Jaguar is putting the finishing touches to what could become the most dramatic and innovative new model the company will ever build - the replacement for the XJ limousine - and we can bring you exclusive images of the car two-and-a-half years before its launch. Autocar has spoken to insiders who have seen the design and have revealed that when the crucial vehicle, codenamed X351, begins production in late 2009, it will rock the luxury market.With years of massive losses and what’s widely regarded as a series of major product planning blunders behind them, Jaguar and Ford executives will throw caution to the wind with project X351. Destined to be even more radical than the XF, which replaces the S-Type later this year, X351 is being pitched against some of the most glamorous and desirable cars on the planet.Jaguar’s marketing specialists are already showing a full-size model of the car — accurate inside and out — to potential customers, and our artists impression (above) is informed by the very latest information available on the car.According to sources, Jaguar thinks the new XJ could be pitched against rivals as wide-ranging as the Mercedes CLS, Maserati Quattroporte and even the Bentley Flying Spur. Pricing for the top-end model could break through the £85k barrier.
The design blueprint
Although the lightweight aluminium chassis of the current XJ will be carried over, the car’s upper structure has been redesigned. This has allowed Jaguar’s design team to design a car with a coupé-like flowing roofline.One source who has seen the new XJ described it as “looking like the C-XF’s features had been draped over an Aston Martin Rapide”. The windscreen is also said to extend back into the roof panel.Aside from a low roof and high tail combination, the new car is said to have a narrower nose than the C-XF, with narrower headlights (likely to be LED units), although it retains the large, square grille that made its debut on the C-XF. One proposal is for the grille’s mesh to be made up of hundreds of tiny Jaguar ‘leaper’ cutouts.At the rear, the car is said to have tail-lights similar to those on the Bentley Continental GT but which wrap over onto the rear deck. Between the rear lights is a distinctive flat panel, which features a prominent Jaguar ‘leaper’ badge.
On the inside
Autocar’s sources reserved their greatest praise for the XJ’s interior, which one eyewitness described as “space age”. According to our information, the car’s interior design theme is close to that seen in the C-XF concept, but with addition of some hi-tech fixtures and fittings.One of the cabin’s most radical ideas are ‘proximity switches’. Also due to appear on a future version of the iPod, proximity switches do not require physical contact between the driver and the electrical switching mechanism. Sources say much of the XJ’s switchgear is nothing more than symbols etched onto glass sheets suspended clear of the dashboard architecture. Touching the symbol activates the switch, and the glass sheets are elegantly back-lit at night, so interior lighting can be activated by the occupant simply moving his hand in the vicinity of the lighting units.On the centre console, the XJ gets the retracting transmission selector knob (unlikely to make it to the production XF) and should also get a ‘terrain response’ selector similar to those used in Land Rovers. The C-XF concept also hinted at this with switches grouped around the transmission selector marked ‘Dynamic’, ‘Track’ and ‘Launch’.
Under the skin
X351's chassis and running gear are updates of today’s first-rate set-up, although it’s likely that the rear air springs will be dropped for the option of magnetic dampers, whose characteristics can be altered much more quickly.The need to re-engineer the XJ’s upper structure means PAG’s new straight six engine can be fitted. A 300bhp light-pressure turbo is a possibility; Jaguar’s all-new 5.0-litre V8 and supercharged V8 are racing certainties. Four-wheel drive isn't though; Jaguar's engineers have come up with a suitable system.
A vision becoming real
X351 is the culmination of a frustrating period for Jaguar’s design team. With the retro-styled X-Type, S-Type and XJ already signed off, Ian Callum was forced to play a long game.He described the radical 2002 RD-6 concept as a conversation between him and the Jaguar management about the need to take a completely different design direction. However, he had clearly mapped out his future vision for Jaguar some time ago. In an interview in spring 2003 he said, “In my view, by 2010 Jaguar will have the reputation as the most modern car on the road.”Back then, few industry observers would have believed him. But with Ford willing to back Jaguar for another crucial few years, it looks like Callum’s vision could be vindicated. Whether drivers can finally be persuaded to buy Jaguars in sustainable volumes remains to be seen.