Design review: New Jaguar XF

Jaguar was in the process of reinvention when design director Ian Callum sketched his first XF in 2007. It was to be an entry-level car, attracting new customers and debuting the marque’s new design.

The sporty coupé body was an unusual proposition for premium business car at the time, as was the bold interior design. It grabbed our attention and succeeded in presenting a new, confident Jaguar brand. Now, and with a small XE in production and a family of cars that include the F-Type sports car and F-Pace crossover in the horizon, it was time for a new XF.

The base of this second-generation model is Jaguar’s lightweight modular architecture. The design team worked closely with engineering to harness this and conceive a car that is lighter yet stiffer, highly aerodynamic, more compact in proportion yet roomier inside.

So at 4,954mm long; the car is 7mm shorter and 3mm lower than the previous model, yet the shorter front overhang and stretched wheelbase has allowed for 15mm more legroom and up to 27mm more headroom. The XF boasts exceptionally low aero drag of 0.26cd, achieved through a range of interesting design tweaks.

Furthermore, the fusion of light aluminium for the body panel, and a mix of high strength steel in key structural areas, means the car is now stiffer and lighter by some 190kg than the previous car for a much smoother ride as we were to discover on the Circuito de Navarra and the Navarran Pyrenees where we put the car to the test.

This expansive and hugely dramatic landscape in northern Spain can instigate a compelling story for most vehicles, yet the XF, though essentially a business car destined for less exotic locations of urban settings and motorways, almost ‘owned’ these empty roads that snake high into the lush green uplands.

In terms of design, the XF is very much an evolutionary one that continues exploring the distinct silhouette of the original model whilst introducing a more vertical assertive mesh grille, shorter front overhang and the distinctive power bulge that now runs all the way up the elegant long bonnet.

Callum points to the waistline which sits at a more horizontal level now, ‘the strongest element of this car visually,’ he calls it. ‘We’ve worked very hard to create a shoulder line that is much more elegant, stronger yet relaxed in many ways sitting underneath the window graphic of the car,’ he says explaining how it ties the whole car together.

There are extra rear windows, which, coupled with the optional panoramic sunroof, really improves the feeling of spaciousness at the cabin. The car’s behind has also been given a distinctive look with an interpretation of the LED tail lights first featured on the recent F-Type, replete with a rather lovely chiselled boot line, thus creating a narrative between the siblings.

The brief for interior design was to retain the sense of theatre introduced in the original XF but improve the materials and textures so that it evidently sits above the entry-level XE. The layered instrument panel now swoops the width of the car merging into the doors emphasised by singular stitching and it featuring the XJ signature Riva Hoop design.

This is a hugely connected car too, digital yet at the same time offering high levels of quality and craftsmanship and plenty of tactile surfaces – soft leather, warm wood and shinny chrome elements. There is a reconfigurable TFT instrument cluster, a 10.2-inch touch screen containing all the infotainment and entertainment information, and laser head-up display for convenient navigation.

‘One of the things that is great about the interior is the theatre of it,’ muses Callum. So the rotary shift control and air vents magically spin open when you turn on the engine. ‘It’s a wonderful moment when they spin up to say hello to you. It gives you that sense of occasion.’

With the XF, Jaguar has shown that it can propose an alternative in an otherwise crowded and often conservative executive car market. This product is a perfect blend – infusing elements of the marque’s sports car knowhow with sprinkles of quirkiness for that added bit of magic.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

The new Jaguar XF is on sale from September.

Read our previous articles on Jaguar.

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Exhibition: Bond in Motion

Bond in Motion opened at the London Film Museum this week. This is the largest official collection of 007 vehicles, including the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldeneye and our favourite submersible Lotus Esprit S1 from The Spy Who Loved Me.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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McLaren: Building a car company

It is fascinating stuff to watch the building of a car company, especially one that will no doubt make supreme road cars to rival those made by German and Italian firms who have been in the business for almost as long as the life of the motor car. This is exactly what McLaren is doing. The maker of winning Formula One cars is now fully committed to building road cars. And the car making side has been given its own specialist company McLaren Automotive virtually built from scratch.

At the heart of McLaren thinking is its boss Ron Dennis. Dennis is the Steve Jobs of the car world – he is a single minded, notoriously perfectionist man with visual sensitivity and an astute understanding of the product and the market. Every part of McLaren, be it the F1 cars, the 12C road car, the McLaren Technology Centre headquarters that is something out of an Ian Fleming novel – even the sculptural flower arrangements there and contemporary art dotted around – bear his fingerprints.

I am here to visit the new car factory McLaren Production Centre, also designed by Foster + Partners, which is almost completed and sits in the same ground as the MTC headquarters. A tunnel will join these two facilities but for now I’m chauffeured across the green land that divides the two Foster buildings.

It took one-and-a-half years to build MPC (read our preview) with a total cost of around £66m. In all fairness the word factory is probably the wrong choice for this stylish and spotless facility. Sadly we are unable to show images or say too much about this building at this stage since this was a sneak preview before the official opening next month, but suffice to say it is one of the most pleasant car making facilities I’ve visited.

To start with there is very little automation on site. The assembly line is devoid of the usual conveyor belt and McLaren has decided against the use of robots – a dominant feature in most modern car factories. What this means is that there is hardly any noise pollution and the premise remains cool thanks to the lack of heat generating equipment and the open-plan layout.

It is also spotless with Dennis specifying special loading trays that hover above the ground so that every area can be cleaned by his army of experts. This is a practice he has inherited from making F1 cars that require this degree of cleanliness. Other notable features include special stands, designed by Dennis himself, to exhibit the components much like a work of art before they are assembled. In fact the building is a sort of homage to the ‘art of car making’.

Currently MPC produces McLaren’s first road car the 12C – 260 of these have already been assembled here with 2,000 expected by 2012. The cars are almost hand made and the numbers are low to keep the novelty factor high. Next year the firm will introduce new models as well as variations on the 12C – a convertible was hinted at – and all these cars will be built at MPC.  The building won’t change until 2020, we are told by operations director Alan Foster, as its highly flexible layout means it will be able to cater for the new models and increased volumes.

Now to the cars, McLaren has been extremely secretive about the 12C’s hotly anticipated siblings which are the work of design director Frank Stephenson (the 12C was already almost complete when he joined the team in 2008). Over coffee back at the HQ he reveals that whilst I was driving the 12C around the track, he signed off the design of two models with Dennis. They will be a high-performance hypercar – a spiritual replacement for the iconic McLaren F1 of the 1990s – and a smaller sports car that will rival the Porsche 911, he teases.

Stephenson is visibly excited about these cars. The design ‘is a big jump from the 12C,’ he says with a glint in his eye, highlighting the word ‘big’. Everything is purposefully built and the cars will be reduced – ‘we are shrink wrapping the car’ as he puts it. ‘It is a new interpretation for aerodynamics,’ he continues referring to his company’s expertise in this area through their F1 cars, ‘something you’ve never seen before.’

Sadly at this stage little else is revealed about the cars – in this competitive market it is essential to keep up a degree of excitement and anticipation.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

The MPC officially opened on the 17 November 2011.

Watch Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton drive the 12C

Read our interviews with Frank Stephenson on the 12C design and interiors. Also see the link to our preview of MPC published in Building.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | www.d-talks.com | Bookshopwww.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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