By the year 2000, it was clear that the Teutonic way of doing a large luxury car was the benchmark. Lexus had made a successful foray into the luxury world, in part, by building a better Mercedes-Benz. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz itself, along with BMW and, increasingly, Audi were cleaning up the market with cars that were conservatively styled, fresh, spacious, and high-tech (or at least the last three, in the case of the contemporary 2002 “E65” 7 Series).
The XJ…was none of those. For starters, the basic platform dated back to 1988, in the form of the XJ40. The car had been given an extensive redesign on the same platform twice: first in 1995 and again in 1998, culminating in the then-current X300 XJ. A lot had happened in the interim, including the loss of the traditional Jaguar I6 and V12 engines, in favor of a family of V8s, but there was still clear design lineage back to the 1988 model. But a lot had also happened in the luxury car realm in that time, and the X308 was just plain cramped by contemporary standards. Interior space was merely adequate for long-wheelbase models, while short-wheelbase ones were rated as compact by the EPA for interior dimensions.
So, Jaguar needed to think very carefully about its upcoming flagship.
The Styling: Why Mess Up a Good Thing?
In keeping with corporate Ford model nomenclature of a letter identifier and three numbers, the new XJ was codenamed “X350” early into the project. For the X350, Jaguar could do one of two things. It could break with tradition and make a clean break from the heritage Jaguar styling. Or it could stick with something tried and true, but with an updated flavor. One thing Jaguar was not willing to do was to make its latest flagship a polarizing car, as had been done with the 1999 S-Type, so one way or another, the XJ would have to be an objectively pretty car. During this time, Jaguar was wholly owned by FoMoCo, which ultimately signed the checks, and which had perhaps a larger vision for the Jaguar brand than Jaguar itself did. Ford was worried that a break from tradition would alienate existing buyers, who were fiercely loyal and who largely did buy Jaguars because of their styling…without truly being able to compete with the Germans or with Lexus. A lose-lose, for sure.
So, when development of the X350 began in late 1996, Ford management put pressure on Geoff Lawson, Jaguar’s Design Studio Director, and his team to make something that would look distinctly Jaguar-like. Lawson’s exterior team also included principal designers Tom Owen and Sandy Boyes, and the three of them quickly converged on borrowing cues from the original XJ Series I (1968-1973). As work progressed over the following few years, Jaguar performed several design studies and sought feedback on the existing XJ from dealers and customers that would then be piped to Lawson, Owen and Boyes. Sales and Marketing also, reasonably, had their hands in the process. In one comedic episode, Sales and Marketing decreed that the luggage compartment needed a specific capacity. So—since the length and width had already been fixed—Lawson constructed a clay model that showed the luggage compartment going halfway up the rear windscreen, just to show how ridiculously impossible this accommodation would be. Naturally, Sales and Marketing backed down. Interior design was entrusted to Giles Taylor, who had to work with engineers and exterior designers to arrive at a final set of dimensions. Taylor knew the interior needed to be much larger than that of the outgoing car, and it also needed to look more modern. Design for the interior and exterior was frozen in mid-1998, and Jaguar engineers set about bringing the design to life.
Not long after that, in 1999, Lawson suffered an unexpected stroke and died. Ian Callum, previously at Tom Wickersham Racing (TWR) and having recently designed the Jaguar-based Aston Martin DB7, came on board and succeeded him as Design Studio Director. For what it was worth, Callum was more in favor of a completely new design direction for the XJ (and he eventually got his wish with subsequent models), but the X350’s design was mostly set in stone by then. It’s also unclear whether he would have been able to overcome the considerable political pressure for a traditional car in the first place.
The Platform and Engineering: High-Tech and Lightweight
Jaguars were nothing if not sporty, and product managers worried about losing that character in the face of the car’s enlargement and the new demands of full-size luxury buyers. So, it was decided early on that the X350 would be rendered in aluminum, to save weight. Ford management was on board, figuring that the low-volume X350 would serve as a test bed for production aluminum that could then be used on higher-volume car.
Jaguar would not be the first to do an aluminum luxury car. That honor belonged to Audi and the 1994 A8, whose aluminum architecture comprised an aluminum space frame with separate unstressed aluminum panels, an arrangement known as the Audi Space Frame. But what Ford and Jaguar envisioned was something different. They wanted to take aircraft construction technology and apply it to the automotive sector, which would mean an aluminum monocoque made from epoxy-bonded and riveted aluminum panels and extrusions. Not only would this be lighter weight than traditional steel, but it would also increase stiffness, safety, durability and refinement. All good things.
