A new breed

Next week, the first fruit of Jaguar’s new design direction you can actually buy – the XF four-door coupe – goes on sale. Guy Bird spoke to two of the advanced design team helping to ditch the brand’s ‘pipe and slippers’ image

Linda Andersson is a Swedish-born 30-year-old into jewellery. Alister Whelan is a 31-year-old from Oxfordshire into trainers and contemporary Italian furniture. They couldn’t be further from most people’s idea of a designer at Jaguar – that bastion of old school sports cars that lost its cutting edge somewhere in the 1970s – but both are part of a new design team aiming to help Jaguar resharpen its claws.

Andersson worked on the exterior detailing of the 2007 C-XF concept that closely prefaced the 2008 XF production car on sale next week. Whelan did the interiors for both.

Influences for Andersson on the C-XF included Star Wars spaceships for the headlamp innards and Japanese kitchen knives for the chrome blades that bisect the front air intakes. By contrast, the car the XF is replacing – the retro S-type saloon launched in the late 1990s – took heavy design cues from Inspector Morse’s favourite ride, the 1960s Jaguar Mark 2.

The change in approach can be traced back to when Ian Callum became design director in 1999. Whelan explains, ‘Ian thought we needed fresh input. Getting a younger team of people in was important. Seven years ago we were in our mid-20s. You don’t think of Jaguar design like that.’

Callum, at 53, is steeped in car design history – with design hits including the Aston Martin DB7 and Ford Puma behind him – but clearly sees the need to give this young design team room to breathe. Andersson concurs, saying, ‘The more creative we are as a team the happier Ian is, because then he’s got a wider range to pick from. It’s better to start creative, then narrow it down. When you don’t have any ideas or start too conservative, it’s difficult to open it back up. I’m quite a young designer and I’m still quite naïve in the way I think – in a good way – and you need designers like that in order to be creative.’

The result of this approach is evident all over the XF. The exterior is a well-proportioned sporty four-door coupé with clean and simple lines and is a major step on from the retro S-type, but the bigger leap for Jaguar is the XF’s interior.

Pulsing red starter buttons, an automatic gear knob that rises magically out of the centre console to meet the driver’s palm and air vents that rotate open from flush with the dash all give slick, but functional ‘surprise and delight’.

Then there’s upmarket aluminium, blue-lit ambient lighting and proximity sensors that allow the sweep of a hand to activate overhead console lights and the glovebox release. Leather and wood are still used – including a straight-grained oak – but the interpretation feels fresh. There really isn’t another car interior like that of the XF. And it drives superbly too. Feedback from existing Jaguar customer focus groups and the press has been almost universally positive – the only slight criticism being that the exterior design could have been more radical still, rather than more conservative.

Which is all just as well as Jaguar’s sales were down 20 per cent last year in the UK alone. Probable new owner Tata will want the XF to rack up sales quickly to make up for the shortfall, and its rivals, including the Audi A6 and BMW 5-series, show no signs of faltering.

The XF epitomises ‘new Jaguar’ and its design themes will inform all future models, such as the all-new XJ luxury saloon due in 2009. With such talented youth on board to help shape its new direction, Jaguar’s future looks rosier than it has been for decades.

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