“Look, Dad, that car next to us is a Jaguar!” says the young boy riding in the back of a BMW. This reaction is nearly a daily occurrence by random people to the handsome sedan I’ve been driving for a week. It’s a bit surprising given that in L.A., a BMW or Mercedes seems more common than an Accord or Camry. The price or availability may not be any different than those much more common cars, but there is still something special about a British car.
Even when Jaguar was on the verge of extinction, there was still a mystique around the cars. Even more so now, there’s something different about the cars from Coventry: a very perceptible attitude of indifference toward the industry’s trend to cater to focus group–derived, mass-market, leasable commodities. From its designers to engineers, Jaguar is staying true to building the vehicles it wants to build.
The company started in 1922 as The Swallow Sidecar Company. Within a few years, the SS1 was its first foray into building cars. In 1935, the SS Jaguar served as the real beginning of the automotive company. In 1966, it merged with British Motor Corporation, which then merged with Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968 to form British Leyland. That company was nationalized, essentially owned by the British government, in 1975. As the entire company suffered, Jaguar was still believed to have value, if just in the brand name itself, and was spun off with company stock being sold on the London Stock Exchange in 1984. Existing with a small portfolio of aging products, Jaguar was bought by Ford in 1990, which later formed the Premier Automotive Group in 1999 along with Land Rover, Aston Martin, and Volvo.
Under PAG ownership, Jaguar surged from near the bottom of vehicle reliability rankings to consistently placing in the top third of all brands. Ford money also brought new products, some for the better and some for the worse; we still love the XK, but I think many fans would like to forget the Mondeo-based X-Type. Jaguar was definitely on its way back, but in danger of losing its identity. That is until 2007, when Ford decided to sell Jaguar and PAG stablemate Land Rover. In just a year’s time, its financial savior sold JLR to its spiritual redeemer: Indian manufacturing giant Tata Motors Limited.
“Tata was a step into the sunlight when we transferred ownership,” says Wayne Burgess, production studio director. “Mr. Tata walked in and looked around at what the new projects were. He looked at all the sedans and then saw something sitting in the corner under a cover and wanted to know what it was. We pulled the cover off and showed him what was just an F-Type Concept at that point. He looked at it and quickly said, ‘Yes, we’ll have more of that.’ And we didn’t think he was serious.” Obviously, Mr. Tata was serious and the car that has embodied Jaguar’s turnaround was unveiled at the 2012 Paris Auto Show.
“The F-Type was everything. It became the demonstrator of where we wanted to take the brand,” explains Erol Mustafa, senior engineering manager. For the brand’s biggest fans and toughest critics, it was the two-seat sports car that gave an initial glimpse that real passion was back, but not just passion. From the very first drive, it was obvious that it was not only unlike previous Jaguar products, but more importantly, it wasn’t trying to be any other car currently for sale. The design and execution of something new, fresh, and decisive; a vision realized.
“The F-Type was much more about how to make a true sports car than just another class competitor,” Mustafa says. A lot of thought went into how characterful we wanted it to be, instead of just attributes to tick off a list. How it sounds, steers, handles, and makes you feel—especially sounds; basically, it had to put a smile on your face. That was the real ethos of the car. Every powertrain version of the car had to have its own personality; the SVR with the big V-8 is a jackhammer. The four-cylinder has to be more playful and toss-able; it has to focus on lower speed technical corners. We were forced to develop new strategies for designing for different purposes.” ec caught up with Mustafa in New York right after the turbo four-cylinder version was launched, and his excitement for the product was obvious—somewhat refreshing to see for what other manufacturers might dismiss as a price-point offering.
We talked at length about the new strategies and philosophies in developing new product. “It’s about learning by doing,” Mustafa says. “Especially with active damping, we go out and drive hundreds of different tunes on cars. With as stiff as the structure of our cars are now, we can control the four corners more effectively. We can work to reduce compliance in every component between the tire and the steering wheel.” If you’ve driven a Jaguar, or read what we’ve written about any of its offerings lately, you know the direct connection that has disappeared in so many other cars is still front and center in Jaguars. “We optimize every single detail,” he says.