Back in Dearborn, Ford Research Laboratories had already proven that this could work in the early 90s; however, translating it to production would take some work. Jaguar needed to work with its suppliers in order to up-fit Castle Bromwich, the facility where the XJ was assembled, with high-precision robots, stamping presses and even curing ovens. Jaguar also had to make considerable use of computer-aided design (CAD) and the latest in project management software. The former would allow the engineering team to do computerized stress tests on crucial components without wasting valuable time actually building them; the latter would make sure that everyone involved in the X350 project could communicate and see how their actions and decisions affected other teams and aspects.
As far as the platform, Ford and Jaguar had spent a ton of time and money developing a new D/E-segment worldwide RWD platform in the 90s, known as DEW98 or just DEW. This was the architecture eventually used by the Lincoln LS, Jaguar S-Type and the final (retro) Ford Thunderbird. (Later on, the S-Type’s replacement, the 2009-2015 Jaguar XF, used it as well). Anyway, Ford told Jaguar that it would need to, more or less, make the X350 into an aluminum version of the DEW, and that’s exactly what the engineers did, stiffening it where necessary. Much of the suspension was also shared with the S-Type and LS, including front control arms, tie rods and suspension mounting points. Just as well, Jaguar put a considerable mount of work into making sure the X350 could pass the US’s new stringent front crash results, including a redesign of the DEW platform’s front subframe.
2004-2005 “X350”: The Debut
In order to highlight the X350’s aluminum monocoque, Jaguar built two show cars with their bare metal polished to a mirror finish and with hand-formed metal aluminum bumpers, for the X350’s debut. That took place at the Paris Motor Show on September 26, 2002, the birthday of the 1968 original. The chrome cars also made the rounds at the Los Angeles and Detroit Motor Shows in 2003, exciting American buyers, and arrived in US showrooms in late 2003 as a 2004 model. Allegedly, the X350 was supposed to arrive a calendar year earlier (2002/MY2003), but was delayed a full year by the need for additional crash safety bracing.
Compared to its short-wheelbase predecessor, the 2004 XJ was 2.6 inches longer, 2.7 inches wider and 4.3 inches taller. The wheelbase of the new model, meanwhile, was a whopping 6.4 inches longer than that of the 2003 (X308). Some of that was down to Jaguar pushing the front wheels closer to the front of the car, for more-athletic proportions, but it yielded dividends in interior space. And the luggage compartment was even 25% improved.
Here is where I’ll place the disclaimer that this is going to be a US-centric overview of the X350 XJ. Know that Jaguar did offer substantially different and varied versions of the XJ in the UK and other markets, but today we’re focusing on the US versions and timeline.
The 2004 X350 XJ hit our shores in three distinct models: XJ, Vanden Plas, and XJR. The XJ was the base model and got a 4.2-liter Jaguar “AJ” V8 with 294 horsepower and 303 pound-feet of torque, sending power exclusively to the rear axle. The then-new 6-speed ZF automatic made this happen. Unlike prior XJs, four-corner air suspension with adaptive damping was standard, and provided a supple, yet controlled ride. Jaguar named this technology Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS), although that moniker was also applied to the adaptive damping system in the non-air-suspended XK. The Vanden Plas trim added some niceties to the XJ8’s standard content, including power-folding mirrors, Connolly leather upholstery, heated seats, and additional chrome. Optional equipment included a four-zone climate control system and a 7-inch touchscreen navigation system.
But the star was the new XJR, which came with a supercharged version of the 4.2-liter that meted out 390 HP and 399 lb-ft, allowing the big Brit to propel itself to 60 mph in just 5 seconds. Like the others, the XJR had air suspension, but utilized different struts that were more controlled and stiffer. It also had Brembo brakes on all four corners and a unique steering rack. Design-wise, the XJR came with a body-color grille surround, a mesh grille, and its own wheels. Naturally, it had a special exhaust, too, to give the kitty a deeper growl.
Reviews of the 2004 XJ were favorable. Critics praised Jaguar’s ability to translate its heritage design into a modern shape that was much more functional, and loved how athletic and lightweight the car felt. They also liked how simple the navigation was to use, compared to the more-complex setups in the contemporary A8 and 7 Series. The one consistent negative bit of praise was that the XJ’s air suspension, especially in the base XJ8 and Vanden Plas, could become floaty in the corners at high speed.
In 2005, Jaguar introduced the long-wheelbase model, which gave you five extra inches between the wheels. At that point, the Vanden Plas became exclusively LWB. Though the XJR continued to be SWB-only, Jaguar also introduced a Super V8 model that year, which had the XJR’s supercharged engine and exhaust, the LWB body, and even fancier interior digs than the Vanden Plas. It also came with the XJR’s mesh grille and tall chrome fender accents that previewed what Jaguar would do later.
