The first time I saw a Citroen C6 was in Tel Aviv’s fashionable harbour district. Israel is a relatively wealthy country, with a GDP on par with many EU states. Israel is also founded on socialist principles and cars are taxed at 110% of the MSRP. Fuel is similarly expensive. Most cars are understandably small and diesel powered. Even the few wealthy big shots that can afford something bigger than a compact car drive smaller displacement luxury sedans, like Mercedes S320s and BMW 520is.
I don’t know what kind of engine the C6 had, but the sleek, quasi-5 door profile stood out from the sea of white Mazda 3s and Subaru Imprezas in a way that a DS19 must have stood out from the legions of crap European tin-can deathtraps in 1960’s Paris.
Citroen cars have not been available in North America for some time, but in a few months time, we’ll be able to enjoy the Jaguar XJ, a car that looks French, feels British and has Indian ownership.
I admired the Jaguar of old and their audacity to charge full price for a dated (I say elegant) design devoid of profligate gearboxes (an 8-speed auto, really?), overwrought computer interfaces and “look at my tax bracket” aesthetics. This might have worked in an epoch when humility was valued, but as long as overnight success is valued above hard work and clothes with exterior labels are desired, a car like the old XJ is destined to fail. And it did. Jaguar is seen as an “old man’s car”, and a radical break from the past was deemed necessary. The British couldn’t possibly bear to emulate the Germans; too cold and technocratic, with too many negative historical connotations. The answer instead lay with continental Europe, and their traditional foils, the French.
The much criticized and very Gallic rear three quarter view is polarizing in a way that the Audi A8 is generic. I happen to like both, and assure you that the XJ looks fantastic in person. The dark hues of the XJs at the 2010 Detroit show didn’t give the best chance to get a visual impression, but the surfaces of the car are strong, with few afterthoughts disguised as avant-garde details. The “mouth breather” grille treatment common on so many cars is an eyesore, but it must be there in the name of crash regulations. While the outside emulates a French executive car, the interior eschews the usual Franco austerity and poor materials for a traditionally Jaguar look. Rich slabs of wood line the door panels, with the B&W speakers inlaid. The dash is lined with high quality leather, but the examples at Detroit had slightly wonky fitment and larger than expected panel gaps. How appropriate.
I haven’t had the chance to drive the car yet, but having driven the new XKR, I’m hoping that the blown 5.0 V8 will have the same Spitfire (plane, not Triumph) like roar, the same muscle car lateral movement when you floor it in second gear, and embody the traditional Jaguar values of grace, pace and space.
In my eyes, the only viable options in this class are the Jag and the Audi A8. People complain that the new A8 is derivative and boring, but to me it is the zenith of discretion and subtlety. I happen to like Audi’s new styling direction, and have always liked the A8 itself. Similarly, the Jag still holds a place in my heart as a more extroverted alternative. Byron correctly asserted that the new styling direction was necessary, because “the car looked the same as one you would buy 25 years ago.” To me, that was the whole point of the XJ; when’s the last time you’ve seen a Saville Row suit with a one-button stance, a ventless jacket or (god forbid) synthetic fabrics?
The S-Class and 7-Series, as competent as they may be, have been denigrated into vulgar commodities. If driving a Miata makes you gay, then driving one of these two makes you a professional athlete or rapper. It’s almost cliche to buy an S550 if you’ve “arrived” and an S63 if you are especially ostentatious. The 7-Series is a pastiche of elements from the Lexus LS460 and Maserati Quattroporte, two cars that could not be more opposite if one were named Oscar and one Felix. Perhaps it aspires to bridge the gap between the two, but both are unacceptable choices, the Lexus for its sterile nature, the Maserati for spending more time in the service bay than the driveway.
Like the Hebrews who were forced to wander the desert for 40 years until the slave generation died off, Jaguar had to remain in limbo until the X-Type and S-Type, remnants of its unprofitable past, were expunged. The previous Moses-like XJ is gone, replaced by its Joshua, the new XJ, ready to lead the brand into the promised land of upscale driveways. The entire line-up is handsome, rapid and well-priced relative to the competition. But ultimately, the market is a popularity contest, with flash and labels considered desirable, and the people voting with their wallets. Discretion hasn’t exactly done well in this segment either.