar styling!

        • The press trashed the styling of the XJ-S. I’ve always liked it – even the bright yellow ones with black vinyl roofs that have disappeared today…

          It’s also almost the only car I’ve owned (about 3 XJ-S out of about 80 cars) where people have walked up to me and told me what a beautiful car it was. And the one that got the most compliments was a hardtop on 70’s GKN’s in dark grey.

        • Isn’t it funny? I always loved that first incarnation of the XJ-S, buttresses and all, right back to when I first became aware of them as a young lad in the late 70s.

  19. Fascinating how Jag designers repeatedly state they’ll don’t have a “one style fits all” approach –

    wonder if it’s an exercise to see if repeatedly telling journalists one thing whilst doing the opposite can alter their perception of reality and produce favourable press?

    Works for the Germans, after all (VAG quality, BMW sportiness, Merc styling, etc, etc…) !

  20. It looks like a small Jaguar should . The xtype also looked like a small Jaguar should. The new one has better engineering and JLR must be hoping that will shine through in sales

  21. I also was a bit disappointed by the XE on first release but you have to look at the context of the market it sits in – would anyone ever lust after a 320d on 17″ wheels, same for audi A4. Jags need the bigger wheels just like the competition, the XE S looks good to me. I’m glad it continues the design theme of the original XF as the roofline looks good, bit disappointed by the new XF in this respect but will be a great car to drive and own.

    For me the Alfa Guilia isn’t a patch on the 156 or 159 to look at but bound to be a much more credible competitor to the germans.

  22. I think Jaguar styling has gone from one extreme to another. Where the previous designs looked too traditional, the styling reference to Jaguar heritage in current cars is too subtle. In my opinion, the Bertone B99 from a few years back was the way all modern Jaguar’s should have look (Isn’t it a shame that these Italian styling houses are now largely shunned by manufacturers?)

  23. A Jaguar buyer does not want automotive white goods like Audi or BMW models, but seeks an exceptionally beautiful cabin and a distinctive body design. The XF still lives up to this expectation, but the XE has clearly been built to appeal to dull lower echelon businessmen who would otherwise be sentenced to sitting in one of the lower-end Audi or BMW offerings.

  24. How many Japanese cars are memorable? How much has the basic design of the Golf changed over the years? How memorable is a 3 series?

    There isn’t any penalty for being borring. Try to be different and get it wrong, pay the price.

    • This is missing the point. Jaguar at the moment is building what it thinks it can sell.

      Jaguar didn’t need to build the 150mph E type in the sixties. They didn’t need a twin cam straight six in the fifties. They certainly didn’t need a V12 in the seventies.

      The XK120, the Mk2 saloons, the E Type, the XJ – all beautiful, all unmistakable, all unlike anything the competition was offering.

      I don’t want an Audi alternative. I want a Jaguar. It should be better looking, faster, and more sumptuous than the mainstream. It might be more expensive to run, but that’s fair enough. And it should be instantly recognisable from a hundred paces.

  25. The thing is, Jag has not always been that ground breaking in its styling, if you forget about the XJ Series 1 and the E-Type.

    The XK120/140/150 for example was rakish and swoopy, but not overly different to what the Italians were up to at the time.

    And am I the only one who thinks a Jag MK1/2 looks a bit like a Lancia Aurelia B20?

    The XJ40 was very much a product of its time – brave for Jaguar when they had kept the same formula for God knows how long on the XJ, maybe, but it wasn’t vastly different from a lot of other ’80s execs and luxury cars.

    What Jag has always been good at (I think so anyway) is playing to modern trends, but doing it with class and little bit of naughtiness.

    Individual and brave doesn’t sell? Boo hiss. Do something conformist but make it cool, then!

  26. I agree it’s a play safe design, but how much of this is driven by aluminium construction? Less bendy than steel and probably requires simpler shapes.

    One thing Jaguar cannot afford in this segment is to get the quality wrong.

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