Much of Jaguar Cars’ consumer appeal has lain in its glorious dichotomy of subtle luxury blended with ‘in yer face’ performance, aspects that will be eroded, opines Iain Robertson, as electrification takes a firmer hold over the next few years and, unless an alternative clean fuel can be developed, models like F-Pace will just dissolve into Land Rover.
When I was a car-loving youngster, one of the more difficult to comprehend expressions I used to hear was ‘built-in obsolescence’. In common parlance around the US car industry, it seemed to relate to the fast-changing pace of vehicle design. Known for their excesses, hugely elaborate fenders covered mostly inadequate crossply tyres on cars where boot length not capacity was a prerequisite. America could afford it. Its predominantly arrow-straight roads were undemanding of driver skills beyond being able to remain awake. Wallowy suspension based on a simple ladder chassis braked by drums but powered by a soporific, low demand V8 and strictly petrol fuel source ensured that they remained as cheap as chips. They could be and were altered in a trice, with potential buyers seeking the next year-and-a-half model to be sure to remain atop a styling bandwagon.
European influences were minimal but did exist for special cars like the Studebaker Avanti, or Chevrolet Corvette, or even brands like American Motors, where a distant and ill-informed dream of taut, controlled handling suited better the back doubles of France, Italy and ‘The Old Country’ (UK). Yet, America innovated; it had Preston Tucker and Carroll Shelby, both of whom were annoying but hard to ignore gnat bites on the backside of the US ‘Big Three’ (Ford, GM and Chrysler). Some lasted longer than others. Getting US buyers to invest in a Japanese-led, semi-European size reduction campaign, in a land governed by cubic capacity (which is never enough!) has taken fifty years. Remember that the UK motor industry had already had its worldwide heyday from 1930 to 1960, so few can say that they were not ready for it.
Jaguar sold strongly into the export scene, backed up by successes on racetracks, which strengthened its resolve but grew its repute to a platform somewhat grander than its actual competence levels…it was still a small volume carmaker. Engineering a snarly exhaust into a luxury but not ostentatious brand was a stroke of genius. From Marks Two to Ten, including the E, the underlying intent was sportiness and it was beguiling. MG-Rover tried to follow suit in the 1990s but had neither the woodworking department, nor engineering nous to fall back on. Ironically, although mostly produced from plastic, the Mazda-related Xedos6 was a very fine oriental attempt of the early-1990s to ape the Mark Two.
In many ways, Jaguar’s biggest issues arose during its stewardship by Ford Motor Company. The big corporate expected the wee player to perform to its will…except that it could not. Its era of S-Type, based on the Lincoln Town Car, seemed as sound an idea as recreating the Mark Two via Mondeo. Neither worked. Both were rejected. The downhill twizzle started. Not replacing the all-alloy XJ, which should have been a serious rival to the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series and even Merc S-Class, was a production error, matched only by replacing the sporting XK by the toy-car F-Type, while these latter decisions may well have lain at Tata’s portals, venturing into the SUV scene with a latecomer F-Pace that lacked character comprehensively but relied on the Disco Sport for most of the hardware was just bad management. Even the smaller E-Pace looked like a better proposition, despite looking more like a Vauxhall Mokka.
Jaguar had lost its ‘ness’ and there were zero plans in place to replace it. After Ian Callum departed, not before time to be frank, I hoped that replacement Julian Thomson, given a freer rein, might make Jaguar work. His changes were tiny but effective, leaving Jaguar marketing with the task of reselling the proposition…then he left too. However, Jaguar needs to get over its unreliability and poor build quality patches, which we are informed have been attained. Jaguar ought to look very judiciously at its laurels, not for replicative purposes but so that it can innovate and lead from the front. The current and extensive range of F-Pace models (from £42,650 to £81,510) includes petrols and diesels, as well as a smattering of mild and plug-in hybrids, with a 500bhp V8 bahnstormer at the umbrella end…a total of twenty, before indulging in bespoking. If Jaguar slashed the AWD range by 50%, it would not lose a bean.
The latest versions receive better touchscreen technology (more reactive, easier to use) but a mid-term style titivation is going to deliver very little in market appeal, despite minor enhancements. The Ingenium 3.0-litre straight-six engine in either diesel, or petrol forms, is very much in the spirit of the marque and ought to be made its focal point, a task that both mild and plug-in hybridisation can achieve, as long as the consumer knows about it. Not lacking in punch, it is a cracking device hiding its light beneath the proverbial bushel. Interestingly, the 401bhp plug-in model uses the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine as its base but benefits from around 30mls EV-only range, a lowly 49g/km CO2 emissions and the ability to squirt from 0-60mph in just 5.0s, slightly zestier than the 400 Sport model with the 3.0-litre six, which tops out at 155mph. The usual battery top-up times are needed.
Conclusion: More luxurious but not more Jaguar, the F-Pace interior needs more thought. Come on. I recognise that following several years of slumbering, finding a new raison d’etre can be heavy weather. However, we are talking Jaguar Cars here and, if you want to lose it, you are going the right way about it.