Although it might seem easy to criticize Jaguar for not having the latest in infotainment systems or offering a vehicle in every imaginable sub-niche, bucking the trend of catering to every consumer whim and instead building the cars it wants to build is paying off. Jaguar has been seeing unprecedented increases in sales over the last several years, making it the fastest growing brand in the industry. For 2016, sales increased 116 percent and at the time of writing this; 2017 is on track to see another big improvement. Not only are sales increasing, but the average age of the Jaguar buyer is falling, now at 54 years old, which is younger than Mercedes, Porsche, or Lexus.
The future, however, looks even better for the company. For next year, Jaguar will release vehicles at both ends of the price and performance spectrum. To attract young, active buyers to the brand, the compact E-Pace will complement the wildly successful F-Pace. The four-cylinder-powered SUV will base at $38,600, making it only slightly more expensive than the base XE sedan. Ian Callum describes the style and attitude as closer to an F-Type than an F-Pace. At the opposite end of the model lineup is SVO’s latest creation, Project8. Based on the XE, the 592hp super sedan will be the most powerful road-going Jaguar ever. It’s capable of 200 mph, and every aspect of the XE has been reworked.
The aluminum unibody is taken off the normal assembly line and brought to SVO for hand assembly. The roof and front doorskins are all of the standard XE body parts to be maintained. The front fenders are flared 0.75 inch, while the rears have been stretched out 2.2 inches to accommodate the 305/30-20 rear tires. The front fenders, bumper, side skirts, rear wing, and diffuser are all carbon fiber. The front splitter, rear wing, and ride height all offer track-specific settings. At full angle of attack on the rear wing and the ride height lowered half an inch, the car produces 269 pounds of downforce at 300 kph (186 mph).
The 5.0L supercharged V-8 sends power to all four wheels through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, similar to those found in other Jaguar applications, but tuned for even faster shifts. The rear differential is electronically controlled for torque vectoring, while the front of the car distributes brake pressure side to side to aid turn-in.
The shock mounts and select suspension bushings have been replaced with spherical bearings to decease deflection. The front spindles have been uprated to billet pieces to increase strength and adjust suspension geometry. The carbon-ceramic rotors are 15.6 inches in the rear while the fronts are 15.8 inches, with the front also being upgraded to six-piston calipers. Even with luxuries like air conditioning, a Meridian audio system, InControl infotainment system, full TFT instrument panel, and a backset for two, Project8 will weigh a light-by-modern-standards 3,850 pounds. Outside of the United States, a rear seat delete option will also include a harness bar in place of the seats.
Jaguar will build no more than 300 Project8s for the entire world. The starting price, and yes there are options on the car, will be $187,500, although I wish you luck getting one as they most certainly must be sold out by the time you read this.
Although the Project8 will undoubtedly be fun, the future is in electrons. As such, Jaguar AHS announced that by 2020, every vehicle it offers will be available with some level of electrifications. This does not mean, as some outlets earlier reported, that every single car will either be electrified or full electric. It means everything, from sports cars to sedans to SUVs, will offer at least a hybrid powertrain option, if not full electric option. You won’t have to wait until 2020 for a full electric Jaguar, as the I-Pace will arrive at U.S. dealers in the second half of 2018. The 90-kWh battery is claimed to deliver 220 miles per charge and the powertrain delivers 400 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, good for 4.0-second 0-60-mph performance. Jaguar has promised it will deliver the performance and driving experience expected of any Jaguar, and if the concept is any indication, it will deliver on the style as well. It might seem odd, but there will be a full battery electric vehicle sitting side-by-side with a supercharged V-8-powered monster sitting in showrooms, but that’s what Jaguar does.
“When I started 18 years ago, I dreamed of turning Jaguar into a cool car company,” Ian Callum said to a packed auditorium in Detroit. I think he and the rest of the team at Jaguar has done it. More importantly, they made it cool by building what the people at Jaguar wanted to build, not what focus groups told them to.