2006-2007 “X356”: The Transition Models
Jaguar did a minor alteration for 2006 and christened the improved model “X356.” Allegedly, the X356 fixed some of the electrical issues the X350 had, especially in regard to the complicated fiber optic bus that powered the electronics. But there were some exterior details changed. The 2006 cars got rid of the front and rear window chrome surrounds, deleted the rub strips across the doors, brought new wheel designs, and offered, for the first time, front parking sensors and headlight washers. Under the hood, the X356 had its windshield washer reservoir relocated to the firewall, and the only real mechanical change was that both engines gained variable valve timing (VVT). 2006 and 2007 cars are X356 models.
2008-2009 “X358”: The Big Facelift
By 2008, the XJ would have felt hopelessly outdated if you were comparison-shopping the competition. By then, the 2007 “W221” Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the 2007 “XF40” Lexus LS 460 had debuted, and the 2009 “F01/02” BMW 7 Series was fresh off the presses, each bursting at the seams with more tech, performance and luxury than ever before. The XJ even felt outdated in Jaguar’s own showroom, in comparison to the Callum-designed 2007 XK and 2009 XF, but those who liked an “old-school” car were still pleased with it.
So, Jaguar was very careful in what it updated on the XJ, using a light hand to give the car enough visual improvement to get it through the next couple of years. The front fascia got redesigned in its entirety, with new deeply sculpted and squared-off front bumpers, new lower intakes, a deeper grille surround that was body-color regardless of trim, and mesh grilles throughout. Only the headlights remained unchanged. Around the sides, the repeaters were moved to the side mirrors and all trims got a new fender accent. At the back, Jaguar changed the trunk lid to have a full-width accent trim, gave it a new rear bumper to match the front, and denoted the various models with a very un-Jaguar-like stylized serif typeface. Inside, the previously-green “growler” on the steering wheel was redone, some of the switchgear became chrome, and cooled seats became available for the first time, enabled by perforated, non-gathered, contrast-piped leather. And, of course, new wheel designs set the X358 off. All-in-all, the 2008 XJ had a sort of retro-modern look that the earlier versions lacked. What’s interesting is that one of its equally old-school afflicted British contemporaries, the Bentley Arnage (and its Brooklands and Azure siblings) attempted something similar around the same time, to similar effect. To my eyes, the X358 was an improvement, though sadly the “leaper” hood figurine did disappear.
The 2008 X358 cars came in the same trims as before: XJ8, Vanden Plas, XJR and Super V8, which had been renamed Super V8 Portfolio. Speaking of which, Jaguar only sold 140 Super V8 Portfolio cars in the US for MY2009, painted either in Black or Astral Gold, and the numbers for prior years weren’t much higher. All in all, it’s a rare trim of a fairly uncommon car.
Just in case it’s not clear, X350 broadly describes the entire 2004-2009 XJ generation, but it can be further divided into X350, X356, and X358 models.
2011+: The Current and Future State of the XJ
Skipping the 2010 model year entirely, Jaguar released the all-new “X351” XJ in early 2010. Despite using an evolved version of the X350’s aluminum/DEW-derived platform, it was again enlarged in every way and was so unrecognizable as a Jaguar in general and an XJ in particular, it must have drawn audible gasps when it debuted. By the time it hit the market, Jaguar was no longer under Ford (though it would continue to use Ford resources for many years, including Ford contract engine manufacturing). Still, the X351 had a successful run and probably broader appeal to the general public, and not just the people who wanted a classic-looking car. The X351 saw the model’s first V6 engine in the US, the addition of AWD, and a further unification of Jaguar and Land Rover technology under their new Tata-owned corporate structure.
After 2019, the X351 was discontinued, but Jaguar planned to transition the car into an all-electric model, competing with the likes of the Tesla Model S and upstarts like the Lucid Air (oh, how far we’ve come!). But, at the eleventh hour, the combined entity that is Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) decided to cancel the allegedly production-ready model, and that is where the XJ sits at this time. Dead. As of March 2023, that remains the case. Perhaps this was a wise move. Given how much development and money the Germans have poured into the EQS, e-tron GT, i7 and Taycan, perhaps Jaguar again would have found itself unable to really cinch a worthwhile bite of a competitive market.
Then again…Jaguar is going all-electric by 2025, and may field a full-size sedan that is better poised to compete with the existing EV flagships than what it had with the XJ EV. If so, even if this new car is not called the XJ, it’ll be effectively a successor to it. So…there’s hope?
What didn’t die, though, was the X350’s basic engineering and construction techniques. The 2007 XK was essentially the unadulterated X350 structure, modified lightly for grand-tourer duty. As I said, the X351 XJ used a revamped version of the platform, and a (perhaps separately) revamped version supports the current F-Type. That car’s cancellation was recently announced, but it will persist through MY2024. Beyond that, I’m fairly certain everything at JLR at this time is fully aluminum, and all those products owe something of their DNA to the car that started it all, the X350 XJ. And, as far as high-volume applications, Ford itself was able to take what it learned using bonded and riveted aluminum and apply it to one of its most important products, the F-150, beginning in MY2015.